I am very delighted to be here today at this milestone event for the ICT sector in our country. My government strongly believes that good ICT systems will ensure good governance; promote effective and efficient private sector business activities, support human resource capacity building, develop health service delivery and education and build synergy between the media and civil society.
In the 1990s, our country was unable to participate fully in regional ICT Infrastructural activities. Our nation was not linked with the SAT3 and other submarine cables serving the Atlantic Coast of Africa. As a result, connectivity between Sierra Leone and other countries relies exclusively on expensive satellite communication with limited high capacity bandwidth. This coupled with a lack of national telecommunications backbone has created difficulties for the expansion of internet services and advanced ICT applications.
We are however meeting these challenges head-on. We have succeeded in encouraging entrepreneurs to invest in areas such the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM), CDMA and WiMAX. The issuance of licenses to these companies has tremendously improved voice telephony with current mobile penetration rate standing at 35%. Government has also given licenses to 31 FM radio stations. We have also recently corporatized SLBC. This has helped in the dissemination of timely information to the populace.
However, data and video communication infrastructure, services and access are still under- developed. Presently, internet penetration, for both dial-up and broadband services stands at 0.3%. An e-government readiness survey conducted by the Vice President’s Office, the Ministry of Information and Communication and the UNDP also highlighted weak diffusion of ICT services and access particularly in the public sector.
This is clearly a severe limitation on our ability to harness ICT for our socio-economic development. It is with this view that I gave directives to the Ministry of Information and Communication to form a National ICT Task Force which was charged with responsibility the of formulating a National Information and Technology Policy for the country. The vision of this ICT policy is to develop a knowledge-based information society with a vibrant ICT sector.
The National ICT Policy document highlighted the need for service providers to improve network performance, the establishment of standards bureau for the ICT sector, creation of a center for ICT intelligence, development of a National ICT framework and the setting up of a National ICT Advisory Council.
Today we are here to officially launch the National ICT Advisory Council. The National ICT Advisory Council is charged with the responsibility of giving guidance to all stakeholders on ICT sector related matters including: the formulation of ICT objectives and implementation plans development of national ICT standards and guidelines coordination of national ICT initiatives and projects determination of requisite ICT support services to public and private sectors monitoring of the implementation of policy plans and evaluating the results
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen; ICT should be integral to our attempts at transforming this country. The possibilities are great; the benefits immense. We should leave no stones unturned in translating the possibilities and gains of ICT into reality for our people. From education to health; mining to marketing of agricultural produce, ICT is transforming lives all the world. I am hereby calling on the ICT advisory council to help us bring home these transformations. I have declared 2011 as our Year of Implementation. The council must hit the ground running; time is of the essence; we must catch up and possibly overtake other nations in the production and utilization of ICT. We need to do this to build a competitive economy and knowledgeable society.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, it is now my honor to officially launch the National ICT Advisory Council.
I thank you.
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Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.