LIBERIA: NEW BILL AUTHORISES RAISING LTC FROM THE DEAD

Telecoms

There is a growing debate in many quarters as to the fate of the Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (LTC) in the new Telecommunications Act 2006 submitted to the National Legislature for enactment.

In her State of the Union address in January 2007, President Johnson-Sirleaf outlined that LTC will be resuscitated and eventually privatized. It is against this backdrop that a bill was drafted by the Executive branch and sent to the National Legislature. The bill, which is still awaiting passage, provides for the establishment of a "national operator", which at this time is the Liberia Telecommunications Corporation.

Historically, LTC was created under the 1973 Telecom Act, which established a monopoly in the sector. LTC function at the time included "Policy Making", "Regulations" and "Operations". LTC provided the basic telecommunication services to the citizens and frequency assignment to radio and television operators. LTC infrastructure extended to all the subdivisions of the country and was the monopoly operator in the country.

In 1978, an Act was passed changing the nomenclature of the Ministry of Postal Affairs to the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications and taking some of the functions of LTC. The Ministry was responsible for policymaking, regulations and frequency assignments, while LTC functioned as the only operator of telecommunication services.

In 2001, the government at the time decided to open the telecommunication sector to competition without addressing the statutory issue involving the Act that created LTC or the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications. This created a situation where there were several issues affecting the sector - licensing, proper taxation, frequency assignments, regulatory and policy-making issues.

Working in collaboration with the World Bank, the NTGL and the NTLA enacted an interim legislation "ACT 18", which established Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) in 2005. Act 18, which established the legal regulatory framework for the Liberia telecommunications, and ICT environment was part of the sector reform program. This interim legislation is to be replaced by the Telecommunications Act 2006, which is currently before the National Legislature for enactment. Under this law, the functions and objectives of the various government telecommunication agencies are defined.

The Ministry of Post and Telecommunications becomes the policy making arm of the sector ensuring that government makes provision for social obligations like universal access to telecommunications networks in all parts of the country and address national security concerns The primary and immediate responsibility of the LTA is to implement the policies of government as well as monitor the activities of all telecommunication stakeholders to ensure compliance with the regulations, order and law of the Republic of Liberia.

The national operator will facilitate the implementation of government policies at the operational level in areas where the private sector cannot afford to provide the basic telecommunication service to the citizens. The Liberia Telecommunications Corporation, which is the current national operator designee, will also provide government secured telecommunications networks; periodically be required to provide international gateway facilities during state of emergency and national security and maintain the national infrastructure network of the country. The latter provision is curious since LTC possesses no infrastructure to speak of, this being entirely in the hands of the mobile operators.

The government of Liberia submitted the Comprehensive and Permanent National Telecommunications Law to the National Legislature for enactment into law several months ago.

The Analyst