Liberalization attempt #999

The Government of Guyana announced that, among its priorities for the new parliament, is the liberalization of the telecommunications sector.

The telecommunication monopoly was created by the PNC in the 1990s and it would be poetic justice that they, as part of the Government, have to undo one of their own grave wrongs, that is, the 40-year monopoly (which was matched by the PPP’s own private contract covering a similar length of time).

That the 1990 monopoly has severely restricted the development of Guyana (as claimed by former HPS Luncheon) may be an indeterminable understatement, notwithstanding the claims of massive investment by legal and illegal telecommunications companies in Guyana.

While liberalization was, for a brief period, a passion of then President Jagdeo. Sadly, that caved in. The glaring opportunities of the sector seemed to have become evident to a handful of people who were intent on grabbing everything and so liberalization became a game – one which was designed to only take place when certain private persons and companies were established – in and out of the law – to exploit the opportunities.

To its credit, GT&T, at that time, stated that it welcomed liberalization. In fact, its primary shareholder (ATN) through Michael Prior, not only spoke of liberalization as a welcome step, but promised to help in all practical and reasonable ways to get it done. But a level playing field was important to GT&T as well as the obviously desired protection of its investments.

Digicel has demanded a liberalized sector. Its CEO, Greg Dean, was very open about wanting his company to play a progressive role in creating a liberalized environment while securing its own investment, of course.

There was a high infusion of energy and zest into the liberalization process by the general public and investors at large. Then the process became affected by suspicious acquisition of data by certain individuals/contractors who are still in the employ of their masters.

Predictably, predator politics of the principals focussed more on the design of the proposed law that grandfathered certain named companies into the sector (by law) than the process of negotiation with GT&T and Digicel. It must be noted that all those named companies have been suspicioned to have an intimate relationship with the then Government. Meanwhile, the regulators became regulated and were rendered toothless through political diktat.

If the Government is serious about Liberalization, it must:
1) Remove that diseased, myopic clause that guarantees licenses to the named companies.

2) Ensure there is no conflict of interest between Government officers and GT&T.

3) Immediately take its place (on the board) and stop the capital hemorrhage.
4) Urgently call GT&T to the table to negotiate its monopoly.

5) Immediately investigate the spectrum abuse by legal and illegal companies and ensure that the nation’s spectrum assets earn their potential – which should handsomely pay for the setup of a proper management system and team.

Any other approach will court disaster for an ailing industry that is infested with tax-evasion, back-door deals, illegal entities and of course rampant opportunism. There are other areas within the telecommunication sector that require urgent attention. These will be addressed in subsequent feedback. Liberalization is primary.

Finally, the President must be made aware that every day’s delay ensures that millions of dollars’ worth of investment and hard money continues to be swathed in corporate veils to the detriment of this great nation of ours.

Liberalization is a must for 2015 but it must take place in a transparent manner.