LIBERIA DEBATES BILL TO SET UP INDEPENDENT REGULATOR AND LIBTELCO

Telecoms

Public hearings on the Draft 2006 Telecommunications Act began last week with the joint House and Senate committees on Post & Telecommunications actively listening and sometimes expressing strong but opposing views about the merit of calls being made for its eventual passage into law.

The Act which takes into account several measures, Minister Doe said would address "the outdated laws we have on our books" such as the Act that created the Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (LTC) which he said created the LTC as "a monopoly for the industry."

"LTC as we know it today was created to function at the time as the only operator, the only regulator and the only policy maker of the telecommunication sector," he said adding that the sector is experiencing "a transformation from monopoly to open market competition," he told the Committee members.

The Telecommunication Act seeks to repeal the one created in the early 1970s that awarded an outstanding monopolistic power to LTC as regulator, operator and policy provider of the telecommunication sector of the country. The new Act if passed into law will mean that the LTC will now become LIBTELCO.

Under the new Act which is being debated at the National Legislature, LIBTELCO will serve as operator which the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA) and the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications serving as regulator and policy provider, respectively.

"Apart from trying to woo committees' members into accepting the Act, Senator Sumo Kupee of Lofa was concerned about knowing the functions of the LTA and others, asking as to whether LTA was an autonomous agency.

"If it is a commission, why does it have to have regulations approved by the cabinet?" he asked. Commissioner Lamini Waritay, Justice Minister Morris and Deputy Minister Morris Saytumah however struggled to answer the question.

Meanwhile the annual payments from mobile providers for licences surfaced during discussion of the bill. Comium-Liberia makes annual fees payment totaling some US$100,000 in tandem with its "concession agreement." Cellcom, LiberCell and Lone Star Cell are paying as annual license fees US$95,000, 75,000 and US$65,000 respectively.

The Analyst