New Mauritian IT Minister Faces Many Challenges

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The new minister of information and communication technologies of Mauritius is a busy man. Having replaced Etienne Sinatambou last month, Asraf Dulull, former minister of housing and lands, is stepping up consultations with the IT industry.

The small island state off the east coast of Madagascar has the ambition of becoming a cyberisland. However, a lot remains to be done to achieve that status. Despite being a leader in IT in Africa, Internet and PC penetration remain low compared to developed countries. E-government is still in its infancy.

The cost of telecommunications remains a major issue. Internet tariffs are still high, despite the fact that liberalization became effective as early as January 2003. During a meeting with the press last week, the minister said that lowering tariffs would be his immediate concern. Several other projects are also in preparation to help lower the price of computers.

"We're trying to find a way to lower tariffs and to increase the speed of broadband Internet. With a price reduction, Mauritius will become even more competitive. It will also allow us to take advantage of activities in the field of e-commerce or research and development," said the new minister of ICT.

Another priority is to make every Mauritian IT literate. "In today's world, being literate is not enough. You also have to be computer literate. Without ICT, no economic or social development is possible. If we want to attain this objective, we will have to put heads together," Asraf Dulull said.

Establishing a fair playing field among competitors is another major challenge. "Mauritius Telecom is so powerful. It controls the whole industry thus making it very difficult for new entrants to exist," says an ex-manager of an Internet provider that went out of business some time ago.

There is no denying that MT's position as market leader seems more unassailable than ever. With revenues of 6.5 billion rupees (US$232 million) and net income of 2.143 billion rupees last year, MT continues to consolidate its dominance.

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