Information and Communications Bill validated

Tuesday, September 30, 2008
The Department of State for Communications, Information and Information Technology (DoSCIIT), in collaboration with the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), and other stakeholders in the telecommunications sector, yesterday, converged at the Paradise Suites Hotel in Kololi, to review and validate the Information and Communications Bill 2008.

In his opening remarks, Hon. Yankuba Touray, the secretary of state for Fisheries, Water Resources and National Assembly Matters, who was also the chairman of the occasion, said although The Gambia’s agricultural sector employs over 70% of the work force, contributing about 30% of the gross domestic product (GDP), there is the need to note that the services sector also accounts for about 30% of the GDP, mainly from the tourism and re-export trade.  

He cited the recent report of growth in the telecommunications and financial sector, which, he said, also contributes a lot to the GDP.  "However," he went on, "with the problem in the re-export trade recently, experienced by most countries, The Gambia is positioned to benefit from financial services and also the telecommunications industry which will also cover up for loses in the re-export trade."

"I think it is important for The Gambia to focus more on our comparative advantage areas (financial and telecommunication) and that is why the government has developed the first national communication and information policy.  This workshop is important because it promotes The Gambia’s strategies to liberalise the telecommunications sector," SoS Touray posited.

He called on all the participants to contribute to the review of the bill, noting that "after the review, the government will look at it and the National Assembly will pass it in he next two months".

For her part, Fatim Badjie-Janneh, the secretary of state for Communication, Information and Information Technology, described the validation workshop as a giant step in the development of the Information, Communication Technology (ICT) sector in The Gambia.  

She said her department recognises the need to formulate a holistic ICT bill inline with the provisions of the Information Society (WSIS) and the Ecowas community text for harmonisation of ICT legal instruments, to which The Gambia is committed.

According to her, this information society compliant bill recognizes the need to bring together interdependent segments of ICT under a unified framework, in order to create the enabling environment for intercessions in the ICT industry.  This draft legal instrument, she went on, also takes into account good governance in ICT, necessary to ensure appropriate laws and public policy as fundamental guiding principles in the fast growing and dynamic ICT sector.

"We have decided to formulate an ICT bill so as to cater for convergence between telecommunication, broadcasting, internet and allied technologies and services," she said, and continued "the current telecommunication landscape as you are aware, is so interlinked with other sectors that it is apparent that a telecom bill cannot address all the issues of convergence hence the formulation of this ICT bill; therefore, it is a solution to diminish the overall insufficiencies of the Wireless and Telegraph Act of 1964, on which the legal administration of the ICT industry is dependent".

The content of this draft bill, she went on, probes into substance and issues of licensing, access and interconnection, spectrum management and numbering, universal access/services, end user interests and rights and personal data privacy and protection.  "Among other things, the bill contains information society issues such as computer misuse and cyber crime, electronic signatures and transactions, as well as elements of e-government and broadcasting," SoS Badjie noted.

She stated her department of state’s commitment to ensuring a vibrant ICT sector that is enhanced by appropriate policies and regulatory frame works, stressing that they will leave no stone unturned to see that they achieve that goal.
SoS Badjie finally wished the participants a fruitful deliberation, while thanking the consultant.  

She also thanked the ITU, the staff of DoSCIIT, the director general of PURA, her fellow secretaries of state, the CEO of Nigerian Telecommunications commission, Engineer Ernest Ndukwe and all those who supported in drafting the bill.

Alagie B Gaye, the director general of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), delved into the significance of an Information and Communications Law to the regulatory effectiveness of PURA in the communications sector.

He recalled that PURA was established in 2004 by the PURA Act to regulate public utilities and enterprises in the electricity, telecommunications, broadcasting, water and transportations sectors.

"The PURA Act, as an umbrella legislation that gives the Authority its regulatory mandate for the mentioned sectors, needs to be complemented by sector specific legislations to allow the Authority to effectively address sector issues, while clearly distinguishing the roles of the policy maker, the regulator and operators in the various markets," the PURA boss revealed.

Alhagie A. Cham, the permanent secretary at the Department of State for Communication, Information and Information Technology, described the workshop as a significant step towards the provision of the legal and regulatory frame to govern the ICT industry.

The role of ICT in international development, especially in wealth creation, employment generation and poverty reduction, he said, cannot be over-emphasised.  "Therefore, the absence of an adequate law in this sector is a vacuum that could not be measured or ascertained. I am therefore delighted that this workshop is a move towards filling this vacuum," he noted.

For his part, Engineer Ernest Ndukwe, the vice executive chairman and CEO of the Nigerian Communications Commission, said no modern state can be said to be progressing unless it has a very good and efficient communications sector.

However, he said, this requires the involvement of the private sector which has been the case in The Gambia. He thanked DoSCIIT for inviting him and his team from Nigeria to this "very important validation workshop."

Author: by Assan Sallah