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Guyana looks set to end telecoms monopoly next week- Jagdeo

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo on Friday announced that Guyana would next week be formally liberalising the telecommunications sector, four years after modern legislation was passed, marking the end of a more than 30-year old monopoly on international voice and data.

“Liberalisation is a promise that we made a long time ago. Both parties agreed to this and we need to get it implemented. We are hoping by next week that could happen but we had to go through a ton of technical work doing that,” he told a news conference. He said that with the opening up of the sector, Guyanese would be able to benefit from 5G services, more competition in the mobile telecoms market and the landing of more fibre optic cables. “It sets up the basis for an ICT platform which we want to create thousands of jobs,” he added.

Digicel Guyana’s international traffic has to be routed through GTT. In reality, though, changing technologies have seen a mushrooming of private internet providers and telephony services that facilitate overseas calls without payments to GTT.

Mr. Jagdeo chided then Telecommunications Minister Catherine Hughes for failing to sign the order to bring the Telecommunications Act 2006 into effect, but instead government continued negotiations with the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GTT). “The minister did not. They signed a secret agreement with GTT that nobody knew of which seems to be negotiating rather than bringing the law into effect,” he said.

That telecoms provider has maintained that it enjoys a monopoly on international voice and data, dating back to 1990 and renewed for another 20 years in 2010.

Mr. Jagdeo said liberalisation of the telecoms sector does not depend on the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) and GTT settling a disputed tax settlement of US$44.1 million. “The liberalisation is not dependent , not dependent on a settlement there. If that’s the case, then GTT can always say ‘ we never reached a settlement with you’ then you can never liberalise so that is not a condition for liberalisation- reaching agreement on the tax matter,” the Vice President added.

In Atlantic-Tele Network’s 2016 Annual Report, it states GTT is also involved in several legal claims regarding its tax filings with the Guyana Revenue Authority dating back to 1991 regarding the deductibility of intercompany advisory fees as well as other tax assessments.
The report states that should GTT be held liable for any of the disputed tax assessments, totaling $44.1 million, the Company believes that the Government of Guyana would then be obligated to reimburse GTT for any amounts necessary to ensure that GTT’s return on investment was no less than 15% per annum for the relevant periods.