Thursday, April 19, 2018

MGI Gateway contract promises to be another SEMLEX saga, if improperly handled

The government of Adama Barrow notified Gambians and the world last July that it has taken direct control of the country's sole international voice gateway from Multimedia Gateway International (MGI) - a Swiss-based company - which has been managing the gateway operations on behalf of The Gambia for a number of years.

The decision to reverse a lopsided business arrangement that personally benefited the former Gambian dictator and MGI at the expense of the Gambian people was one of the new government's most consequential decision in its brief tenure.  The decision reverses the revenue generated by the termination fees away from the MGI and Yaya Jammeh back towards the Gambia Telecommunications Company (GAMTEL) and the public treasury. 

The move also enabled GAMTEL to directly collect 100% of international call termination fees from other operators thus giving the government direct control of its telecommunication facilities and the revenue stream. 

The decision also returned the line ministry function from the Office of the President to the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure (MOICI) under current minister D. A. Jawo who also informed us that it was "the task force that recommended that GAMTEL be assigned the management of the gateway for a period of six months pending the...liberalization of the voice gateway." 

The World Bank had recommended the opening up (liberalization) of the gateway to the different GSM/ISP operators.   
However before the liberalization exercise is complete - the Public Utilities and Regulatory Agency (PURA) - is in the process of procuring the necessary equipment that will allow it to monitor a liberalized gateway, the Office of the President proceeded by deciding to restore management of the gateway to MGI.

Why would such a decision be taken, apparently unilaterally, by President Adama Barrow against the advice of a task force set up by his office, and at a time when the Commission of Inquiry into the finances of Yaya Jammeh has revealed some criminality and highly irregular use of the revenue generated by the gateway.  The decision was ultimately rescinded. 

The move to rescind the decision came at the heels of public outcry but, in the view of the Information minister, the realization that "going ahead with restoring the gateway management to MGI would tantamount to executive interference with the work of the Commission." According to the Information minister, "the position [of the government] now is that Gamtel will continue to manage the gateway pending the completion of the process to liberalize it."

Meanwhile, the Managing Director of GAMTEL has been sent on leave pending an inquiry as to why GAMTEL has not performed as expected in the management of the gateway since his agency took charge last July. 

While we continue to monitor the situation as we try to understand the dynamics and special interests at play in yet another procurement saga, we must also keep in mind that release from the Information ministry taking over the management of the gateway also announced an 18% reduction in the international call termination rate, as well as promising that government "will continue to work with Gamtel and operators to further reduce the cost of communication" to the general public.