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The Minister of Information and Communications Alhaji Alpha Khan is quoted in one of the local tabloids as saying in a radio interview that the Government of Sierra Leone will liberalize the country’s international gateway within the six months. Prior to his pronouncement, the Information Minister had earlier said the monopoly granted to the Sierra Leone Telecommunications Company (SIERRATEL) to manage the international gateway would be extended by Government. Why the sudden U-turn Mr. Information Minister?

The public disclosure copy on the implementation progress for West Africa Region Communications Infrastructure Project (WARCIP) Sierra Leone as presented by the World Bank is nothing to write home about as clearly indicated in the Implementation Supervision Reports for the project. The Government’s slow process in ending the international gateway monopoly is the major problem now affecting the implementation of the project despite Legal Advisers signed a contract to assist Government with the revision of the telecommunications law which would have commenced following the November 2012 elections. But even so, some senior officials benefiting from the international gateway monopoly enjoyed by TELTAC on behalf of SIERRATEL seem to be blocking the liberalization of the country’s international gateway because of self-aggrandizement.

According to the World Bank public disclosure copy, “Significant evidence exists that the Government of Sierra Leone has since reversed its policy decision in the divestiture of Sierra Leone Cable Limited (SALCAB), which the liberalization of the international gateway has been pending. These decisions are likely to have a negative impact on the project development objectives of increasing coverage and reducing price of connectivity for the people of Sierra Leone. On March 4, the World Bank suspended further withdrawals from the project. No significant progress has since been reported.” While Sierra Leone continues to drag its leprosy feet on the all-important project, both Liberia and Sao Tome & Principe who are also beneficiaries of WARCIP have successfully progressed in the implementation of their own projects much to the satisfaction of the project stakeholders. As a Government that prides itself in development and caring for the welfare of its citizenry, I expect them to emulate the good examples of Liberia and Sao Tome and Principe in order to win the confidence of the project stakeholders and Sierra Leoneans who are the direct beneficiaries. Why should Government allow the World Bank to suspend further withdrawals from the project if they were actually genuine in the implementation of the project? But perhaps with such embarrassment on their part, the Government of Sierra Leone may have the human face to cater to the needs of impoverished Sierra Leoneans who bear the burden of the high price connectivity. Does Sierra Leoneans deserve this?

I see the Information Minister’s reported statement that the Government of Sierra Leone will liberalize the international gateway within the next six months as mere intention or a statement meant to appease the World Bank so that the suspension on further withdrawals from the project would be lifted. What Sierra Leoneans need is action now and not intention or appeasement; we have suffered for far too long and any Government that would prolong our suffering would be condemned outright no matter whose ox is gored.

I believe what the Government of Sierra Leone should do now is to immediately reverse its policy decision in the divestiture of SALCAB and amend the Telecommunications Act 2006 to allow the liberalization of the country’s international gateway so that Sierra Leone would not be left out of the ICT race. We need action, not intention Mr. Information Minister!