By Allieu S. Tunkara
A credible source has told this medium that government has halted moves to put on sale the Sierra Leone Cable Limited (SALCAB).
Government’s halt of the sale is indicated in a press release dated 28th August, 2020 issued by the Ministry of Information and Communication (MOIC).
The release from MOIC notes that: “government has no intention of selling SALCAB.”
However, government does not rule out an unbundling of the National Fibre Optic Asset comprising the submarine cable and the National Terrestrial Backbone manned by SALCAB.
“The Superintending ministry, as part of its overarching policy and institutional reform, informed by cluster 3.5 of the National Development Plan and the ministry’s National Digital Transformation Policy has put a proposal to cabinet for the unbundling of the National Fibre Optic Asset and the National Terrestrial Backbone manned by SALCAB,” the release reads in part.
The release further notes that a cabinet subcommittee which comprises Ministry of Finance, Office of the Attorney-General, Public- Private Partnership Unit and MOIC has been set up to work out the technical details for unbundling and re-submit a proposal for final decision.
It further notes that the process of unbundling has only commenced and that no company has been awarded the contract.
“The procurement process for a private operator can only be done at a later stage in a competitive and transparent manner,” the release notes.
The release also refutes claims that MOIC has transferred management and control of SALCAB to a private company.
It also notes that government, in partnership with the World Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and the Chinese Exim Bank, has made significant investment to improve the telecommunication infrastructure through the deployment of a Submarine Cable Landing Station for international connectivity and the terrestrial national backbone for domestic and regional connectors.
The release also assures the public that the proposed reform is driven largely by government’s desire to develop a digitally inclusive society thereby reducing the cost of digital services.
The parastatal, SALCAB handles management of the country’s e-governance system among other functions.
Records seen recently by this medium indicate that Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA’s) of government owe Le 39Bn to SALCAB.
The huge debts owed by MDA’s to the agency became the main factor that prompted the intended sale of the cable company.
In its management of the e-governance system, SALCAB hosts and provides bandwidth capacity for MDA’s which, for a long time, have been accruing debts they have failed to offset.
The company was resultantly plunged in a dire financial situation making it difficult to run effectively and efficiently.
In an attempt to ease the financial burden, government embarks on unbundling SALCAB and lease it to a private company owned by a foreign national.
However, government’s move to unbundle SALCAB was quite recently opposed by opposition members of parliament.
The parliamentarians argue that the move would compromise national security, and brings high cost to government.
“Creating a new company to manage the terrestrial network is not advisable. The Ministry of Information is just creating another SIERRATEL that will put fresh financial burden on government because the new company will wholly and solely depend on government subsidy to operate effectively,” a Senior opposition MP claimed.
Reports also show that government intends to set up a new company to manage the terrestrial network.
Plans by the Information Minister, reports say, are already in place for implementation.
Sources say, Minister of Information, Mohamed Swarray initially opposed plans to lease the submarine cable to a private entity.
But, government pressure has compelled the minister to champion a cause he initially opposed.
A source also indicates that the Chairman for SALCAB Board of Directors, Sorie Fofanah has written a letter to President Julius Maada Bio advising him not to proceed with the lease of the submarine cable.
Meanwhile the recruitment of a private company, Niche Technologies as a MOIC technology partner has also come under serious scrutiny.
It is alleged that the company is owned by a friend of the Minister of Information.
Niche Technologies, sources say, has been awarded several MOIC contracts through sole sourcing method.
MOIC Permanent Secretary, Morie Momoh has reportedly raised eyebrows at the manner in which contracts were awarded in the ministry before he took over nearly three months ago.
Meanwhile opposition parliamentarians remain determined to reject the deal, which they say, can compromise national security and cost government dearly.