How vital is Liberia Telecoms to Liberia?

 Liberian policy analyst Francis Nyepon describes the recent fate of The Liberia Telecommunications Corporation in a blistering article first published in The Liberian Times - and deserving a far wider readership. In the article, which is published in full and with Francis Nyepon's permission, the author expresses his trenchant views which may resonate with industry experts elsewhere. Both he and Developing Telecoms welcome any comment or discussion - for publication or privately. Anonymity will be guaranteed if requested.

Liberian policy analyst Francis Nyepon describes the recent fate of The Liberia Telecommunications Corporation in a blistering article first published in The Liberian Times - and deserving a far wider readership. In the article, which is published in full and with Francis Nyepon's permission, the author expresses his trenchant views which may resonate with industry experts elsewhere. Both he and Developing Telecoms welcome any comment or discussion - for publication or privately. Anonymity will be guaranteed if requested.

The Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (LTC) was forced into bankruptcy by a select group of unscrupulous officials, masterminded by existing heads of state in order to garner unimaginable benefit [and] to maintain a profitable and colourful lifestyle once out of office. At the expense of infrastructure development, Liberia's telecommunications flagship, LTC, was deliberately suffocated and sabotaged to make way for uncontested manipulative operators willing to provide the highest premiums on kickbacks necessary to get a dominant market share in the industry. To the disadvantage of infrastructure development, these unscrupulous officials allowed devious operators to enter the Liberian marketplace without open tender, legislative approval, or public referendum.

For example, LoneStar Cell, Comium, LibraCell and CellCom were introduced into the marketplace to benefit a handful of unscrupulous officials in both the Taylor and Bryant governments, who ironically are still running around Monrovia under the pretence of being born-again, flag-waving nation-builders and patriots.

 LTC has always been an income-generating state enterprise which employed and trained many Liberians who worked industriously to give the country its strategic window on the world. But during the regimes of Samuel Doe, Charles Taylor and Charles Bryant LTC was allowed to decay and lay dormant due to corruption, favouritism, ethnic bias and economic sabotage. During this period, the principle function of LTC was to serve as a dumping ground for rewarding dead-end jobs to incompetent contributors to brutal regimes and a dysfunctional governance structure. 

The Doe Administration

 During the Doe administration LTC was a viable public corporation generating enormous profits to supplement and enhance government revenue. But an unscrupulous US$16 million loan guaranteed by the Liberian government to rehabilitate and restructure the entity, turned into a US$38 million debt, which caused the collapse of a major bank in the country and caused many Liberians with account[s] to be deprived of their hard earned lifesavings. This bogus loan guarantee added substantial interest payments to Liberia's notorious US$3.5 billion debt. An earth station constructed and equipped by the Canadian Government as a gift to the people of Liberia , somehow turned into a debt burden to LTC. A small band of dishonest Liberians selfishly lined their pockets with sizeable profits and took-off for foreign lands to enjoy their new found wealth, while thousands of Liberians children remained stuck in abject poverty, without adequate education, healthcare or safe drinking water.

The Taylor Administration

 Under Charles Taylor, LTC was deliberately suffocated in order to reap substantial profits through the formation of an independent mobile phone company called LoneStar cell. This benefited Taylor and his unscrupulous circle of friends alone, and this burden of economic exploitation of the sector became Taylor's official policy. His government did not invest in the country's telecommunication industry, which resulted in the gross neglect and systemic breakdown of services, personnel and equipment. The Taylor administration forced the complete decay of the country's telecom industry, thereby leaving LTC severely weakened, dilapidated and outdated.

The Bryant Administration

In his grand and incompetent designs on the governance of Liberia's telecom sector, former chairman Charles Gyude Bryant stripped LTC of its last honour by allowing this once thriving enterprise to wither away like a bean sprat on a vine. He effectively utilised every trick in the book to destroy the Corporation because of his utter contempt and disdain for the winner of the LTC bid process. 

He hamstrung and compelled the LTC Board through an administrative manoeuvre with the Contract and Monopolies Commission (CMC) to prevent the government from entering into a contractual agreement with the bid winner. And, without precedent, Mr Bryant allowed three additional mobile operators to be introduced to the market without open tender, which Liberians believe was intended to maximise kickbacks and rewards for his family and friends.

Promoting the LTC bid result

 Under the LTC Board Chairmanship of Francis Karpeh, the LTC bid process was intended to evaluate and select a strategic partner to revitalise the sector through private initiatives to develop a network and to update transport infrastructure which could provide support to the sector while developing a nationwide wireless and fixed-line infrastructure which would link all operators to a central network system.

Karpeh's intentions during the bid process were honourable. His strategy was to ensure Liberia's place on the information super highway by forcing the transitional administration to recognise and honour the LTC bid result. His vision for LTC was to oversee the Corporation retaking its rightful place in the global telecommunications marketplace by gaining access to technologies and resources taken for granted by those residing in developed economies.

When the Universal Telephone Exchange (UTE) won the LTC bid, even though he did not endorse its triumph, Karpeh moved cautiously to honour the bid result, and he immediately began to campaign for UTE's revitalisation of LTC. He came to view local ownership as the means of driving local competition and LTC's transformation. He took every opportunity to make the UTE case to former chairman Bryant, and pleaded with senior policymakers to honour the bid result and provide UTE the opportunity to perform, but his efforts were to no avail, slammed down by Bryant and the CMC.

Circumventing the LTC bid result

 The LTC bid process was transparent at all levels. But, to the shock and dismay of many experts and industry watchers, former chairman Bryant blatantly refused to endorse the LTC board resolution, naming LTC as the winner of the LTC bid. Without justification, he illegally cancelled the LTC bid result, thereby leaving employees without pay for two years - and the corporation dormant without a roadmap to recovery. Following in the footstep of former chairman Bryant, the LTC management deceitfully produced an appendix to an expired contract in order to reactivate and justify work reauthorisation.

Paying the price for corruption

 The Bryant-led transitional government failed to comprehend and recognise the importance and vital link between the telecommunications sector, local ownership and national development. They created an uneven playing field in the marketplace for LTC, thereby rendering the cooperation worthless and insignificant to the needs of the people. 

In an effective and strategic move, the fourth-ranked bidder in the LTC Bid Process, ZTE Corporation, cunningly attached itself to AFRIPA, the company currently engaged in the expired agreement to perform the LTC revitalisation project. According to Melvin Page, an independent human rights advocate, two weeks after AFRIPA managed to successfully swindle and defraud LTC into an expired contract, ZTE Corporation acquired the AFRIPA Company and changed the company's name to ALINK Telecom. Page maintains that LTC does not have an agreement with ALINK, just the backdated supplemental fraudulently implemented by LTC management with AFRIPA.

Standing up for Liberia

 The Sirleaf administration must now stand up for Liberia. It should immediately put a stop to all activities at LTC and honour the LTC Bid result. Correcting this gross injustice and sabotage against LTC, its employees and the country must become a priority. The usual policy of business as usual can not be left to simply bringing in a new operator as a public relations ploy to recover from the blunders of past governments. The importance of honouring the LTC bid result comes at a time when the state apparatus has failed to pursue the key remedy to the country's information and telecommunications needs.

The Sirleaf administration can not just ignore the bid result in favour of some other policy direction; it should allow UTE to institute the revitalisation of LTC in order to transform LTC's outdated, loss-making operations into a robust and profitable private enterprise which ca n generate income through taxes and services, through efficiency, and through time-sensitive performance reviews. 

Problems of ownership 

The Liberian economy is totally dominated by foreigners, and most of the wealth produced in the country flows directly into the coffers of foreigners who eagerly and enthusiastically engage in instant capital flight from the country. The wealth of our country belongs to the people, and it needs to benefit all of them. The telecommunication industry is no different, especially when it involves the national security of our country. There is no country in the world where foreigners control the entire telecommunication industry, and there is no reason why the same can not be applied to Liberia.

For example, all four of Liberia's telecommunications operators are not majority Liberian-owned. There are numerous Liberians who serve as front men. Usually, they are a small clique of former officials who acquire these positions as a result of unscrupulous deals derived from influencing official policies to benefit foreigners who usually help to maintain their corrupt government lifestyle after leaving office.

If Liberia is to be developed and become prosperous, then the best way to do it is to encourage Liberians in Liberia and Liberians living abroad to invest in their country and, if they return, there is no reason why they should be penalised for seeking opportunities to source capital to help develop the country. This is not to suggest that Liberians should be handed contracts without being properly vetted to show proof of experience, sourcing capital and management capacity. Therefore, if four telephone companies are currently operating in the country, why can't an additional one be added with majority Liberian ownership to ensure local development in ways that foreigners refuse to do, or who are not capable of injecting new life into local capital development. The idea of allowing at least one majority Liberian-owned Telephone Company makes sense.

About the author: Francis Nyepon is a policy analyst and co-director of Liberia's Centre for Ethics and Public Policy. He is also a political economist who has written extensively on socio-economic and political development in Liberia, while serving on several boards of humanitarian and human rights organisations in the USA and Liberia. Francis Nyepon may be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

According to the Liberian Times, LTC management re-entered into a two-year-old expired agreement with a company called AFRIPA. The LTC management simply reconstituted an outdated contract without Board approval to unlawfully perform unauthorised work just as the newly elected government of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was about to take office.


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