Government has business in business

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The Gambia’s Minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure Alhaji Cham spoke on the country’s readiness to join the information highway. He spoke with SEGUN ORUAME, IT Edge News

What is government policy in terms of Internet penetration?
Thank you very much for giving me opportunity to share our policy with you. The government of Gambia through the Ministry
of Information and Communication Infrastructure has developed what we call the NICI policy, National Information
Communication Infrastructure policy. That policy is quite detail as to how we want the Internet penetration to be. As you
know Gamtel is a fixed line operator owned by government, and they have the backbone throughout the length and breadth of
the country, and then fiber optic cable to have all the bandwidth that we need for connectivity; it is envisaged in the
policy that all the villages, hospitals, schools will all have connection. Now there is connection in the major towns and
some other areas, it is only in the villages we don’t have connectivity. But as you know one of the GSM operators have 3G
network and Gamtel also has 3G CDMA technology, so in that way Internet connectivity has actually increased significantly
during the last couple of years. So the policy is to ensure that there is Internet connectivity throughout the length and
breadth of the country and that will happen very soon because we have the second project, the ECOWAS Wide Area Network
(ECOWAN) to ensure that everybody is connected, and that project will be managed by Gamtel and anybody who needs it will be
connected.

The challenge for most African countries is getting adequate fund and many tend to share the argument that private led
sector is the answer. What level of private sector investment is the policy aspiring to encourage?

In private sector participation as you may be aware, Gambia has four GSM operators, one of them is government and the other
three are all private, all of them are major players in terms of helping to drive connectivity, so the private sector
involvement is there. When you also talk about the ACE project, there is private participation; government is taking 49%
with the Gamtel, and private sector has 51%. We involved them to ensure that they are part and parcel of the expansion
process of the telecommunication services because we are talking about vision 2020. We are talking of private sector led
growth. So we are working closely with the private sector to ensure that we provide all the services needed.

You just mention that the government in Gambia has 49% of the ACE project through Gamtel. In many other countries,
government is keeping away saying they have no business in doing business, you have state-owned telco like NITEL in Nigeria whose fate hangs in the balance and then you have Ghana Telecom that has been sold to Vodafone. But in Gambia, a government owned company is still flourishing. Do you share the belief that government has business doing business?

It is always in the best interest to get the best out of whatever we do. As you know in some instances, there are some
countries that did privatization, and then re-purchase the same companies that they privatized because what they were
expecting, they didn’t get. For now, we have got what we need. We know we only need to work with the private sector more
closely and try to get the right kind of partnership to move the sector forward and achieve a win-win situation. We set up
these companies like Gamtel and allow them to operate with as much independence as is required to take decisions and move
the business forward without having to go through the central government. They are running the company efficiently and
things are working to plan so, there is nothing government can do because as I said Gamtel is one of the best companies and
they are still working very hard to maintain that high standard and performance.

Africa’s greatest problem is human capacity. Specifically, is there any clear-cut agenda by government to address capacity building in ICT sector?
About two months ago, we have twenty five graduates from Taiwan who did special courses in IT. They have been trained in
ICT and it is the idea of the president, his Excellency Dr. Alhaji Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh. They spent four year there
studying IT; special elite ICT programmes, they graduated three month ago and are back and have been employed in government
ministries. So in a way we are building capacity and obviously, more will be trained, and also the University of Gambia has
its own training, they have the Department of Science and ICT, they are doing everything possible to ensure that we train
as many people as possible to fill that gap, so government is aware of the need for capacity building.

Do you envisage the possibility of The Gambia ever becoming an ICT hub for other Africa countries especially in the West
African sub region?

That is exactly what we want, like I said with the ACE cable coming, bandwidth will not be an issue anymore so you have the
kind of bandwidth we have always desire to drive businesses up;, rate will be affordable with improved quality and reliable
services. Now, when you have all that with trained ICT personnel, obviously Gambia will be a hub; very soon we will start
training our personnel in ICT in India as programmers, so we are building the capacity. And not only in ICT, recently we
have another batch of twenty five going out to do architectural planning, we also have agricultural students there, so we
have a good number of students out there. Our intention as you mentioned is to make sure that this is going to be our hub
here. We will also do everything possible to make sure that the infrastructure and the manpower is there to enable us
achieve that objective.

What are the indices on ground to make sure that government in Gambia is ready for e-readiness in health, education sector, mobile money; what is the framework?
Our e-government plan is already on- going. We develop that and all the ministry are there, and we have a web portal, if
you go to www.gambia.gov.gm, you will have access to some of the information. Yes! We are aware of the e-readiness issue;
we have been working to address the gap that exist and with the completion of the ACE project and the (ECOWAN) definitely,
things are bound to change and our readiness is bound to improve. Gambia is also working on next generation network which
will also give us the opportunity to provide the entire infrastructure with state of the art services because when we talk
about infrastructure, if we don’t have it, how can we use it to achieve the kind of results we want to achieve? We are
aware of all these things, e-government, e-health, e-planning, e-agriculture and all that.

 


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