The government of Sierra Leone is looking to sell incumbent fixed line operator Sierratel, as officials acknowledge that the firm lacks the financial resources to compete with the country’s mobile providers, Computerworld West Africa reports. Earlier this week the National Commission of Privatisation (NCP) called for expressions of interest for the management of Sierratel – the first step in seeking bids for the operator – stating that it has ‘commenced a business reform programme of Sierratel with the objective of improving the efficiency, productivity, customer service delivery, capacity building and overall financial and operational performance.’ The contract will be awarded via an international bidding process, with prequalified applicants required to pay a non-refundable fee of USD10,000 (SLL38.9 million) for bidding documents.
The state is looking for a telecoms company to take over all business areas of Sierratel, including day-to-day management, operations, maintenance and long term business planning, although the government has not yet disclosed the size of the stake that it wishes to offload. The company has struggled to rebuild its wireline infrastructure after rebel forces destroyed telephone lines and exchanges during the civil war which ended in 2002. According to the NCP, Sierratel is overstaffed and suffers from a lack of capital; in the past the company has been forced to enter into joint venture partnerships to undergo urgent modernisation of its infrastructure. In June 2008 the telco accepted a delivery of Huawei-manufactured equipment worth USD16.5 million, which was paid for with a loan from the Chinese government. The CDMA 1x EV-DO cellular network was launched in April 2009.