When the gloves are off

The Arab Advisors' Media & Telecommunications Convergence Conference has always been an event where telecom CEOs can meet, trade notes, and when necessary, vent spleen

Tags: Arab Advisors GroupJordan
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By  Roger Field Published  June 3, 2009

The Arab Advisors' Media & Telecommunications Convergence Conference has always been an event where telecom CEOs can meet, trade notes, and when necessary, vent spleen.

The sixth edition of the annual event, which took place in Amman, Jordan this week, was certainly no exception.

Far from the bland sound bites that characterise many other ICT conferences, the Arab Advisors’ event sent a clear message to the telecoms industry and governments regarding some of the biggest challenges facing the sector.

One of the main messages to emerge from the event was the need for good regulation that allows private enterprise to thrive.

But it was also clear from many of the CEO discussion forums that poor regulation and government meddling remain a problem in many countries, not least Iraq.

One of the most frustrating issues for Iraq’s telecom operators is that after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime, the government had a clean slate to draft and implement liberal telecom regulations that could have allowed the country’s telecoms sector to become one of the strongest in the region.

While all appeared well at the beginning, the government’s Ministry of Communications has since floundered, seizing control of gateways and other parts of the sector that would be better off in the hands of private organisations, and generally failing to offer adequate guidance to the country’s operators.

It was an issue that Zain Iraq’s CEO, Ali Al Dahwi, wasted no time in sharing with delegates. He pointed to a chaotic scenario in which the Ministry of Communications wields control over the sector while the telecom regulator has been left without a head since April 2008, when Dr Siyamend Othman, completed his term in office.

The government’s decision to fine three GSM operators for alleged poor services also appears to be somewhat dubious, and Al Dahwi criticised the seemingly arbitrary way in which the fines were calculated. He also argued that any decision to fine the companies should have been made by an independent body, rather than the government.

While the problems being faced by Iraq’s operators may be more extreme than those faced by operators in other countries in the region, Al Dahwi was not alone in voicing his concerns about heavy handed governments trampling over free enterprise and hindering economic development.

Dr Saad Al-Barrak, CEO of Zain Group insisted that governments should resist the urge to meddle in the development of broadband and described partnerships involving the public sector as a “poisonous ideology of the past.”

Such championing of free enterprise in the telecoms sector was timely, given that the world recession has led governments around the world to exert a greater influence in companies across all sectors.

While most Middle East countries appear to be gradually pushing their telecom sectors in the right direction, with greater liberalisation and competition, the Arab Advisors’ conference served as a reminder of the need for governments to establish the right conditions for business to prosper.

And establishing a strong independent telecoms regulator, headed by proven industry experts, should be at the top of every government’s agenda.

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