By Amin Kef Sesay
One of the emerging issues that have become topical in many social circles across the country is the privatization of the Sierra Leone Telecommunications Company (SIERRATEL) for the simple fact that, over the years, that institution has become highly dysfunctional and less economically viable as well as being totally irrelevant to national development.
It really beats the imagination that the latest move made by the National Commission for Privatization (NPC) in putting up SIERRATEL for Privatization has come under criticisms from certain quarters that it will create serious unemployment issues and that the company that successfully won the bid to take over the defunct telecommunications, Sentinel, is not savvy in that area maintaining that it is not in the best interest of the company to do so.
However, there are some leveled headed personalities who strongly believe that it is indeed timely to allow another company to take over the operations by SIERRATEL.
One of those personalities is a Sierra Leonean businessman, who has been following developments at the debt-ridden, insolvent Sierra Leone Telecommunications Company (SIERRATEL), has said he supports the privatization of the company 100 percent.
According to the businessman, his business at one-time underwent similar liquidity and lack of marketing competitiveness. “Realistically,” he said, “our Government cannot continue pouring water on duck’s back in terms of spending more and more money to keep it afloat when whatever is done, SIERRATEL is already dead, even if not yet buried.”
It could be recalled that SIERRATEL’s death agonies started at the very beginning of the civil war in the early 1990s, when after spending huge amounts of money on updating its systems, rebels destroyed the entire national infrastructure that was laid.
The demise of SIERRATEL commenced when the International Gateway was taken from the company by the then existing Government and contracted to a foreign operator, a decision which prevented the telecommunications entity from generating much revenue as it used to do.
Added to that the entity did not seize the existing opportunity to effectively make use of the technological changes that private sector operators like then AIRTEL and AFRICELL capitalized on. While SIERRTEL continued operating on the outdated CDMA platform and equipment, the world was moving rapidly towards 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation technologies.
It was against such a backdrop that the National Commission for Privatization (NCP) decided to allow a public-private-partnership with SENTINEL geared towards making SIRRRATEL a viable, debt-free, profit-making entity like the Sierra Leone Ports Authority (SLPA) which before its privatization brought the Government no money and could not continue to survive without Government subsidies.
The type of privatization is a Concession Agreement, not a sale, wherein the Concessionaire Sentinel Telecommunications Company Limited will build, operate and transfer Sierratel assets to Government in a viable condition.
The mode of privatization chosen for SIERRATEL is within the realm of Public Private Partnership (PPP), not only with a human face but to ensure that Sierra Leoneans are given the opportunity to compete in the process.
Promoting local content policy has been the clarion call across the nation as citizens now believe they can make a meaningful investment in Sierra Leone.
It is well known that the business landscape in Sierra Leone is largely dominated by foreigners and they control the dynamics, but the news of a local company taking over a State asset brings joy as it depicts that locals are now ambitious to redeem the business environment that has been hijacked by foreigners.
Currently, there are some aggrieved SIERRATEL employees who have been staging strike actions for alleging that they have gone months without pay and several years without leave benefits, amongst other concerns raised.