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What’s Next For LIBTELCO

 By Ciata Victor

(Monrovia, May 3, 2016) Fiber optics especially at the physical layer is one of the things few Liberians truly understand.  I happened to be one of the few who do.    

Fiber Optics for Liberia has always been a passion for me, it why I studied network engineering in school, it was why I focused on the physical layer as a LAN / WAN Engineer before coming home in 2006, with the idea of helping Liberia acquire the technology.  

Since coming home I have written several articles about technology in Liberia and how different players were having both positive and negative effects on implementing ICT in Liberia. 

This article is an attempt to generate an honest dialog about ICT immediate future in Liberia, and what can be done to halt the current track of waste, and turn the situation around, so that it is a win for ICT in Liberia, the Sirleaf Administration, LIBTELCO and the Liberia people. 

What does that mean? 

In 2007 President Sirleaf appointed Ben Wolo, a network engineer to head the dormant Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (Telecom).  At the time, I honestly believed that the President got it right, by placing a network engineer, to rebuild the damage network, Ben Wolo set about doing just that, restarting the dormant Telecom under a new name LIBTELCO. 

Yes there were people issues that had to be addressed, but without a working functioning network, it does not matter what the people issues are, there will be no network to generate money to resolve the people issues, that for the most part are about money.   

Telecom’s primary business was running a national network to support communication for the government and people of Liberia based on the technology of the time.  For Telecom, it was a landline network of copper cables that ran underground in the duct system in Monrovia. 

The Duct system was Telecom’s and is, LIBTELCO’s primary asset.    Without money to build anything, the network engineer realized that first and foremost he must clean, repair and protect this most important asset the ducts, so he set about cleaning, repairing and sealing the ducts.  Even though funds were limited the correct lockable metal covers were purchased to secure the duct.  Why? Because that was his field of study and distribution networks were an area where he had years of experience. Because he did it correctly, the duct could now be added as a line item under asset on LIBTELCO's financial sheet. 

The duct had been secured, repaired and cleaned, but they lie empty, waiting for some cable system that will make it come alive.  Every time LIBTELCO asked for money for any kind of network, the company was told we don’t have money go find your own money.  The Liberian Network Engineer spent many, many hours researching the Internet looking for grants, looking for some kind of funding to build this network for LIBTELCO.  Finally he sees it, the World Bank has funding for Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, all they need to do is to have their governments request it.    He tells the government that he has identified a source of funding to bring Fiber Optics to Liberia, an important technology and the latest technology that  LIBTELCO needs to make the company profitable. 

 In praise of former Finance Minister Augustine Ngafuan and to the memory of Tarnue Marwolo, they followed the president’s order to request funding for LIBTELCO. Three days after the President’s order, the official Government of Liberia letter was sent out to the World Bank, requesting funding for Liberia through LIBTELCO. The rest of it is history.  On November 3, 2011, the ACE cable landed in Liberia.  A big piece in advancing ICT in Liberia had been acquired and delivered by the Liberian Network Engineer. 

Now that the Liberian network engineer had succeeded in bringing the cable to Liberia, everyone became experts and made him or herself out to be knowledgeable about what was best for the technology in Liberia. 

After the 2011 Elections, Amara Konneh status was upgraded to a close confidant to the top leadership of Liberia, and with access which he took full advantage off, he began to undermine the Network Engineer and play the ICT sector as if they were pawns in a chess game whose outcome is proving to be detrimental to ICT in Liberia. 

The Chess Game 

Game Strategy: Get rid of the Network Engineer at LIBTELCO, the man whose vision it was to bring fiber optics to Liberia. The man who identified funding to make the project a reality, the man who successfully delivered the technology to the Unity Party led government and to Liberia, and replace him with the database guy, Amara’s friend and buddy, Sebastian Muah.  

 Sebastian expertise is in Data Base, not in the Physical Layer.  Neither is he a manager and if anyone claims that the Network Engineer lacked people skills, I must then ask, how does he compare to Sebastian? Does Sebastian have people skills? 

How did Amara get rid of the Network Engineer?  He refused to allot LIBTELCO’s budget. He held on to allotment for the corporation knowing that if you want a manager to fail, all you have to do is ensure that he or she does not have access to money to do anything.    The company couldn’t fund it’s projects and because Amara was telling the corporation that he as Finance Minister was going to release the funds approved by the Government of Liberia soon, Management and Board spent valuable time pursuing Finance Ministry to release funds to get on with its projects, which never came, at least not under the management of the Network Engineer.  

With no money to fund the corporation distribution network, Amara could go back to the leadership and say, “see the Network Engineer has done nothing since landing the ACE cable, take it from him, let me guide it, I know what to do, after all I am a financial expert with computer experience”.  As time has proven, Amara Konneh will go down in Liberia’s history as the financial planner and expert that never balanced a budget. 

Game One - Check mate: Ben Wolo the network Engineer was removed from LIBTELCO and the Cable Consortium of Liberia (CCL), and a $25 Million dollars highly technical project was taken out of the hands of one of the few people who really understands the technology in Liberia and turned over to 2 ICT misfits Amara and the Database Guy Sebastian, neither with layer one experience, LAN or WAN experience or technology management experience of any kind.  Therefore in the 3 years since the ACE cable went live in Liberia, nothing has been done to advance ICT in Liberia. With no distribution system, the cable is only accessible to embassies and other foreign entities who can afford to pay the high connection charges. While we Liberians must pay high Internet bills for low Internet speeds.

LIBTELCO’s Greatest Asset

 As a communications company, distribution is important. In the old days Telecom ran the telephone network that consisted of landlines made of metal / copper wires in the underground duct system.

 In LIBTELCO’s time, the technology has changed.  The world is no longer using copper wires they are using Fiber Optic Cable to distribute high-speed voice, video and data to homes and offices instead of just voice and slow data. 

During the war the copper wires were damaged and looted from Telecom’s ducts, which is every reason why we need secure the ducts, we have experience, the system has been vandalized before. 

Now that the ACE Cable is here, it needs to be distributed from Broad and Lynch Street across Monrovia so that people can have access to it.  Currently fiber is being distributed by Microwave, but just like an electrical distribution system consisting of electrical wires is needed to distribute electricity the same principle applies to fiber, except that fiber can also be distributed in the last mile, wirelessly.      

During the network engineer management period, LIBTELCO gradually placed fiber in the duct system that had been cleaned and sealed and was being expanded slowly.

After Amara successfully placed his piece Sebastian Muah in as the manager of LIBTELCO and CCL and provided him with $7 Million Dollars, it seems like a new plan was developed.

Although Sebastian had access to detail blueprints at LIBTELCO on how to construct an internationally approved manhole and duct system, he chooses to bring in a company that seems to have no experience in manhole construction as demonstrated by the manholes they are constructing along Tubman Boulevard in Congo Town. 

In the plans for constructing the distribution network, left at LIBTELCO by the Network Engineer, a duct system along Somalia Drive was included to be constructed when the road construction started.  Construction has started on the Somalia Drive, is a duct system included for LIBTELCO? Another perfect opportunity to advance ICT in Liberia is being wasted by the Database Guy. 

Speculating What’s Next for LIBTELCO?

Speculation One:  Like the FrontPage Africa Article states NOVAFONE will be paid $5 Million Dollars this year. If that is the case, then maybe, LIBTELCO, the Liberian People and the incoming government will be stuck with a  $25 Million Dollars debt that they will be sued for in the future by the owners of NOVAFONE who sold their company illegally to LIBTELCO. 

Speculation Two:  Since the current management of LIBTELCO led by Sebastian Muah has stated that they plan to privatize LIBTELCO before the next administration is sworn in, maybe the two companies LIBTELCO and NOVAFONE will be sold back to the people who sold NOVAFONE to LIBTELCO under a new name and the funds will disappear from the government coffers like $80 million dollars disappeared from NOCAL.    

Speculation Three: The government of Liberia will do the right thing and:

1. Halt the Database Guy in his track, stop his wasteful spending and plotting to leave the government of Liberia in debt for not only the ACE Cable $25 Million, but also for another $25 Million dollars for the fraudulent purchase of NOVAFONE.

2. That the government of Liberia will do the right thing, and call the engineers for the Somalia Drive Road Project to the table, not stopping work, but asking how can we include a duct along Somalia Drive, from Freeport to Red Light to accommodate LIBTELCO’s Fiber Cable before it is too late.

3. That the government of Liberia will do the right thing in the interest of bringing development to Liberia because there is still time to DO THE RIGHT THING!

Today the Daily Observer published a statment by Mr. Muah entitled "LIBTELCO Boss Clarifies ‘US$30M’ Acquisition Of Novafone".

Did you read Sabestian's response? Did it clearify the acquisition of Novafone for you?