ECONOMYNEXT – Shares of Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT), which owns a fixed and mobile telecom group, which is partly foreign owned and listed should not be sold down further, the head of a parliamentary committee on national security has said.
Government MP Sarath Weerasekara who chairs the Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security told parliament Friday June 09that divestment of the 49.5 percent stake in SLT held by the government could “expose the country’s strategic communication infrastructure and sensitive information to private companies that are motivated by profit, which could pose a threat to national security”.
The claim comes despite satellite links and international cables connecting the country being built and managed by foreign conglomerates in which many connected countries are also shareholders. SLT is also a shareholder in some global cable companies.
The sectoral oversight committee will not recommend a sell down of shares, he said.
Weerasekara said that any individual or organisation proscribed or otherwise that “aided terrorists or extremists” must not be allowed to purchase shares or control Sri Lanka’s national assets.
Weerasekara suggested that the government retain the right to repurchase shares held by the majority shareholder of SLT.
SLT’s second biggest shareholder is Malaysia-based Usaha Tegas Sdn Bhd with a 44.9 percent stake in the company.
Most Sri Lanka’s mobile firms were also built and owned not just by private firm but foreign ones. SLT’s own mobile network, Mobitel was a build operate transfer project by Australia’s Telstra.
Modern telecommunications started in the US with Alexander Graham Bell inventing the telephone. His company later morphed into AT & T, which ran also ran international links with its European headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
Sri Lanka’s cabinet of ministers in March 2023 listed Sri Lanka Telecom among several state companies to be re-structured.
SLT currently enjoys market leadership in fixed-line services and is the second-largest operator in mobile. It also owns an extensive optical fibre network.
The company was placed on watch for a possible rating upgrade by Fitch Ratings in March 2023 after the government announced the restructuring. (Colombo/Jun09/2023)