A government team negotiating with Our Telekom Company on the possibility to open up the telecommunications industry to competition has been instructed not to talk to the media until a deal has been struck with Our Telekom.Prime Minister Dr. Derek Sikua revealed this in Parliament when helping to answer questions relating to progress being made so far by government in the introduction of a legal frame work to facilitate competition in the telecommunications industry.
The question was raised by MP for Temotu Nende, Patterson Oti, to the Minister for Aviation and Communications, Varian Longamei.
Minister Longamei told Parliament that Cabinet has agreed to a number of activities in the sector, including a directive to the Attorney general's chamber to draft a new telecommunications bill to regulate a competitive industry.
He said the intention is for government to table the bill in Parliament next year.
But Mr. Oti questioned what would happen to the current 15 year monopoly licence that was issue to Our Telekom five years ago when the new legal framework is in place.
The Minister said the government negotiating team and the company are still negotiating on the terms leading up to the proposed legislation.
Mr. Longamei confirmed that in the meantime, the industry is not yet open to competition.
Mr. Oti however questioned what authority government had given to a potential competitor, Digicel, to carry out surveys on the possibilities of coming in before a new legislation is introduced.
He said Digicel is already in the country and questioned if the telecommunication authority had given a licence to them to do exploratory work in the country.
Meanwhile, deputy prime minister Fred Fono, a member of government's negotiating taskforce says government had taken a goodwill approach to negotiate with Our Telekom other than to terminate the 15 year exclusive licence.
He said terminating the licence would incur huge costs to government in terms of compensation to break the monopoly licence which gives Our Telekom another 10 year monopoly over the industry.
Mr. Fono said government has engaged an expert consultant who helped the Vanuatu government to break a similar monopoly.
He said the consultant is leading government's team to negotiate with Our Telekom to have an understanding that under the review, government policy must be implemented to allow other players in the industry.
Mr. Fono said the view expressed by the prime minister in not speaking to the media is a request from the team.
He said the negotiating team had requested government officials not to make statements to the media that could jeopardize negotiations to break up the monopoly.
He said government should be able to present a much clearer picture of the situation when Parliament resumes in March next year.