AS of 1 January, Tunisia has an independent telephone company, Telecoms Tunisie, which has been hived off from the Communications Ministry in a bid to boost efficiency. The postal service and television will also be reorganised into autonomous companies. However, the government has not suggested that there is any intention of privatising the telecoms company in the near future.

The new operating company has pledged to continue the expansion plans of the ministry, which has failed to implement them as rapidly as it intended. The aim was to increase teledensity from the present 5.5 lines for every 100 inhabitants to 9 by the end of 1996, a deadline that is likely to be extended. International contractors are busy on switching and transmission projects under contracts awarded in 1993-95.

Sweden’s Ericsson started work on a lOO,000-line order in the autumn and will complete the work in 12 months. Germany’s Siemens is installing 360,000 lines countrywide under a 1993 contract, and the UK-based Northern Telecom Europe will be busy until 1997 on a contract to install 58 digital switching centres, an order won in 1994.

Contractors say work has been slowed down in some areas by the lack of infrastructure, which the government has pledged to provide. In addition, Tunisians have not been able to take advantage of the full capacity as quickly as it is being installed, as local networks are not being expanded fast enough. This work is mainly carried out by local companies. Contractors say they have heard of no plans to issue a new switching tender this year.

International companies are also working on the installation of the Tunisian section of the Maghreb fibre optic link. Contracts in hand are to be completed in 1996 and plans for new tenders have yet to be announced.

The ministry last year announced a plan to set up a GSM system, to supplement the existing analogue mobile network. The project calls for an initial network with 5,000 subscribers. However, the new Office National has yet to give more details of any impending tenders.