6 MARCH 2002
The traders, which total approximately 350 in all, are arguing that the sums of money Maltacom is demanding for the certifications are too high and are supporting their case by pointing out that even the telecomms regulator changed the system after recognising its faults.
But Maltacom is refusing to discuss the issue, according to the Association of Retailers and Traders, which represents the operators, and is adopting the heavy-handed approach of simply taking the traders to court.
GRTU director general Vince Farrugia explained that the problem relates to certification work carried out by Maltacom between 1998 2001, before the telecomms regulator stepped in and changed the system.
"At the time, Maltacom was issuing certifications for equipment imported in this sector," he said. "There were many problems related to this.
"One was the hefty fees they were charging for the work and another was the fact that much of the equipment had already been given a certificate abroad before it was exported."
Mr Farrugia said the GRTU had made a request that if a product already had a bona fide certification from an institution elsewhere, there should not be a need for the Maltese customs authorities to be insisting on a separate approval.
"This was eventually thrashed out, thanks to the intervention of the telecomms regulator," he continued. "But our problem relates to the cases prior to this - 1998-2001 when Maltacom undertook the certification for all the imported equipment at what we consider a very hefty rate."
The GRTU director general said that most of the traders knew nothing about the system at the time and had since sold the products, which made it impossible for them to recoup the certification costs. There were also protests that Maltacom was billing by the certificates handed out rather than by batch of goods.
"The scenario ended up resembling a scheme in which Maltacom was granting importation permission," Mr Farrugia said.
He voiced his hope that the matter could still be sorted out amicably, but admitted things looked bleak at present.
"We asked Maltacom to set up a working committee and look at each case individually, but they have chosen to take the heavy-handed approach of simply filing the cases in court, which is very unfortunate," he said.