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Privatisation of Sri Lanka Telecom

By Pon Kulendiren (

I am a former employee of the Telecommunication department, presently working as a Telecommunication consultant for Mobile systems international. I thought that it is appropriate at this time to give my views on the privitization of the Sri Lanka Telecommunication Department.

The Telecom Department was one time Post & Telecom Department with PMG as the Director of Telecoms. Since the Engineers wanted it to be headed by a Technical person and not by a CAS officer, the Department was separated in 1980,s with an Engineer as the Director of Telecoms . What did the Department achieve through this reorganization?. The result was , an Empire building by the Engineers. The Telecommunication Traffic department was dissolved and more Chief Engineers , Superintending Engineers, Engineers and Technicians were created and the staff per 1000 subscribers exceeded a figure, which topped the list in the world. The quality of service provided deteriorated , Billing errors increased, the growth of subscribers or the Network performance was ignored and more than every thing there were delays in clearing faults and providing service?.

You will never see the Engineers or Chief Engineers in their seats. Many of them were interested in foreign trips and never applied the new Technology they learned in their trips. Internal politics and undercutting played and important part. No one was interested in the service. No volume of activity or Long term plan was prepared to cater for the communication needs of the country. Telecommunication facility for the Rural areas were neglected. Payphone facilities was in a chaos. Billing was delayed and at times full of errors. The department served the other government departments and the security forces rather than the public. The staff were more interested in making money through over time and other means and also in getting promotions. The staff union were linked to politics and never contributed to the productivity. New ideas to improve service and productivity met with resentment from the unions. At one stage the loop allocation and number allocation was done by the ministry. Money was exchanged under the table to get a good number or a loop . Since the telecom Services was monopolized, people have to put up with the poor quality of service. When I left the Department through desperation in 1977 the number of subscribers were 80,000 with 30% of being official Telephones. Now I understand the figure is 250, 000, approximately 200% growth over a period of 20 years. This clearly proves how the network growth was ignored although there was a high demand for it.

What is the solution to the problem ?. Privatization will trim down the staff per 1000 telephones to a comparable figure with other developing countries. Excess staff above the requirement slows down the productivity and affects the Profit of the organization. Automation is the solution to the problem. Privatization will bring in valuable foreign investments and fully digitalise the network and go in for PSDN and ISDN, ATM to keep in pace with the latest Technology. We have the brains and skills, what we require is decipline and dedication. Only through privatization we can modernize the network and strengthen our Economic infrastructure which can attract more investors. It will also slow down the brain drain of talented technical youths as they could find job satisfaction in their own country. What we need is highly Technical and Administrative minded talents with experience to steer the privatization without any political interference. Clear policies have to be defined by the government on the Quality of Service and Grade of Service Standards, Tariff, Network growth, provision of Telephone service to rural areas and monopoly. The investors should not be allowed to plunder the subscribers. More than every thing productivity standards have to be defined. This may be bitter to the Trade Unions. Privatization of a Technical industry is vital to Sri Lanka when the country cannot afford to invest in a war affected economy to modernize and expand the network. .

Pon Kulendiren, Dallas, Texas.

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