The Gabon government of Gabon are preparing to re-initiate the long awaited privatisation of the country’s telecommunications monopoly, Gabon Telecom, writes Mapara Syed. The precise terms of the privatisation strategy will be defined within the next few months by the government’s consortium of advisors, which consists of HSBC, law firm Fasken Martineau DuMoulin, technical consultant ICEA and Deloitte and Touche Tohmatsu. However, a new sale strategy has been outlined in which the government are taking a fresh approach by offering at least 50% of the telecom incumbent to investors. Previously, the government had put on sale a 35% stake in addition to management and operational control, with the option to buy a 16% stake at a later stage.

Privatisation has been under discussion since sought an IMF loan in October 2000. Following this approach, the Government promulgated a law in June 2001, which split the Office of Post and Telecommunications (OPT) into two entities, Gabon Poste and Gabon Telecom. Two further June laws defined the operating structures of the new companies, whereby the more profitable telephone component of OPT (including Libertis, a cellular service provider) would be consolidated under Gabon Telecom and privatized.

As with this re-launch, the Privatisation Committee hired HSBC as the consultant to carry out the privatization of Gabon Telecom, who submitted a 16-month timetable for the completion of the process. The call for tenders was scheduled to be announced in December 2002 and the privatization process was planned to be completed by June 2003. Despite attracting many bidders, however, the privatisation never went ahead.

According to the Commercial Attaché at a local embassy in Libreville the privatisation was postponed primarily because of social issues. “The privatisation collapsed because the social contract concerning the employees was not signed,” he said. In other words, the Government would not bite the bullet on the jobs issue.“Also, the financial data to be presented to the buyers was not completed,” he went on to add.

In response to the fresh plans the Commercial Attaché stated that they are “optimistic that the privatisation will go ahead” but are uncertain as to when. “It may be delayed until after the general election in December because people could lose jobs as a result of the privatisation process so it would not be in the government’s interest to privatise as they could lose votes,” he said.

Nevertheless, the government’s intention alone to sell off Gabon Telecom has attracted several companies and private consortiums, comprising the initial bidders during the previous privatisation attempt. These include France Telecom, ZTE, German Telecom and Maroc Telecom.