Prime Minister's Remarks at Opening of Regional Headquarters of ECTEL - June 3, 2002
The Honourable Prime Minister of St. Lucia
DR. KENNY D. ANTHONY
Official Opening Of The Regional Headquarters Of
THE EASTERN CARIBBEAN TELECOMMUNICATIONS AUTHORITY (ECTEL)
St. Lucia, June 03, 2002
In the history of nations, as in the lives of everyday people, there are milestones that demand formal attention. There are events that require a measure ceremony to celebrate their significance. This is one such occasion, and I am honoured that the Government and People of St. Lucia are partners in this particular achievement. This milestone underscores, St. Lucia’s commitment to processes of unification within the OECS region and our tangible endorsement of the regional approach to liberalisation in the telecommunications sector. We hold firm to those objectives; and the provision of these ECTEL Headquarters by the Government and People of St. Lucia is but one tangible manifestation of our resolve.
It is important that all the people of our region understand the context within which we mark today’s achievement. Indeed, it is no small feat. This is but one, albeit significant step, in a larger process which recognizes the fact that the OECS countries must develop alternative economic activity if they are to prosper in the evolving global environment. It also recognizes the critical nature of the services sector and its need for efficient, competitive information and communication services.
This process is not just about rates and dismantling monopolies. It is about universal access to telecommunications services so as to ensure that all persons, businesses, institutions and communities enjoy the freedom to communicate through a wide range of efficient and reasonably priced services. Accordingly, this process is about the provision of affordable, modern, efficient, competitive, and universally accessible telecommunications to the people of the Contracting States.
From that perspective, the OECS countries, all facing inescapable economic conditions, have seized the option of vigorously developing their service sectors within a competitive environment. A telecommunications scenario in which there is one major service provider is not conducive to such development.
ST. LUCIA: TAKING THE REGIONAL PERSPECTIVE
That realisation led us in one consistent direction. St. Lucia’s licensing regime was scheduled to end in 2001, whereas various arrangements for monopoly provision of services in other member states ranged up to the year 2020. St. Lucia, therefore, argued for the adoption of a regional negotiating position. This allowed other member countries to be part of that process, and eventually, to licence new providers in a coordinated and consistent manner across the region. It is expected that these new providers alongside Cable & Wireless, will now partner with us to develop a fully integrated telecommunications platform. That platform is the base from which to launch a wide range of services to be delivered by a diversified and dynamic information and communications sector. This sector will serve as a base for future economic development of the region.
St. Lucia has consistently and successfully argued that the regional approach would provide us with unity and strength in the negotiation of a new pro-investment package. This has now been achieved with integration of the OECS into a single telecommunications market. Our market now comprises half a million consumers. We need to maintain this unity for it has served us well. We need to thank our colleagues for their faith and cooperation, for this too has served us well.
No doubt, the rewards continue to accumulate. For example, from the inception of our negotiations with the World Bank regarding the funding of this Telecommunications Reform and Modernisation Project two factors served to convince the World Bank to provide the six million US dollar loan disbursed over a four-year period: first, the regional approach to reform as reflected in new Legislation, Regulations and Licensing arrangements; and second, the establishment of a single regional regulator. Both of these are now appropriately reflected in the responsibilities and the authority accorded to ECTEL.
The significance of these events on the regional integration process, needs to be re-affirmed. The establishment of a common telecommunications authority for the Eastern Caribbean is possibly the most significant tool of economic cooperation in the two decades since the establishment of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States in 1981 and the establishment of a common monetary authority in 1983.
I do not make such a statement lightly. I say this because in our view, the establishment of ECTEL reaffirms in a very timely and tangible way, the very process of economic cooperation. It confirms both the ability and the willingness of participating governments to devolve substantial national authority to a supranational body representing the common good.
This cooperation does not come easily. It required negotiation and compromise. It required us to take the long-term view in an era where economic imperatives are more likely to drive us apart in the name of aggressive competition. In this instance, we have overcome and defeated shortsightedness. We have subjugated narrow national agendas in favour of the larger regional priority.
That priority is no less than the creation of a single economic space in respect of our telecommunications environment. It is the creation of a single set of rules of engagement in respect of telecommunications service providers. It is the unification of our separate economies in the sector that constitutes the next generation of economic infrastructure for our common development.
In our view, that telecommunications infrastructure within which ECTEL will function as the critical keystone, is the future. It is the infrastructure which facilitates our survival in this information age. It is our conduit to the intellectual capital markets of the world. It is our bridge to the virtual, borderless markets accessed via the Internet. It is our gateway to knowledge based economic activity. It is the competitive advantage which is surely needed by both traditional and non-traditional industries. It is therefore indispensable to our future.
Moreover, we have made history. In seeking our own advancement, we have also offered to the world a new model of cooperation. There are no other nations which can boast the level of integration which now characterizes the Eastern Caribbean, with its shared institutions of cooperation in monetary policy, justice administration, civil aviation, and now, telecommunications policy and institutional infrastructure.
We should be justly proud of ourselves as pioneers in the field of regional regulation. ECTEL is being used by the World Bank and by the International Telecommunications Union as an example for other countries to follow. The Secretariat is now working on the accession of other OECS Member States to ECTEL and working out details to allow them to participate in ECTEL. This would mean that the term ECTEL Member States would become synonymous with OECS Member States.
That pride however, must not simply be a hollow, self-congratulatory process. It must be a lesson that we embrace in order to move forward. We already know that our strength lies in numbers. Our integration process, despite its shortcomings, teaches us that when we band together to do those things which we cannot do alone, the interests of the region and its people are invariably better served. The task now is to deepen this process by vesting in ECTEL the appropriate levels of responsibility and authority.
ECTEL must function, as we must function within ECTEL, in mutually reinforcing ways. It must be symbiotic; because both ECTEL and the economies it serves are living, growing organisms. The economic environment in which we function is a dynamic, evolving landscape. Quite apart from economic and political influences, the market drives and thrives upon technological advances; and that technology is itself exponential. Let us not fall into the complacency that so often characterises our brand of regionalism. Let us move sensibly and decidedly toward that future which is our to grasp.
THE FUTURE OF OECS TELECOMS LIBERALISATION
Finally, as we turn to the future of telecommunications liberalisation in the OECS, we recall that the treaty establishing ECTEL cites nine (9) major objectives, as follows:
• Open entry, market liberalisation and competition in telecommunications of the Contracting States;
• Harmonised regional policies for telecommunications within the Contracting States;
• Universal service, so as to ensure the widest possible access to telecommunications at affordable rates over an efficient and modern telecommunications network;
• An objective and harmonised regulatory regime;
• Fair pricing and the use of cost-based pricing methods by telecommunications providers in the Contracting States;
• Fair competition, discouraging anti-competitive practices by telecommunications providers;
• The introduction of advanced telecommunications technologies and an increased range of services:
• Increased penetration of telecommunications in the Contracting States and the overall development of telecommunications in the Contracting States.
With these in mind, we therefore need to take a step back and survey the field: We note for example that all of the ECTEL countries have now passed new telecommunications Legislation. We note also that new telecommunications Regulations have been gazetted in Member States. All of the countries are in the process of issuing licences to new providers, and the Secretariat is in the process of completing the required Spectrum Allocations, Numbering Plans and providing the necessary regulatory framework for the development of the sector. Important work therefore, remains to be done.
Moreover, in order to facilitate the liberalisation of the sector and to allow new entrants to operate without having to be forced to use existing infrastructure, an agreement has been reached between the OECS and Cable & Wireless. This agreement allows new entrants the freedom to use the most appropriate means of developing its communication links with the outside world.
So we may rightly ask ourselves: what of the future? We see the future as a competitive environment where customers have freedom of choice over well developed telecommunications infrastructure. We see the future as a wide range of services offered at competitive and reasonable prices. We see a future where the OECS shares a modern platform for development of its service sectors, and where the regulation of telecommunications serves as a vehicle for economic development.
I might add that it is a future where St. Lucia’s National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission is also housed in the same premises as the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority. Ladies and gentlemen, we wioll not go gently into any dark night, we seek the dawn at last of a bright new way. And, I invite you to take a look for yourself, as I declare the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Regulatory Authority Headquarters officially open for business.
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