Mobile Companies Exploit Sierra Leoneans -World Bank Director



The World Bank has been discussing the high cost of phone calls and internet access with the National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM) and President Ernest Koroma, and both have assured the World Bank Group of their commitment to allow other operators have a share of the gateway and make cost affordable for the people.
Mr. Henry Kerall met President Koroma on Friday morning, the last day of his 3-day-visit to Sierra Leone.
He said President Koroma assured him that one of the greatest legacies he was going to leave to Sierra Leone was cheap, accessible internet and mobile services for the citizens of this country.
The Bank funded the country’s fibre optic project through the West Africa Regional Communications Project with the overall objective of ensuring that Sierra Leone gets internet and communication services to the people that are affordable. What is happening currently is really off the roof in terms of pricing compared to other countries in the region.
The Bank at some point suspended support to the fibre optic project but lifted the suspension later. Disbursement of the US$26.5million portfolio is almost completed, he said.
The Director cited the progress Kenya is making with the availability and affordability of Internet and communication services. The Kenyan farmer can check the prices of products while working on the farm on his/her mobile phone. The success of mobile money services in Kenya is also attributed to developments in the information communication technology sector including cheap cost of communication.
On the Ebola situation, development partners and the government have formulated a rapid response plan to respond to the disease should there be a recurrence; and the response would be immediate and very precise, he told the press in the conference room of the World Bank Sierra Leone Office.
“Like all other development partners we stressed the need to maintain vigilance and not be complacent,” he emphasised. The Bank is committed to the post-Ebola development plan of the country and has identified some areas of intervention targeting women, youth and rural communities.
“We are in the process of preparing our ‘Systematic Country Diagnostics’ which is basically an analysis that will review the challenges that Sierra Leone faces and also the opportunities going forward for the development of Sierra Leone.” He said. “This will then lead us to the preparation of a new country partnership framework which will outline for the next 4, 5 or 6 years the level of support that the World Bank would make available for Sierra Leone.” This would be within the region of US$200 million  US$300 million. But would be confirmed by the Board of the Bank in 2016, he said.
On the Mamamah Airport project, the Director said that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had discussed this with the Government and the Bank supports the IMF position. “Building a new airport is a question of timing,” he said. “The timing is not now.” The building of the airport should be kept on hold at least for now as there are immediate priorities that the Government should address relating to post Ebola.
During the Ebola outbreak, the Bank focused resources on the health sector. It continues to support the health sector. One of the new areas of focus is the energy sector to increase the generating capacity on grid and off-grid electricity supply. This includes thinking of solar energy.
Another area will be agriculture, helping smallholder farmers increase their crop yields and link them to markets to sell their products.