Deferment of Telecoms Bill… Litigation fears may have forced postponement – Luncheon
The eleventh hour deferment of a critical Bill that would have opened up the telecommunication sector for other investors could be blamed on, among other things, the very real possibility of litigation by the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T).
This is according to government spokesman, Cabinet Secretary Dr. Roger Luncheon, who made this assertion during his weekly media briefing on Wednesday.
Questioned about the surprise announcement last week in the National Assembly that the handling of the Telecommunications Bill and Public Utilities Commission Amendment Bill had been postponed until the Tenth (10th) Parliament, Luncheon made it clear that critical inputs were made, while a Parliamentary Special Committee was still considering the documents.
The official also said that government wanted the Bills to be passed in Parliament without there being fallout after it is passed.
He disclosed that the partially state-owned GT&T and its US-based parent company Atlantic TeleNetworks (ATN) have been communicating with “principals within the government” of the company’s intentions to move ahead with resolving a number of outstanding differences.
The inputs by GT&T, he hinted, are critical to prevent the possibility of acrimony and of litigation.
“That resolution, negotiations (to consider the bills) demanded time that was not available as the Ninth Parliament drew to a close and (with) the interventions not (being) completed. The Bills are now slated for the Tenth Parliament.”
Following the deferment of the Bills last week Thursday, mobile giant, Digicel, which has been banking on its passage to capitalize on the internal calls market, swiftly denounced the decision.
The regulations, once enacted, would have seen, government says, new telecoms players entering the market, introducing newer, improved services to the country.
PPP/C Member of Parliament, Gail Teixeira, questioned about the decision to have the matter considered in the new Parliament, disclosed that significant comments were made that warranted the deferral. She had declined to elaborate.
Government has signaled its intentions for a number of years now to break what was described as an ironclad monopoly of GT&T. ATN had signed an agreement under the former People’s National Congress (PNC) administration to take over the government-controlled Guyana Telecommunication Corporation (GTC).
The PPP/C administration had been expressing unhappiness over the pace of developmental projects by GT&T, the new company which was formed from GTC, and one in which Guyana had retained a 20% share.
The two Bills tabled in the National Assembly a few weeks ago were initially sent a Special Select Committee to be studied and for adjustments to be made from suggestions by the public. They were expected to be passed last week.
GT&T’s Chief Executive Officer, Yog Mahadeo, had expressed reservations over the Bills and said the company had limited time to make its input last year. GT&T had also said that it was willing to continue talks with government.
Mahadeo had insisted that the so-called monopoly was one on paper, since illegal international calls and bypasses are rampant and eating away at GT&T’s profits.
The legislation, when enacted, is expected to effectively nullify the GT&T agreement and allow for other companies to enter the local market, offering a variety of services and benefits, including more bandwidth, more mobile service providers, more landlines and a host of other internet-related services.
In the absence of the Bill, GT&T will continue to operate under the conditions of its old licence, Luncheon disclosed Wednesday.
With the legislation in effect, the Telecommunications Agency, under which the National Frequency Monitoring Unit (NFMU) will fall, is to be the technical regulator while the Public Utilities Commission will function as the economic regulator for the sector.
The Information Minister will, among other things, be responsible for developing policy, overseeing the agency and granting and denying applications for licences and frequency authorisations.
Digicel Guyana, which has been an emerging player in the mobile market, following the deferment, said it was appalled at yet another aborted attempt at liberalisation in Guyana.
“This statement is made in light of failure of Parliament to pass the necessary legislation which would have brought an end to more than twenty years of a monopoly on international calls in Guyana. Despite months of consultations and commitments, the Government pulled the legislation at the eleventh hour.”
According to Digicel, Parliament’s decision to allow the current monopoly to continue, crushes Guyana’s hope for lower international calling rates within the near future.
“It also makes one wonder when the needs of the Guyanese public will take priority over the needs of ATN, GT&T’s parent company. Digicel is requesting that details of the late submission, (and for) the reason for the withdrawal of the promised legislation from Parliament be made available to all stakeholders.”
The deferment “will further impact Digicel’s ability to invest in accordance with its plans in Guyana,” the company stated.