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Government drops telecoms bill at the eleventh hour

23 Sep 2011

The Guyanese government has postponed its plans for telecommunications reform until after the general election in December this year. The government had planned to pass two bills, the Telecommunications Bill and the Public Utilities Commission (Amendment) Bill that would improve the conditions for competition in the sector. The two pieces of legislation would have created a new regulator, the Telecommunications Agency, and a new framework of regulations including careful management of interconnection rates and the liberalisation of international call termination.

The bills were widely expected to be read and passed on Thursday during the government’s last sitting before it goes into recess in preparation for the general election. The legislation had been reviewed by the Special Select Committees, and the government had received comments from main industry players Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T) and Digicel.

The government claims that the process was halted after late submissions to the consultation process: ‘at the very last moment significant comments were made in relation to the bill, there are two bills, the telecoms and the PUC, and they were significant enough to require further time for consideration’, said Acting Chief Whip for the government Gail Teixeira. Teixeira did not comment on the origin of the last-minute comments, except that they did not originate from within the current government.

Local newspaper Demerara Waves reported that Yog Mahadeo, CEO of the incumbent GT&T, also had no comment on the deferral but stated that the late comments had not come from his company.

Digicel meanwhile released a statement damning the decision to pull the legislation ‘at the eleventh hour’. The cellco requested that details of the late submission, the reason for the backtracking, be made available to all stakeholders. The statement went on to question the involvement of the incumbent: ‘it also makes one wonder when the needs of the Guyanese public will take priority over the needs of ATN’ – Atlantic Tele Network, the parent company of GT&T. CEO of Digicel Guyana, Gregory Dean, expressed his disappointment: ‘This was Guyana’s opportunity to be propelled into a new era of modern, liberalised telecommunications sector where consumers are the real winners. Once again, all of the talk has come to nothing.’

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