TELECOMS

LIBERIA’S PRESIDENT AND MINISTER AT ODDS OVER CELL PHONE LICENCES

Liberia’s President and the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications are at odds regarding over telecoms policy. Post and Telecom Minister Eugene Nagbe said the decision to review the telecommunication industry is necessary because in 2000, Lone Star, with heavy political backing from the previous regime, was granted the privilege to operate the sole GSM cellular network in the country.

The Minister explained that although no monopoly was granted to Lone Star on paper, it was ensured that a de facto monopoly prevailed through the outright refusal to grant a second licence, and by Lone Star’s extensive use and reservation of converted frequencies in the GSM 900 band. He blamed unidentified officials in the Transitional Government for perpetuating the de facto monopoly being enjoyed by Lone Star.

"As we approach the four-year mark of its operation, Lone Star’s de facto monopoly still exists, and persists, now apparently with the determined effort of some individuals parading the halls of power. Our determination on the other hand, has remained to ensure the liberalization of the GSM market," the Minister emphasized.

Minister Nagbe told journalists that the attention of the Ministry was also drawn to a letter under the signature of Professor Willie Belleh addressed to Celcom Telecommunications Corporation, advising said company among other things, to "halt ongoing rollout activities, including procurement and importation of all telecommunication equipment, installation of facilities and operation of (Celcom’s) network pending a comprehensive review by a three-man Special Presidential Committee".

Due to this situation, he disclosed that Celcom has requested the Ministry of Posts & Telecommunications to intervene and provide guidance on the matter.

"With Celcom having met all of the requirements mentioned supra, the Ministry of Post & Telecommunications has accordingly informed that company to disregard Professor Belleh’s "advice" and continue to deploy and subsequently operate a GSM cellular network utilizing assigned frequencies & numbering plan.

In a release last Tuesday, the Executive Mansion said the Chairman of the Transitional Government set up a three-man Special Presidential Telecommunication Committee, headed Prof. Willie Belleh following complaints from relevant GSM operators regarding granting of cell phone by the Post and Telecommunications Ministry. The release added that since the creation of the then Special Committee of which the Minister was a part, he has not cooperated with the Committee despite personal intervention by Chairman Bryant.

According to the release, not only has the Ministry approved several GSM applications, but has done so in ways that have led to a situation where frequencies have not only been duplicated, but also in conflict, thereby leading to complaints from some of the applicants themselves.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Post and Telecom has revoked the license of Ducor/Optima Wireless represented by Ambassador Jallah K.K. Kamara.

The Minister said Ducor/Optima Wireless representative proved to be unable to live to the terms of the agreement.

Mr. Nagbe said this failure to perform and live up to the terms of the agreement culminated into a request by him to ‘transfer’ the license to a group, Celtel Liberia Limited represented by one Mr. Wunker.

As a result of this, he added, the Ministry of Posts & Telecommunications was left with no alternative but to revoke the license in keeping with statutory responsibility and internationally accepted practices.

CelTel (formerly MSI) announced in May that it had been granted a licence and looks set to launch in june.

The NEWS - Monrovia

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