Battle for the soul of Moroccan telecoms

16 November 2001

One of the region's pioneers of telecommunications liberalisation is being shaken to its foundation by a struggle over the powers of the independent regulatory body - Agence Nationale de Reglementation des Telecommunications (ANRT).

The widely respected general manager of ANRT, Mostafa Terrab, on 30 November threatened to resign if the government pressed ahead with a draft law, which, according to senior officials at the telecoms watchdog, proposes to dilute the body's autonomy.

The amendments to law 24/96 - responsible for the establishment of ANRT - were revealed earlier in November by Nasr Hajji, the prime minister's senior adviser on telecommunications. The reforms, announced a week before the tender for Morocco's first private fixed-line licence was scheduled to be issued, requires ANRT to discuss the content of tender documents with other official bodies (MEED 23:11:01).

'If these changes are passed, ANRT will become little more than a body carrying out the technical homework of the government's telecoms department' says one official at the regulator. 'The success of the telecoms sector in Morocco has been built around a strong institutional environment, with the autonomy and transparency of ANRT acting as an influential selling point. If this environment is dead, then it will deal a severe blow to investor confidence.'

ANRT has postponed issuing the fixed-line tender, in which at least nine companies had expressed an interest, until the issue of the reforms has been settled. Local operators such as the majority state-owned Maroc Telecomand the first private GSM operator, Meditel, together with very small aperture terminal and other operators are presently debating the reforms, which will be passed on for discussion among governmental advisers by the end of the year. The text will then be considered by a ministerial committee chaired by King Mohammed VI, before being debated by parliament when it reopens in April. The two chambers have until July to adopt the reforms.

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