(By A Former Minister of Information and Communications)
The Telecommunications Act 2006 (as amended) in its wisdom establishes NATCOM (National Telecommunications Commission) to be headed by a Chairman/Commissioner and populated by six other Commissioners. There is no mention therein of management in which is vested the powers of the Act. Management for all intents and purposes is an employee of the Board of Commissioners charged with the responsibility to manage the policies of the Board. The management of the institution is at the behest of the Board and even appointments to management positions such as Director General or Deputy is the responsibility of the Board of Commissioners.
The Commission is an independent Corporate Body with perpetual succession in regulating the sector. The independence of the Commission is clearly spelt out in Section 10 of the Act and I quote “In the performance of its functions under this Act, the Commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or Authority”. The independence of the Commission is sacrosanct and cannot be violated by an Authority other than by amendment of the Act by the Parliament which established it in the first place.
The present situation at the national regulator is a recipe for unnecessary contention. The Commission still not fully constituted has been saddled with a Director General and Deputy Director General appointed at the pleasure of His Excellency. The Act clearly states in Section 4 that the Commission shall consist of a Commissioner as Chairman and six other Commissioners, all of whom shall be appointed by the President subject to the approval of Parliament.
In 2015 during the appointment of the erstwhile Chairman of NATCOM, Mr. Momoh Kemoh Konte two amendments in the amended Act of 2009 were proposed viz: the expunged Section 33 of Act which deals with the International Gateway and the position of Executive Chairman. The position of Executive Chairman was rejected by Chairman Momoh Konte on the basis that the Act must not be used to address an individual situation. The Act already in its present form speaks to the executive nature of the position of the Chairman. Section 33 was forwarded to Parliament and the changes accordingly made. In another letter from the Board of Commissioners to the President, the following suggestions were proposed:
- Use of office space
- Internet facility
- Commission Costs and
After careful consideration by the President all of the above were approved and an Executive Order was made to the effect. Before this letter, Commissioners habitually allocated emoluments to themselves without reference to any instrument as the Act was silent on this issue.
Even the ECOWAS Supplementary Act A/SA 1/01/07 on the “Harmonization of Policies and of the Regulatory Framework for the Information and Commissions Technology (ICT) Sector” supports the same independence of the Commission. This protocol was signed on behalf of Sierra Leone by President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and renewed by President Ernest Bai Koroma.
We should note that this instrument is an international treaty which has the backing of all sixteen states in the sub-region. Chapter IV of the ECOWAS Supplementary Protocol clearly speaks to the independence of the national regulatory authorities to exercise their powers in an impartial and transparent manner, in Article II Sub Section 1. Subsection 2 addresses and emphasizes “member states shall guarantee the independence of the national regulatory authorities with respect to the political authorities and all organizations providing telecommunications networks, equipment or services, or otherwise active in the sector, by ensuring that the former are legally distinct from and functionally independent of the latter.
This raises the issue of another important player in the sector-The Sierra Leone Cable Limited (SALCAB). The setting up of SALCAB was funded primarily by the World Bank as a loan with a high level of international interaction on policy matters which underscored the need to have a Sierra Leonean as the Executive Chairman of SALCAB.
In the first instance, the government, in 2012 when the country’s first undersea fibre-optic cable was landed at Aberdeen, offered Board membership positions to all Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). Because of disagreement in share capital holdings the MNOs withdrew and the government became 100% share-holder.
However the shareholding is in trust until the Government and the World Bank resolve the issue of private share holder participation. The Government because of the nature of the reporting line has from inception made the Chairman of SALCAB an Executive Chairman. The Chairman of SALCAB reverts to NATCOM only on matters of the sale of bandwidth and fair competition.
In conclusion, the Chairmen of NATCOM and SALCAB have always held the position of Executive Chairmen. That has never been in dispute. Never!