The latest deferral of the second reading of the Telecommunications Bill has drawn comments from three senior private sector umbrella organisation officials, all of whom have told Stabroek Business that a point has been reached where the passage of the legislation ending the extant Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T) monopoly had to be significantly accelerated.
Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) Ronald Webster has urged that such issues as might be delaying the long-anticipated telecommunications legislation in the National Assembly be resolved “as early as possible” in order that the country “can press ahead with a liberalised telecommunications environment.” Webster said the private sector had already gone on record saying that it was an advocate for an open economy. “That applies whether we are selling food or telecommunications services,” the PSC Chairman said.
President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) Clinton Urling told Stabroek Business that without making assumptions as to the reasons for the persistent delays, the juncture had been reached where the passage of the legislation had to be expedited. “The time has come for us to hasten this process and get the legislation passed in the National Assembly. I believe that there has been, for some time, agreement on the desirability of a liberalised telecommunications sector and it seems to me that the National Assembly must address the issue of the passage of the legislation without any further delay.”
Last week Prime Minister Samuel Hinds disclosed that government was still engaged in discussions with GT&T over issues pertaining to liberalisation though what those issues are has remained a closely guarded secret.
Chamber Vice President Lance Hinds who is also Chief Executive Officer of Brainstreet told Stabroek Business that the issue of telecommunications liberalisation was “an economic matter” and the passage of the legislation should be hastened. Lance Hinds said that while, in the final analysis, the legislation may not be perfect there is ample room for continued discourses on the liberalisation of the sector and improvement of the legislation after the fact. “At least we would have been doing so in a liberalised environment,” he said.
The GCCI Vice President told Stabroek Business he believed that an equally important challenge facing the IT sector in Guyana is the issue of enacting legislation pertaining to intellectual property. He said other Caribbean countries already benefit from several key pieces of legislation on intellectual property as it pertains to the IT sector.
The private sector has publicly supported the passage of legislation designed to liberalise the telecommunications sector though, up until now, it had made no comment on the delays.
At intervals, Digicel’s Chief Executive Officer Gregory Dean has made public statements reflecting his organisation’s frustration over the delay in the passage of legislation. Dean’s most recent pronouncements included a request that a deadline be set for the liberalisation of the sector.
Of late, government appears to have become aware of increased public bewilderment over the delays, coupled with the frustration that has been expressed by Digicel and last week its Chief Whip Gail Teixeira broke official silence on the issue, declaring that there were no deliberate moves to delay the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector.
Neither Teixeira nor any other government official has commented on the reason (s) for the delay, though the senior administration official was quoted late last year as saying that it was a matter of ensuring that everyone was comfortable with the result.