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Technology | Economy - Development

Comoros telecom market reforms speed up

afrol News, 23 August - The Comoran leader has decreed the implementation of the country's much awaited telecom reform by splitting up the National Postal and Telecommunications Company (SNPT). Leaving postal services behind, the telecom sector of Comoros - renamed Comtel - now will search foreign investors. Comtel is however left with a political leadership.

Colonel Assoumani Azali, the President of the Comoran Union, has issued a decree splitting government-owned SNPT. From now on, the new company Comtel will be Comoros' new telecom company, while the new provider of postal services in Comoros will be SNPC. While the split is being conducted, military commander Djamalidine Moissuli will administrate the two companies.

According to President Azali's decree, current SNPT President Oumara Mgomri is to take over the general leadership of Comtel. The new telecom provider will further be split up into two main departments; mobile phones and the fixed lines' network. The latter department is to be led by a former Defence Minister.

With the separation of postal services from the state company - which by Comoran standards has a large number of employees - the national telecom service is moving closer towards privatisation. SNPT is estimated to employ between 300 and 400 workers; somewhat more than half of which work in the archipelago's postal service.

The new postal state company, SNPC, also will have the burden of inheriting most of SNPT's old debts. This includes the outstanding bills of an estimated euro 4 million to France Telecom, which had caused the latter to freeze services with Comoros after repayment failures.

Comtel is to start free of large international debts in a government scheme to make the new Comoran telecom provider interesting for foreign investments. A law authorising the liberalisation of the telecom sector and the privatisation of SNTP or its daughter companies was approved by Parliament already in 1997. Comtel is now searching for a "serious strategic partner" abroad.

The Comoran government has been under the pressure of the World Bank to privatise its telecom sector for several years. SNTP last year was restructured into separated departments and legislation eliminating its telecom monopoly and splitting the telecommunications and postal services into separate entities was approved. The split has however not been approved until now.

According to World Bank sources, "the documentation for the sale of the telecommunications company to a strategic investor is ready, pending the decision by government to proceed, and a license for a cellular operator is being auctioned." This has been the situation for more than one year.

Economic reform in general and reform in the telecom sector has been a slow affair in Comoros due to the political crisis experienced the last decade. The central government in Moroni on Gran Comore has been paralysed by autonomy bids by the three islands forming Comoros; Gran Comore, Anjouan and Moheli. A power struggle between island governments and Colonel Azali's disputed central government has further delayed decision-making.

The Comoran power struggle in currently seeming to come to and end. African Union mediation and successful parliamentary elections won by the opposition (to President Azali) have led to a more reconciling environment in the archipelago. Political stability and a general will to solve national problems however still remain questionable and investors are still difficult to recruit.

This is also the case in the split-up of SNPT and the upcoming privatisation of Comtel. Representatives of the Comoran opposition, reacting to the political appointments in Comtel and SNPC, have already announced their intention to try President Azali's decree in the Constitutional Court.

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