Sunday, March 23, 2008

Afghanistan - privatisation

Afghanistan to privatise national telephone firm

Afghanistan said Sunday it planned to sell up to 80 percent of its telecommunications arm in one of the most ambitious parts of the country's ongoing privatisation programme.

Bidders must register their interest in purchasing part of Afghan Telecom by April 4 and the tender process was expected to be completed in three months, Telecommunications Minister Amirzai Sangin told reporters.

The fixed line and wireless system had about 100,000 clients, he said. This compares to about five million for the booming mobile phone sector, which includes four providers and had investment of nearly one billion dollars, Sangin said.

Afghan Telecom would be worth about 190 million dollars after a network of fibre optic cables is put in place, an improvement which is due by year's end, his ministry said.

The sell-off is one of "the most ambitious privatisation projects in Afghanistan to date," it said in a statement on its website.

Asked about Taliban attacks on mobile phone towers, Sangin dismissed the insurgents' claims that cell phones were being used by the military to pinpoint their hideouts.

The Taliban extremist movement warned nearly a month ago it would target mobile antennae that were not switched off at night because they were being used to trace their bases.

About a dozen have been attacked since then, most of them in the volatile south where the insurgency is most active.

Troops had other means at their disposal to tackle the Taliban besides the mobile phone system, the minister said.

"Telephones are not a military target. Anyone attacking such installations is attacking people's interests," he said.

The Afghan government is trying to rebuild a country left in tatters after the 1996-2001 Taliban regime was forced out and following decades of war including a period of Soviet rule that left behind a lumbering bureaucracy.

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