The Managing Director and entire board of the Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (Libtelco) are currently serving a suspension sentence by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, “pending the conclusion of an investigation, under the guidance of the Ministry of Justice, into their failure to adhere to the provisions of the Public Procurement Act in concluding a contract with a European company, Ketter Telecom (K3),” the Executive Mansion disclosed over the weekend.
The Liberian leader took the action following a meeting with the Libtelco Board on Friday evening.
Multiple sources close to the issue told the Daily Observer over the weekend that Libtelco signed an agreement with K3 for the use of its patented technology that conveys telecommunications services over long distances for a fraction of the cost of building the standard infrastructure. “As attractive as the proposition seems,” our sources said, “the first mistake was that Libtelco forgot that it is a public utility company, and that it could not enter such a high-value agreement alone. Other functionaries of government needed to be involved.”
The agreement also included profit-sharing from highly competitive and thus very lucrative triple-play service package containing high-speed internet, television and voice, powered by Libtelco’s local advantage of the ACE fibre optic cable and the K3’s infrastructure. For this to work, K3 would provide services under Libtelco’s license instead of applying to the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) on its own. LTA has yet to officially comment on the implications.
The Acting Minister of Justice, Cllr. Benedict Sannor, whom President Sirleaf designated to probe the matter, said although he has not been called upon to carry out a full investigation per se, “the entire process between Libtelco and K3 is null and void. So it means that there is no contract between the two from the beginning of the whole initiative.”
“What I have been called upon to do is not really an investigation,” Minister Sannor said. “The President is not happy with the manner in which the Libtelco leadership carried out the arrangement, because it is not in the interest of the Liberian government. So what we are doing now is that we are trying to protect government; this is why the entire process has been rendered void.”
Our sources also disclosed that this was not Libtelco’s first attempt at entering an agreement without observing the public procurement process. A previous agreement with another service provider for the provision of land-line communications infrastructure was rejected by the Ministry of Finance two years ago because Libtelco failed to observe the public procurement process and perform due diligence. Libtelco was later informed that first of all, a tender (bid) needed to be announced for the conduct of a feasibility study in order to understand the cost implications of the land-line project. That tender process is now being administered by the West Africa Regional Communications Infrastructure Project of the World Bank. Once the feasibility study is completed, and based on the results, a new tender would be announced for the provision of services.
There are other alleged transgressions that, if proven true, could be very both legally and financially damaging for Libtelco, including the alleged use of “short-cuts” to facilitate cheap international calls in and out of Libtelco’s network.
No official from Libtelco has responded to inquiries by the Daily Observer so far. Those suspended include Libtelco’s board chair, Mr. Francis Horton; managing director and board secretary, Mr. Ben Wolo; as well as members Ciata Victor, Floyd Thomas, Mohammed Sherif, James Cooper and Jackson E. Doe.
Though Minister Sannor could not comment how long the suspension of the board would last, the fates of these officials remain in limbo until the investigation, spearheaded by the Ministry of Justice, is concluded.