– As President Sirleaf calls on WATRA to take the interest of consumers into account

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has challenged delegates who attended the West Africa Telecommunications Regulatory Assembly (WATRA) conference in Monrovia last week to seek and promote the interests of consumers.

The President made the appeal recently at the official opening of a two-day WATRA conference in Monrovia, which brought together delegates from ECOWAS Member States under the auspices of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA).

The President called on ECOWAS Member States not to only focus on urban areas, but also the rural parts of the sub-region to protect the interests of students, small businesses, farmers, and ordinary people.

According to President Sirleaf, ECOWAS is transforming from a Community of States to a Community of Peoples, and emphasized that ECOWAS is taking practical steps to meet the collective socio-economic needs of its people.

She challenged the delegates to facilitate inclusive growth and progress among its people, which she believes is one of the key strategies of the implementation process.

The President named telecommunications, transportation, energy, agriculture, security, commerce, and trade as programs in progress to meet the general objectives of WATRA. She then expressed her satisfaction “with the level of developments that have taken place over the last few years in the ICT (Information and Communication Technology) sector of ECOWAS.

She commended the West Africa Telecommunications Regulators Assembly, especially the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA), for the conference and called for healthy deliberations.

Meanwhile, the chairperson of LTA, Angelique Weeks, said access to the internet has grown from 1.3 to 30.8 percent, while the percentage of citizens with telephones has also increased from 24 to 84.6 percent over the years.

Since the adoption of the regulatory guidelines on access to submarine cables and landing stations in West Africa, many positive things have happened in the country, the region, and Member States, Madam Weeks added.

“These are examples of some of the good things that we as national regulatory authorities (NRAs) can accomplish when we collaborate to harmonize policies and regulatory frameworks in the supreme interest of our respective countries. I am sure that many such examples can be found in each of your respective countries,” she noted.

Weeks revealed that the average monthly price of wholesale international E1 capacity link from Monrovia to Europe was reduced from US$8,000 to US$750, while the monthly retail price of 1 megabyte (Mb) to access internet services has fallen from US$1,200 to $450.

E1 is the European format for DS1 digital transmission.

“It is in this regard that I urge each delegate to be tolerant and courteous as we engage in deliberations over the next two days to discuss ways and means to improve the manner in which we steer the affairs of WATRA and interact as national regulatory authorities,” she added.

Also speaking, the outgoing chairman of WATRA, Gaoo Gomes, said based on past experiences, it is difficult to protect the interests of consumers in the sector, adding that WATRA’s main objective is to fight for the improvement of the sector with a view to protecting the interests of consumers.

He noted that WATRA was established in 2004 to address the telecommunications network problems in the West Africa sub-region.

Gomes commended President Sirleaf for her continued support to the sector by creating the enabling environment to improve the sector in Liberia and other parts of the region.

The opening ceremony was attended by senior government officials including Dr. Frederick Norkeh, Minister of Post and Telecommunications; Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, chair of the Senate Committee on Telecommunications; Grand Kru County Representative Nimene Bartekwa, chair of the House’s Standing Committee on Telecommunications; and a representative from Liberia’s GSM operators.

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