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Gov’t agrees to new teleco towers’ project with USD$66m concessional loan from China

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PS Dentana
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A new telecommunication mobile network of 161 towers will spring out into the skies across the country and it will come in a form of a USD$66M (about SBD$572m) concessional loan from China.

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance and Treasury McKinnie Dentana confirmed to the media this afternoon that: “We confirm that the project will be fully funded with a concessional loan facility from Exim Bank of China of $66USD at the rate of 1% interest rate for a period of 20 years,” he said.

When asked by the media if this is the first loan from China, Dentana said: “Yes I can confirm this is the first concessional loan from China.”

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Dentana further stated that an independent review shows that the project would generate sufficient revenue for the government to fully repay the principal loan interests within the period.

He confirmed that the Solomon Islands National Broadband Infrastructure Project or SINBIP for the construction of up to 161 towers has been progressed with the recent signing of a contracting agreement with the vendor and contractor, Huawei/China Harbour Engineering Company Limited.

The SINBIP is one of the priority projects of the National Government.  The SINBIP is consistent not only with the DCGA Policy Statement, but is also in line with the Solomon Islands National Infrastructure Investment Plan (2013), National ICT Policy (2015), and Solomon Islands National Development Strategy, 2016-2035 (2016).

He recalled that work on the SINBIP started in 2019 when the submission of a feasibility study was received by the government on the project. Also, in 2019 a steering committee was set up consistent of officials from relevant ministries.

Work on the SINBIP started in 2019 with the submission of a feasibility study on the project.  After a cabinet endorsement then, a Steering Committee was set up, consisting of senior staff from relevant government ministries, to review the SINBIP feasibility proposal put forward by Huawei and advice Cabinet not only on its financial and economic viability, but also on its technical compatibility with the country’s existing telecommunication infrastructure.

As a result, the Steering Committee contracted a local expert and a private consulting firm from New Zealand, with both financial and technical expertise to provide an independent review of the SINBIP feasibility study. The two consultant’s recommendation revealed that the SINBIP is both financially viable and compatible with existing telecommunication infrastructure in the country.

In connection to this direction, he added a team of local and external expertise was engaged.

Dentana said the consultants found it was financially viable and proper to go with the existing telecommunication infrastructure in the country,

He said the tower infrastructure are important parts of the country’s telecommunication assets as such government plans to create a new company as the owner of the infrastructure on behalf of the government, similar to SI Cable Company Ltd.

“In terms of the operation of the project, I confirm that the government is currently in discussion with Solomon Telekom as a key operating partner. The system will be connected to the STL core network. The project will result in the expansion of STL network, better telecommunication coverage for the people,” the PS added.

It was also confirmed that one of the key criteria towards the selection of the proposed tower sites include no co-location of existing STCL and Bemobile towers and to the unserved public services institutions like schools and rural health centers, as well as to areas of potential economic activities.

He revealed that that the government expect to complete first 38% of towers by November next year to allow people to enjoy the games without having to come to Honiara.

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