CHIEF Executive Officer of Ghana Telecom, Oystein Bjorge, on Monday defended the managerial competence and track record of his team of Telenor Management Partners who are managing the company and declared: “We saved GT from collapse.” His comments come at the time information available to this paper indicates that Government is considering giving Telenor a second term to manage the 70% state-owned GT. The Norwegians are on a two-year management contract to resuscitate GT which was near-collapse at the time Telenor took over in 2003. Telenor's contract with Government expires this year ending, but sources close to both Telenor and the Ministry of Communications told this paper that “serious negotiations” aimed at contract renewal is currently ongoing between the two parties.
“A formal announcement will be made soon once a deal is brokered” a highly placed GT official told The Statesman. The source, whose information has been confirmed by Communications Ministry sources, added: “I am confident that a positive deal will soon be brokered.”
Whereas usual Government critics like Kwesi Pratt Jnr, Managing Editor of The Insight and Haruna Iddrisu, NDC Member of Parliament for Tamale South refuse to see any positives coming out of Government's contract with Telenor, the facts as presented by Mr Bjorge appears to weaken attempts to discredit the Norwegians.
Both Mr Pratt and Mr Iddrisu, who is the Minority Spokesperson on Communication, have, during radio and television discussions, questioned the managerial competence of TMP
The two have called for “urgent” measures from Government to “save GT from collapse” after newspaper reports revealed that GT was indebted to other mobile network operators to the tune of ¢400 billion.
But, armed with what he called the “hard facts” Mr Bjorge said: “A track record of Telenor's management of GT shows a list of achievements both tangible and intangible.” He added: “For a long time to come, GT will remain a Ghanaian heritage and a national asset.”
At the time Telenor took over management of GT, it was a loss-making entity. In 2002 alone, GT made a loss of some ¢85 billion. However, this huge loss was turned into a profit of over ¢160 billion by the first year of Telenor management.
They did even better in 2004, making a profit of over ¢200 billion, with the Norwegians promising a “better profit margin” by close of this year. Service availability to customers, according to Mr Bjorge, “has also gone up to 85%, very close to ITU recommended standards of 95%.” Call completion rates leaped from a low of 20% before they took over to a current over 70%.
Again, more than 50% of all towns with Senior Secondary Schools had been connected to telephone facilities by close of 2004, an ultra modern Call Centre for the company has been established and a high speed Broadband Access Technology has been introduced.
Next year will, according to Mr Bjorge, see the company's “Broadband 4U” service extended to customers in other regions in the country. Also, a multi-million-dollar Networks Operations Centre for the company has been set up, while an Advanced Intelligent Network has also been introduced, among others. Subscriber base for the company's Onetouch mobile network is to hit 1 million by close of this year, he said.
These successes not withstanding, Mr Bjorge told the news conference that the company could make even higher profits if the current interconnect tariff regime being implemented by the National Communications Authority, the regulator, were adjusted. “The interconnect regime needs to be changed, and that is what we are working on now.”
Interconnect fees payable by GT to other mobile network operators in the country, he said, is a major drain on the pocket of the telecom giant. Mr Bjorge said such charges “represent a substantial part” of such operators' net profit, saying, “Approximately 90% of Cost of Goods sold is interconnect fees payable to other operators.”
Government had in its contract with Telenor charged the latter to among other things: Provide additional 400,000 fixed lines by close of 2005, adequate and stable cellular coverage in all regional and district capitals, provide internet connectivity to all towns with Senior Secondary Schools and Teacher Training Colleges within three years, provide high-speed data transmission service to both public and private customers demanding such services and also to introduce systems and procedures of fraud detection and prevention.