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Accusations interfere with broadband access in Swaziland

August 27, 2011  »  BroadbandNo Comment

Does the mafia really control Swaziland’s parastatal telecommunications company? Probably not, but such finger-pointing is distracting when the public needs faster and cheaper Internet services.

This month, Swazi media has closely followed domestic telecoms news, reporting on two key broadband accomplishments: SPTC entered a 20-year partnership with SEACOM and also announced new broadband services. On the surface all seems well. The words ‘partnership’ and ‘new services’ are as good as they come. However, plans to connect with greater international capacity (an additional 620 Mbps) may be put on hold. On August 24th, the Minister of Information Communications and Technology, removed the Board of Directors of Swaziland Post and Telecommunications Corporation (SPTC). She gave no reason for the decision, but two days later, faced with pressure, she re-instated the entire Board. Recent dialogue and other evidence suggests a tangled web of government control that presides over private business.

A timeline of events from August 10 – August 26 paints an interesting picture:

swaziland telecoms action august 2011

Timeline of events surrounding tense dialogue between SPTC, Parliament, and PM.

Based on the series of events, the story reads as follows:

  • SPTC, not heeding the ideology of the PM who appointed the Board members, signs a deal with an international company to bring greater Internet access to its people.
  • The PM, unhappy that 1) the Board acted against his wishes and 2) his investment in MTN is now at greater risk, blames corruption within SPTC.
  • A week later (after the PM has created an atmosphere of distruct and the Board has voted to limit regulatory power of the Director of Communications) the Minister of ICT sacks the SPTC Board.
  • Two days later, the 9-member Board is back at work following pressure by MPs.

Most concerning is the 2009 cable released this week by WikiLeaks that details how the King and PM both have substantial shares in MTN. Can an operator other than SPTC or MTN exist under the current regime? All signs point to no, which means access costs will take more time to go down. Will the SPTC-SEACOM deal see the light of day, or will it now be re-worked through MTN?

Swaziland needs better broadband penetration, and although 20-year partnerships ostensibly cost large sums of money, the entire governing body should be on the same page when it comes to long-term growth. A finalized national ICT plan is sorely needed.

Extra reading: The comments on the Times of Swaziland‘s “Mafia has taken over SPTC, says PM”