COTE D'IVOIRE: REGULATOR VS MINISTRY - THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY

Telecoms

To help puzzled readers follow what is happening in the dispute between the Ivorian regulator ATCI, the Minister of Telecoms and ICT and the Government, Balancing Act's Ivorian correspondent seeks to explain the roots of the dispute.

What is happening at ATCI is that the Minister of Telecoms and ICT is from one of the three big political parties (RDR) of former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, currently in opposition to Président Gbagbo. And the GM of ATCI is from Président Gbagbo's party, the FPI.

The RDR and the FPI are two of the three major parties that dominate the political scene in Cote d'Ivoire, the third being the old PDCI, the former "parti unique" of Houphouet Boigny.

The civil war that is occuring here is mainly between FPI and RDR. The rebels that held the north of the country are fighting for the same reasons as the one defended by RDR and Alassane Ouattara. And the patriots that are holding the south are supporters of FPI and Président Gbagbo.

After peace talks in Marcoussis, France, in January 2003, a government was put in place involving all the parties. This is how Hamed Bakayoko from RDR became Minister of Telecoms and ICT. He found Sylvanus Kla Koue from FPI in his position as GM of ATCI. The same problem has occurred in several other ministries. Newly appointed Ministers from opposition parties (RDR, PDCI, rebels or others) have wanted to change the head of administrative bodies or publicly held companies occupied by members of FPI, with people of their choice. This issue was particularly spotlighted during the appointment of a General Manager for the state broadcast company, RTI. After a fierce battle between the FPI and the head of the rebels as Minister of communication, the position has been awarded to a independant third party.

This was all waiting to explode, and it is occurring now because of a very specific political agenda. The issue with ATCI is that it is collecting the taxes form operators and service providers, and not giving it it to the treasury of the State. It is supposed to underwrite the budgets of all administrative structure related to telecom and ICT (Ministry and CTCI the second regulator body). But the head of ATCI is deciding when and how he releases money for the Ministry. On top of this, there has been a personality clash between Bakayoko (the Minister) and Kla (head of ACTI) that has almost ensured that they have now become part of a wider political agenda between the FPI and the RDR.