The four operating mobile telephone companies – Africell, Celtel, Comium and Tigo presently operating in the country yesterday at the Country Lodge launched the Sierra Leone GSM Operator Association which is aimed at participating in the activities of the GSM Association both at regional and global level.
Speaking at the launching ceremony the first Chairman of the Association Robert Khoury Managing Director of Africell said that the association connects with GSMA which is a unique global trade association set up to preserve, enhance and promote the interest of GSM mobile operators.
He stated that the Sierra Leone GSMA takes a leadership role in representing its members with one voice on a wide variety of national, regional and global issues.
The Africell MD disclosed that in addition to handling commercial, public policy and technical initiative, the GSMA focuses on ensuring mobile services work globally thereby enhancing their value to individual users and national economies while creating new business opportunities for operators and their supplier partners.
With the creation of the GSMA in the country, he said this will enable GSM operators in the country to speak with one voice when dealing with a whole range of issues with the support of the GSMA.
Mr Khoury said that since the inception of the GSM services in the country there has been an increase in the penetration from 10% to close to 20% and the mobile operators now cover more than 80% of the population in the country.
Speaking about the contribution that the mobile companies have made, the MD disclosed that they have contributed to improving the economic situation of the country and that they have also created immense job opportunities for Sierra Leoneans coupled with the provision of excellent training programs in all areas of discipline including technical, commercial, finance and human resources.
He noted that though the mobile companies are operating in a competitive environment, yet the competition is healthy and this has created equilibrium in the market whereby the users benefit from quality services, “affordable tariffs and a wide variety of value added services making the use of the mobile phone in the country a unique and wonderful experience.”
On the international gateway in the country the Africell MD explained that immediately after the first mobile company was launched, the gateway was liberalized in accordance with global trends within the telecomm industry and also to improve the quality of services offered to end users. As a result, he went on GSM companies were permitted to operate their own international gateway, but early last year the operation of individual international gateway by GSM operators was revoked and the monopoly was restored to the Public Service Telecommunications Network. “This decision” he noted “created great instability within the industry, it also led us once again to a situation whereby we are unable to control the quality of services offered to end users when making or receiving international calls.”
He stated “this association’s position is that a liberalized international gateway as has been recognised world over, best serves a country and its citizens.”
As the exclusivity of the gateway expires this year, the Chairman said, it is the hope of the association that the review process will be an open and transparent one wherein mistakes of the past will not be repeated.
The new SLGSMOA Chairman further pledged the association’s commitment to the government in bringing best practice and promoting good business code of ethics.
“We would also like to single out our resolve to fighting corruption, promotion of fair competition and continued participation in corporate social responsibility programs.”
In launching the association Commissioner Sahr Tumoi of the National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM) said that the role of his organization is to nourish and maintain competition in the telecomm industry and that they set the rules of the game and expect the players to go by the rules.
He disclosed that since the formation of NATCOM, there are certain overlaps especially in the regulatory process. He however welcomed the idea of setting up the association, but called on the association not to put any cases as an association but that every mobile company should put in their case differently.
By Betty Milton