LIBERIA: Disenfranchising Local Ownership in the Telecom Sector


By Francis W. Nyepon

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
April 11, 2005


Since the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTLA) began promulgating policies to restructure and reform the telecommunications sector in the country, opportunities have not been provided for local ownership even though Liberians have, a) access to significant amount of private capital to invest in the sector; b) comprise a large number of experts in the sector; c) the ability to generate and circulate huge amount of revenue throughout the economy.

Sector reform during the transitional period must provide a boost to the LTC and the domestic economy. It should direct reform policy towards local ownership. No new policy should be completed without the encouragement of local ownership to sustain development and ensure the circulation of a robust revenue stream in order to stimulate growth nationwide. By encouraging such a policy orientation would have four direct and immediate impacts on the economy. First it would enable the emergence of a progressive middle class; secondly, it would direct private capital to other sectors of the economy; thirdly, it would speed up the return of a technical and entrepreneur class; and fourthly, it would link the formal sector more directly with the informal sector, including the country’s “bread basket” because of kinship and the reciprocity in local linkages.

By encouraging local ownership and helping to facilitate that ownership, the Bryant-led NTGL could ensure the emergence of a progressive middle class. Thus, local ownership in the sector would provide considerable and diverse coverage of appropriate networks, technology, consumer protection and services, which would bring significant transformation to the social order. Mr. Bryant and his team of economic advisors need to understand that Liberians best understand the importance and necessity of vital communications link with kinfolk and the obligation to utilize the sector to spur growth and sustain development especially in remote areas of the country more than any other group in the country.

The eagerness of some within the NTGL to exploit foreign telephone operators in order to harness as much bribe money as possible has frustrated all attempts by Liberian entrepreneurs to participate in the sector. The NTGL has unusually gone an extra mile in providing tremendous incentives to the Lebanese and other foreigners in order for these groups to control the sector, which in itself poses a national security risk. Conversely, these foreign operators have no incentive or interest in linking the rural sector (where the majority of the population resides) with the urban (where the higher income earners reside). To this end, they conveniently ignore the rural sector and instead focus on the urban sector where profit can be made quite rapidly. But, the rural sector is arguably the most in need of reliable communication systems, especially during times of emergencies.

The NTGL Council of Economic Advisors, headed by Harry Greaves must be made to understand the utility value of local ownership in relation to sustainable domestic economic growth. The NTGL must give Liberians an equal opportunity and provide a level playing field in the sector if real change is to be rooted during this transitional period. This does not mean that Greaves and others should be forced to give the same amount of incentive packages they are accustom to providing to unscrupulous Lebanese businessmen who control the sector and provide significantly more inducement than ordinary Liberians. Mr. Greaves and his Economic Advisory Council should know by now that many sectors of the economy remain embedded in foreign enclaves where these groups can at will suppress or suffocate functioning communities, facilities and entire infrastructures, hence the national economy. Since the induction of the NTGL, a Liberianization policy has been promoted with false intent and no desire of really engaging Liberians but rather endorsing and enunciating empty slogans of hope only to dash the aspirations of hard working Liberian eager to make a contribution to the country’s reconstruction.

Cases in point: The victimization of civil servants by non-payment of wages and salary arrears; the ambiguity in the management of the Buchanan iron ore sale; the indignity surrounding the Central Bank selection process; the Cavalla rubber plantation scandal; controversies surrounding interferences in the recent public tenders for LIMNCO, LEC, LTC; and the fake and dishonest nature of basic commodity prices increases by unscrupulous public officials.

To most Liberians, these cases met the NTGL procurement guidelines, public scrutiny and a well calculated and orchestrated smear campaigns. But they have all being tampered with by the NTGL Chairman and his Council of Economic Advisors in order to manipulate the process and choreograph them to be handed to particular vendors or front men, despite the fact that well meaning Liberians are more than capable of sourcing adequate financing to participate in the resuscitation of these sectors.

This article is not intended in any way to suggest that fraud is being directly orchestrated by the Chairman; however, one cannot help but wonder if others are not conniving with unscrupulous businessmen to divert or siphon off scarce funds needed to jump start the economy, hence the reconstruction process. But, Liberians have come to believe that the NTGL concept of transparency and accountability possess standards of hypocrisy which change according to the daily power politics or shifting influence amongst personalities in the Executive Mansion.

Even though three quarters of the transitional process has been exhausted without any tangible or significant progress made, Mr. Bryant still has time to commit himself to doing the right thing for Liberia beyond the arrogance and self-centered behavior of his economic advisors. Processes and procedures put in place by the NTGL must be honored and respected regardless of individual dissatisfaction with the outcome. Capable Liberians must be given an opportunity to perform and not castigated for wanting to participate in the rebuilding of their country and those whose reputation have been carelessly questioned will not sit by indolently. The Chairman must understand that delays have the way of generating suspicions and suspicions have a way of casting aspersion upon judgment, however sound. He must demonstrate to Liberians that his intentions are simply to do the right thing for Liberia and not to follow in the footsteps of Charles Taylor for egotistical reasons, for the lives of innocent children hang in the balance after decades of brutality and carnage.

Francis Nyepon can be reached at: