Online newspaper Freedom has published a story claiming that the Gambian government has performed a u-turn by handing back a 50% stake in mobile operator Gamcel to Lebanon-based Spectrum Holding, the company which had its management contract for Gamcel and its parent telco Gamtel prematurely terminated in November 2008. Quoting unnamed sources, Freedom says that Spectrum has been reinstated as joint owner of the GSM network operator in a ‘secret’ deal to mitigate a possible lawsuit from the Lebanese telecoms investor against the Gambian government for breach of contract. A journalist from the paper met with Spectrum executives at Gamcel’s offices last week, and reportedly obtained confirmation from both Gamcel and officials from the Ministry of Information & Communication Infrastructure of the ‘reinstatement’ of Spectrum, but details surrounding any new ‘sale’ deal were not disclosed. A source was quoted as alleging that the government was looking to sell off state-run operations such as Gamcel to help pay wage bills at certain departments.
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, prior to a part-privatisation in August 2007 Gamtel was a state-owned, limited liability company with the government owning 99% of shares and Gambia National Insurance Company (GNIC) owning 1%. A deal that month gave joint management control in Gamtel and mobile arm Gamcel to Spectrum and Germany-based consultancy DeTeCon International, but this was cancelled by the government in November 2008 for failure to fulfil performance expectations. Although losing any say in the group’s running, Spectrum’s 50% interest in the telco was not returned, despite a state plan to repurchase 100% of Gamtel and subsequently sell off 80% of Gamcel to a new investor. The disclosures this week indicate that, at the cellular division at least, the Lebanese group has retaken an active ownership position.