- Gambian officials have defended the sale [50%] of the Gambia Telecommunications Company Ltd (GAMTEL) and its subsidiary company GAMCEL [the national mobile operator], attributing it to deterioration of services among other problems.
GAMTEL and GAMCEL shares were dubiously sold to a Lebanese company, Spectrum Group, on 1 August. Though Gambians know little about Spectrum, it is reported that the company has stakes in many industries throughout West Africa.
The two companies have been the second to join privatisation list this year. The sale of Gambia International Airlines (GIA) was announced on 1 June.
Concerned Gambians, including opposition politicians have raised eyebrows about the sale of GAMTEL/GAMCEL shares, describing it as a flagrant violation of laws governing public institutions. The act outlaws the sale of public institutions or their shares without publicly inviting tenders.
Gambian officials have however said the move was intended to salvage the two companies.
“It would be recalled that GAMTEL over the last years had deteriorated in service provision, accessibility and quality of service,” a news release from the State Department for Communication, read.
“It is also experiencing stagnation in network expansion and subscriber base. Furthermore GAMTEL was near bankruptcy and is heavily indebted.”
The government said it was left with no choice other than reviewing various proposals for “strategic partnership” to give GAMTEL the needed boost to enter into new business models, new technology, with a view to providing high quality and affordable telecommunications services.
Detecon International, a German company with 30 years of international experience, has been assigned to be responsible for “consultancy and strategic management” of GAMTEL/GAMTEL.
Gambian officials, who ignored the reasons why a deal was reached outside public domain, merely said “more and more countries around the world are taking favourable advantage of the benefits of strategic partnership and that The Gambia is no exception.”
But the leader of the main opposition United Democratic Party, Lawyer Ousainou Darboe, who claims to be a firm believer that private investment wheels a country’s economic engines, said the government has blundered for not publicising or tendering the process.
“I am not even sure whether the divestiture agency is even aware because everything should have gone through it,” Mr Darboe told ‘The Point’.
He said there is no justification to privatise GAMTEL, especially when it boasts of being one of the best managed telecommunications companies in Africa, ranking only to South Africa in Africa.
“It has done extremely well until the APRC [the military junta led by the currently President that forcefully seized power in 1994] came in. GAMTEL funds have been alleged to be put to uses no one knows about. It has quite an efficient management. What is a new owner bringing in?” he questioned.
Mr Darboe also questioned the justification for privatising GAMCEL when the company has been professionals its parent body.
“I would say if government needs to get rid of its own share, Gambians ought to have been given the opportunity to purchase the shares or even if they don’t opt to float it publicly they should encourage some sectors of our business community, Gambians or insurance companies, to pull their resources together and buy it so that it remains in the hands of Gambians. But in this sense, you are putting a very vital player in the economy of this country in the hands of a foreigner and I do not think that is right,” he said.
“Nothing has been done that can be truly called transparent, and this has again belied Jammeh’s advocacy of accountability and transparency. It shows that it is just mere rhetoric. One can say it is nothing that they are committed to,” he said, advising the government to consult Gambians first before it privatises any public institution.
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