Telecommunications Bill passed in National Assembly
Following a heated debate, the long awaited Telecommunications (amendment) Bill 15/2016 was on Monday night passed in the National Assembly. The Bill which seeks to liberalise the sector was passed without amendments.
Expressing the belief that the Bill is not current as it has had the benefit of the Parliamentary Select Committee of the last parliament and much have changed in the Telecoms sector, Opposition members pushed for the Bill to once again go before a Parliamentary Select Committee.
However, Minister of Public Telecommunications, Cathy Hughes noted that Guyana cannot waste any more time lagging behind in this information technological age. She added that the bill is a major breakthrough for the telecommunications sector in Guyana.
Minister Hughes wasted no time in pointing out that it was the former administration failing to pass the Bill which allowed technology to change rapidly whilst Guyana continued to lag behind.
During his presentation, Opposition MP Irfaan Ali raised questions in relation to the powers vested in the Minister, noting that “the Minister is given more powers than in the Bill we (the PPP/C) brought to Parliament (during its tenure in office).”
To this, the Minister pointed out that the important word in Clause 3, section 19.1 is shall, “Which means expected to do, required and absolute, therefore I remind members on the other side when the legislation says minister shall after…and further after receiving written analysis advice and recommendation and in section 4 as encouraged before where determination direction, decision on matter …the minister shall so indicate and provide reason thereof… Therefore the minister cannot act on his own.”
Ali also charged that the private sector must be given an opportunity to contribute to the Bill.
Minister Hughes said any suggestion that there has been no consultation on this bill would be grossly inaccurate.
Meanwhile, Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greenidge highlighted that the legislation is intended to allow more service providers to enter the market, thereby creating competition and offering more affordable packages to consumers.
He also spoke about the role of the Minister, highlighting that Clause 7 speaks to the role of the ministers whereby the amendment tabled by his administration, directs the Minister to terminate appointments only after seeking advice of the Board.
“Under functions of the Minister set out in Clause 19, subject to the provision of the Act, the Minister was empowered to do a host of things such as determine which network must be operated and so forth, however, now the current legislation says the minister shall- after seeking written advice and recommendation of the agencies and the commission, develop telecommunication and sector -related policies at the bilateral and national levels consistent with the purpose of the Act and communicate such policies to the public and agencies…this is an internationally sound practice,” Minister Greenidge asserted.
He added that where any determination or decision on a matter is taken, the Minister is required to seek advice, and if such decision or determination differs from such advice, the Minister is directed to indicate and provide the reason for the variation. “If in the end after advice he chooses not to, he has to justify, this is the best practice known internationally.”
The purpose of the Telecommunication Bill is to create a competitive regime in the sector, by bringing an end to a monopoly enjoyed by one agent in the telecommunication sector.
In the past, both service providers; the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company and Digicel had stated that they’re optimistic to see the liberalization of the Telecommunications sector.