Henry Kerali, the World Bank Country Director for Sierra Leone, Ghana and Sierra Leone on Thursday said President Ernest Bai Koroma has instructed the National Telecommunications Company (NATCOM) and the telecom operations to reach an agreement on the new license platform which will come into effect today 1st April.

This license agreement, according to the Country Director, is meant to open up competition with multiple service providers having access to multiple gateways. He disclosed this to journalists at the World Bank office at Howe Street during his regular visit in the country.

Kerali maintained that during this visit he had fruitful meeting with the president where they discussed wide range of issues particularly the cooperation between the World Bank Group as a whole and the government of Sierra Leone, adding that one of the issues that came up was that of the gateway which “key principle is really to be able to have multiple access and not to be the monopoly of one operator, so this is what the licensing is all about. You license as many private operators and then provide services within a regulated environment, so you don’t end up with one operator monopolizing the calls and internet traffic in and out of the Sierra Leone. The objective is to bring down prices and also improve service. For the gateway, the detail is that World Bank has been assisting to have this liberalized and have it open to competition; anyone who can afford the license should be able to buy it and operates either voice calls or data”, he explained.

Henry Kerali stated that during the meeting they were also able to “touch on issues on the telecomm sector, the need to liberalize the gateway to Sierra Leone, to reduce the cost of internet and communications in Sierra Leone and also to invest in Sierra Leone Cable Company (SALCAB).”

Another area they discussed at the meeting, according to the World Bank Country Director was how to improve fisheries in the country. The two aspects that were discussed were “the management of the fisheries itself, the governance arrangement around licenses of foreign fishing boats in particular, and also mechanism to further strengthen fisheries services in Sierra Leone.”

He Maintained that there was need to look at more support from the Bank in the transport sector with particular focus on ferry services between Freetown and Lungi since “for a long time now ferry services are quite inefficient, so government has put that as a high priority to reinstate high capacity ferry services between Freetown and Lungi, so we are exploring possibilities to finance projects that would supply maybe two ferries and also finance the infrastructure needed for the landing of those ferries on both sides.”

Another issue of concern is that of the ID for development which is the Civil Registration of Sierra Leonean citizens, stating that for this ID system they have started with supporting the study to look into how best to implement such a system at an affordable price for Sierra Leone, that takes into account the many systems that are already operating like the From From Page 2

Passport, National ID cards, drivers’ license and Social Security card, with all of these information put in a data base somewhere.

“At the moment, all of these are separated and so the ID for Development concept is an integrated system which can later be used to facilitate the registration of voters. However, the concept for ID for development is not a voter register; it is a database of people entitled to citizenship of Sierra Leone.”

On the issue of the Mamama Airport which has been an issue, he said “our position has remained the same. At this point in time there is no economic justification; at this point in time there are still other priorities that the government needs to deal with. The government has a very comprehensive post ebola recovery programme that the government is seeking support from development partners. This post ebola recovery plan comes up at a higher priority of Sierra Leone at this point in time. For us, the issue is the question of time, when the economic justification is proved over time it can become economically justified but at this point in time especially with the impact of the ebola virus disease, air traffic actually went down and that makes it harder to justify the reason for Mamama Airport at this time.”

The World Bank Country Director for Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia “encouraged government to continue looking at other options which will be improvement to Lungi Airport, infrastructural development that will allow faster and easier access to the Lungi and looking at options to develop the Port Loko side and also think long term plans like what will be the future of Freetown in 50 years time which is very important at this time.”