Consensus in telecom restructuring vital
- Dr Luncheon

By Gitanjali Singh
Stabroek News
March , 2000

The government is moving to restructure the operations of the telecommunications sector in Guyana consensually with the key players, Cabinet Secretary, Dr Roger Luncheon announced yesterday.

He said that the thrust of the government's thinking was to resolve the issues currently bogging down the sector and economic development in Guyana and move to achieve this with the involvement of key players.

"The way forward is clearly accommodation. We [the various players] were going to court because of isolation of issues but we are putting up a list of all the concerns; a list of the PUC [Public Utilities Commission] concerns, GT&T [the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company Ltd] concerns, consumers concerns... to deal with these in one fell swoop," Dr Luncheon told Stabroek News after a press conference.

A Cabinet subcommittee, comprising Prime Minister Sam Hinds, political adviser Kellawan Lall, environmental adviser Navin Chandarpal and minister with portfolio for finance, Saisnarine Kowlessar, is looking into the issue.

Luncheon said Cabinet had a preliminary consideration of the heightened interest in the telecommunications sector and members, including himself, have benefited from a better understanding of the industry through Director of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, William Garrison who spoke at a forum on Thursday. Garrison has argued the need for competition.

"The demands of our economic development and incorporating technology in the soonest possible time frame to make the best impact are all demands that [have to be looked at]," Luncheon said.

Recently, AT&T's Vice-President, Cresencio Arcos, testified before the PUC about the need for lower accounting rates with GT&T.

Luncheon said that there was a stark realisation that many of the issues revolved around GT&T and PUC disagreements over the management and regulation of the industry.

He acknowledged that the density of telephone lines in Guyana was unacceptably low and was inconsistent with domestic expectations. He also said that it was clear that the current developments internally and externally threaten the financial soundness of GT&T and its parent company, ATN.

According to the HPS it was also noted that the rate-based regulatory environment was a major bone of contention and the way in which competition was embraced in pursuit of technological advancement was creating another basis for contention.

"The analyses and presentations of viewpoints at this time heighten the need for mutually beneficial progress. This is quite clear as the future of those industries that depend on technology and the future of the firm are both inextricably linked and this situation can hardly continue" without a resolution soon, Luncheon said.

He contended that this view from government has arisen from a better understanding of the industry and a precise categorisation of the mutual concerns of the parties.

"It is Cabinet's view that there is growing pressure for a comprehensive resolution and that the parties involved would be using all available resources to arrive at that ideal," Luncheon said.

Cabinet has not concluded its deliberation on the issue but Luncheon said that the thrust of its thoughts is that resort to the courts in the various disputes between GT&T and the PUC was not healthy for the economic development of Guyana.

"...Certainly our economic development based on technological inputs would be frustrated [if this situation continues]," Luncheon asserted.

As to Luncheon's earlier reported perception of GT&T's contract being iron-clad (which has been disputed by former PUC chairman, Joseph Tyndall), Luncheon said this has not changed.