Telecommunications Failure Isolates Liberia : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Panafrican News Agency November 1, 2000 Monrovia

Liberia Wednesday entered the seventh day of a major breakdown in its telecommunications facilities, isolating the country from the international community and impeding local transactions.

Since 26 October, telephone, fax and telex services of the Liberia Telecommunication Corporation went mute, leaving internal and external communications to two private phone and Internet companies.

The managing director of the corporation, Charles Roberts, told PANA that the breakdown was due to "loss of essential data from the memory bank of the main central processing unit of the switching exchange."

Roberts admits the company's equipment was near obsolete, but rejected claims that neglect of maintenance had caused a collapse in the facility.

He recognises that the breakdown has had "an economic impact" on the country, as it has left businesses, including banks, money transfer entities, as well as local and international institutions practically paralysed.

"This warrants that replacement (of the equipment) now becomes a matter of national priority," Roberts recommends.

But unfortunately, the corporation is in a state of financial haemorrhage due to a combination of factors, he added.

The company is collecting only 20 to 30 percent of its monthly billings, while a presidential task force set up about a year ago to collect some seven million US dollars in arrears has yet to complete the job and report to the public.

Depending on the feature and configuration of a new machine ordered by the company, it would cost between 1.5 million dollars and 4.8 million dollars to replace the present facilities, one of which is nearly 40 years old and the other over a decade old, Roberts said.

Telecommunications in post-war Liberia has left much to be desired in terms of the level and quality of the services available to the public.

Prior to the war, there were more than 10,000 telephone lines throughout the country, according to Roberts, but currently there are only 7,000 lines available, 5,000 of which were installed in 1962.

Except for three of the 14 political subdivisions (regions), the rest of rural Liberia has no phone, telex or fax links to Monrovia.

NGOs, UN agencies, state security and private interest in rural Liberia all use SSB (Single Side Band) radio to communicate with their affiliates in Monrovia and other parts of the country.

Modern communication technologies like the Internet are reportedly subjected to government restrictions for " security reasons", while cellular phones, introduced in 1999 are too costly and seem to be a symbol of elitism for those who carry them in Monrovia.

Privatisation of the Telecommunications Corporation has been on the lips of many Liberians, but its board chairman, Maurice Cooper, thinks the company is below capacity and unattractive and that much needs to be done before privatisation is considered.

But Roberts says, "from all indications the government seems to be leaning towards privatisation," the only sticky issue being "the right partner."

Because many government officials and functionaries massively misuse telephone facilities and neglect paying bills, privatisation has remained a thorny issue over the past two decades, with the government itself having no precise divestiture plans.

Meantime, Monrovia remains mute for "a few more days," according to Roberts, as local technicians who have restored 90 percent of the facility strive to bring it back to live.

-- Doris (, November 02, 2000

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