TELECOMS

Ghana’s Communications Minister stops mast building unilaterally despite Committee to address the issues

Despite having set up a Committee to produce recommendations, the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology (MEST) has banned the mounting of telecommunications masts in the country until further notice, writes Russell Southwood.

According to a Daily Graphic report of Monday February 1, 2010 citing a letter dated January 12, 2010 to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the ban is until further notice.

The inter-sectoral committee comprises personnel from the EPA, the National Communications Authority (NCA), the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) and National Security to produce guidelines that would bring some order in the way communication towers are being erected all over the country. As one insider told us:”The Government decided to jump out of the collaborative process and make a rule.”

According to the EPA, the report says, about 50 per cent of all communications masts in the country were erected by service providers who did not obtain the required permit. Some of the concerns that informed the decision to ban the erection of masts include public outcry against the location of some of these masts, accidents, land disputes and alleged health implications associated with the masts.

As ever politicians are something of a law unto themselves. An insider told us that “ the Minister accused us of raping the landscape and thinks there must be some advanced technology in Europe we should be using because you don’t see the masts there. Despite it being explained that this is not the case, the Minister has persisted in this view.”

Also when a member of the public complained about the building of an MTN switch site and an order to stop work had not been obeyed, the Minister said public should take matters into their own hands.

As the insider told us:”In terms of telecoms, the Government has lost its marbles.” Strong words but likely true for you cannot have mobile service without masts. Part of the pressure that has been building on this as an issue is that the new entrants Glo and Zain are building out new networks and mast sharing does not yet seem to have taken off.

The issue has also risen to the surface because of a seemingly unrelated issue. The widespread use of advertising and branding by the mobile companies (when it seems like every third hut is decked out in mobile company colours) has led to some resentment locally at the impact on the environment. However, now the issue has become political, it may lead to no end of trouble. We have heard of similar simmering discontent over masts in both Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria.

Those with longer memories may remember the former Communications Minister defending the Communications tax he wished to impose by saying that part of the funds raised would be used to pay for hospitals to care for those with cancer caused by masts. The knot the politicians seem unwilling to face is that you don’t get mobile services in a residential area without masts. So try selling no masts, no mobile service in your area to the electorate….

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