THE UNIVERSAL ACCESS DEVEOPMENT FUND (UADF)
The Universal Access Development Fund (UADF) was established by subsection (2) of Section 16 of the Telecommunications Act, 2006 and the Telecommunications Commission (Amendment) Act 2009 to promote universal service and access to ICTs to all Sierra Leoneans. Section 11 (d) states that the fund shall be used mainly to promote Universal Access to basic telecommunication services in throughout Sierra Leone.
AIMS & OBJECTIVES
The main aim of the UADF is to provide universal access to Information Communication and Technology (ICT) services to households or persons consists of traditional telephone services, broadband information and communication services such as voice, data services and access to internet to the people of Sierra Leone within the concept of Universal Service Fund.
The UADF and the concept of Universal Service Fund (USF)
The concept of Universal Service Fund (USF) is to ensure telecommunication services available to every person and communities at affordable prices. This concept is underpinned by three principles: a) availability, b) affordability and c) accessibility.
Availability means the service provided to all users whether at home or in their places of residence should be the same at all times and without geographical discrimination (accessibility to information or ICT in specific areas/locations).
Affordability means the price should not affect or be a barrier to access to services to information and ICT.
C) Accessibility – No telephone users should be discriminated against. They should be treated equally with respect to the following: a) price, (b) service and (c) quality of services provided without discrimination due to (a) sex (b) religion and (c) race (d) social background and (e) geographical location.
ADMINISTRATION OF THE UADF
The Administration and management of the UADF can be categorized into the following: a) UADF as a department of NATCOM, (b) UDAF as the action arm of NATCOM (C) Special Supervisory Committee (SSC) or board of Trusties and (d) Staff roles and responsibilities.
A) UADF as a Department of NATCOM
As in the case of all other departments, the administration of NATCOM appoints the Project Manager and staff of the UADF. The operating and administrative cost of the UADF is deemed to be separate from NATCOM. Activities undertaken in relation to the UADF at the moment are attributed to UADF account.
The key role of the Project Manager and staff is to manage UADF programs and activities, to implement and manage the finances of the UADF.
B) UADF as the Action Arm of NATCOM
As the Action Arm of NATCOM, the UADF is responsible for the implementation of all the projects of the Commission. These it does in collaboration with other relevant departments like the Engineering and Legal departments of the Commission. Some ongoing projects include Rural Telephony and the Multi – purpose tele-centers to name a few.
The UADF Special Supervisory Committee (SSC)
The primary responsibility of the SSC is to supervise, monitor and approve the UADF‘s programs, finances and activities. The SSC of the UADF comprise of:
a) The Chairman of NATCOM who is also the Chairman of the SSC
b) A commissioner of NATCOM and/or the Director General (DG) of NATCOM
c) Representative of the communications industry (telephone operators)
d) Representative of the ISPs
e) Representative of the legal sector
f) Representative of the financial sector
g) Representative of a recognized consumers’ association
h) Representative of the Ministry of Information and Communication
In order to address problems relating to conflict of interest, the representatives of the communication industry should not be owners, shareholders, partners or employees of any of the licensed communications operators in Sierra Leone.
Functions of the SSC / Board of Trusties.
As an instrument of NATCOM policy for rural communications development, the UADF SSC executes UADF strategy. The operations of the SSC should be within the mandate of NATCOM. The SSC is accountable to the commission and actions taken by the SSC should be in the interest of the universal Development Policy of Sierra Leone set out in the UADF Manual of Operating Procedures. The primary responsibilities of the board (SSC) are:
a) Approval of funding programs;
b) Approval of the operating budget;
c) Approval of all staff appointments with the exception of the Fund Manager;
d) Approval of consulting and outsourcing contracts;
e) Approval of all awards of contracts on tendered projects;
f) Maintaining the integrity of the fund’s financial activities in accordance with an established code of conduct;
g) Regular approval of quarterly reports on direct Fund disbursements for small projects and
h) Monitoring the Fund’s quarterly financial report and annual report
The Project Manager (PM)
The Project Manager (PM) is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the UADF. He/she has the rank of head of department within NATCOM. The P M is appointed by NATCOM Commission and therefore answerable to both NATCOM and the board of the UADF (SSC). Some of the responsibilities of the PM are:
a) Identification and preparation of rural projects together with the Program Officer
b) Review the project plan and budget within the mandate of UADF’s manual of operating procedures
c) Make suggestions to the board on hiring and recommendation of staff to the Board for promotion, preparing Terms of Reference (TOR) in collaboration with the Administrative Officer (AO)
d) Monitoring and Control of the operating budget of the UADF
e) Participate in the selection and supervision of consultants to support the project implementation process
f) Sensitization and awareness activities in order to educate the public about the UADF, advertising and as well as arrangements for public tender notices
g) Prepare and distribute bidding for projects in collaboration with the PO
h) Develop strategic plan for UADF in collaboration with the PO
i) Monitoring and ensuring that levies or payment from operators are paid into the UADF account
j) Serve as liaison with operators involved in rural projects
k) Initiate funding proposals to replenish the fund;
l) Prepares and submit UADF progress reports to the Chairman of NATCOM and the UADF board (SSC)
The Project Officer (PO)
The project Officer shall report directly to the Project Manager and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the UADF. Under the directions of the Project Manager, the PO is responsible for ensuring that the UADF projects are effectively implemented. The PO has the following tasks:
a) Assist the project Manager in identifying potential projects for funding;
b) Work with PM in developing strategic plan for UADF;
c) Under take Research and Development activities with the aim to identify potential ICT technologies that could be adopted and/or replicated in Sierra Leone in order to make universal access sustainable and less expensive to users;
d) Responsible for monitoring and evaluation of all projects that are implemented and prepare a report on progress and challenges on monthly basis;
e) Prepare and distribute bidding for projects and other documents for projects approved for subsidy in collaboration with the PM.
The Assistant Project Officer (APO)
The Assistant Project Officer (APO) shall report directly to the Project Manager, Project Officer and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the UADF. The Assistant Project Officer shall assist the Project Officer in ensuring that all fund projects are effectively carried out and other duties assigned to him by the Project Manager and the Board of Directors from time to time. The APO has the following additional tasks:
a) Assist PO in monitoring and evaluation of all projects implemented by the UADF;
b) Prepare and submit weekly report to the PO of all potential projects and actual projects related to the UADF;
c) Assist the PM and P O in developing a strategic plan for each year;
d) Facilitate sensitization and training workshops at community levels;
e) Perform and other duties assigned by the Project Manager or the Board;
Administrative Officer (AO)
The Administrative Officer shall report directly to the PM and Chairman of the Board of the UADF. Also, he/she shall undertake all administrative functions, procurement and other duties assigned by the PM and the Board of Trusties. Other key tasks of the AO include:
a)To develop and maintain an efficient updated records and filling systems for administrative documents;
b) Make an inventory of assets, consumables and supplies and provide for their management;
c) Supervise and monitor presence and absence of staff;
d) Draft staff related correspondent;
e) Ensure the confidentiality of all staff records and other matters;
f) Set up and maintain a data base and monitoring system to enable and keep track of UADF project cycle;
g) Assist in the procurement of goods and services in compliance with the National Procurement Act;
h) Provide guidance on procurement of supplies and equipment, inventory controls, storage, safekeeping, proper use and transportation of equipment and materials procured;
i) Assist in launching public tenders and support and interviews as and when necessary;
j) Ensure good industrial relations and;
k) Perform other duties as may be required;
The Finance officer (FO)
The FO shall report directly to the PM and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the UADF. He /she shall oversee the financial management and accounting functions and assist the PM in handling financial matters. The FO has the following tasks:
a) Monitor the operation, efficiency and effectiveness of accounting and control systems and recommend improvements to management;
b) Ensure that proper records are kept to facilitate the preparation of timely, accurate, relevant and reliable financial statements as well as periodic status reports to the Board and other stakeholders;
c) Execute the day to day financial planning and control of UADF budget. This includes disbursements and monitoring authorized thresholds for all project beneficiaries and to ensure they do not exceed their respective allocations;
d) Handle the financial aspect of procurement including relevant aspects of contract Management;
e) Keep track of training, travelling, seminars , workshop plans and all related expenditures;
f) Ensure the completeness and accuracy of UADF records with respect to operators, Contractors and project transactions;
g) Help steer the formulation and maintenance of the UADF financial and accounting processes and procedures;
h) Communicate with external auditors on existing procedures;
i) Ensure and manage the collection of fees and any other payment due to the UADF in accordance with the Telecommunication Act;
j) Assist in managing the UADF bank accounts and ensuring that they are in compliance with the established controls and regulation;
k) Provide assistance in the creation of the UADF annual budget and design and help establish and implement internal controls for effective and efficient execution of the budget;
l) Coordinate with the related external resources in efforts to protect the integrity of the audited statements of the UADF accounts;
m) Preparation of the annual financial statements;
Preparing monthly, quarterly and annual activity reports that will enable comparison of attainments
n) Approve strategy operational plans and budgets;
o) Do a quarterly variance analysis for all expenses and budget;
p) Ascertain that all UADF assets and liabilities are protected;
q) Perform any other duties assigned by the PM or the board
The Legal & Regulatory Officer (LRO)
$1a) Provide legal advice to management on legal matters relating to the UADF
$1b) Provide appropriate interpretations of statutes, international and local agreements relating to the UADF.
$1c) Evaluate draft agreements and contract documents in collaboration with NATCOM and the other units of the UADF.
$1d) Ensure compliance with all regional and international agreements in the telecommunications and ICT sectors in consultation and collaboration with other stakeholders, MDAs.
$1e) Provide legal support to the management in the formation of performance policies and practices.
$1f) Perform any other duties assigned by the Project Manager or the Board.
The Assistant Administrative Officer (AAO)
The GSO shall report directly to the Administrative Officer. The AAO shall assist with all Administrative and general services in the UADF office. He is the Principal Assistant to the Administrative Officer and perform other duties assigned by the PM and the Board of Directors. The AAO performs the following additional tasks:
A) Assist the Administrative Officer (AO) to maintain inventory of assets, consumables and supplies and their management;
b) Assist the AO in the reception, storage, safekeeping, proper use and transportation of equipment;
c) Prepare fuel supply chits and telephone cards for staff and office;
d) Maintain vehicle logbook;
e) Ensures that all maintenance jobs in the office are carried out promptly;
f) Facilitate the distribution of all correspondences to stakeholders;
g) Keep record of materials and equipment transported;
h) Perform any other duties as may be required by the PM and the Board of Directors;
The confidential Secretary shall report directly to the PM of the UADF. He/she shall assist with all administrative and secretarial functions and other duties assigned by the PM and the Board of Directors of the UADF. Other responsibilities include:
a) Help to prepare project meeting documents for the PM;
b) Prepare slides and presentations for the PM;
c) Help with Secretariat duties in the PM’s office;
d ) Responsible for photocopying , scanning, binding and laminating UADF documents;
e) Control the inflow of visitors;
f) Assist in administrative, logistic and financial support necessary for meetings, seminars, workshops and travels are adequately provided when and where required;
g) Perform any other duties as may be required by the PM and the Board of Directors.
Contributions to the UADF Fund
Funding for the UADF is spelt out in subsection (2) of section 16 of the Telecommunications Act, 2006 and the Telecommunications (Amendment) ACT 2009. This act states that funding “shall consist of a percentage of the gross income of service providers as declared for income tax purposes determined by the Minister by statutory instrument”. Other sources of funding include: contributions from International agencies such as the World Bank, the Common Wealth Telecommunications Commission (CTO), International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and other related agencies. At the moment, the UADF does not receive direct contributions from government budget and partial proceeds from spectrum auctions. The NATCOM collect funds on behalf of the UADF.
All UADF finances are governed strictly with the operating guidelines established by the Fund’s annual operating budget. The contributions/finances received should satisfy all requisite financial policies and regulations of the UADF. The UADF has its own separate account in a reputable bank with direct foreign currency trading rights. The assets of the Fund may be invested in fixed deposits with a bank approved by the UADF SSC, treasury bills in accordance with guidelines approved by the UADF.
The PM should ensure that record of the universal service levy (USL) due to the UADF is maintained and collected from all telecommunications companies. The record should indicate the verified gross revenues of all companies each year, amounts collected and amount outstanding and when to pay the USL.
All payments withdrawals or other financial transactions relating to the Fund Administrator are made in accordance with the Fund administrator Financial and Accounting Regulations Manual. Independent auditing of the Fund Administrators bank account, associated accounts and overall finances are arranged annually by the UADF’s financial institution, in compliance with the requirements of the auditor-general.
The UADF SSC prepares and utilizes detailed regulations to govern the financial activities of the UADF’s finances. The PM prepares the annual report of all UADF activities, receipts and disbursements. The report is made public after the approval of the UADF SSC.
Current UADF Projects
Multipurpose Community Tele- centers (MCTs)
In line with the trends in Project Management (PM), the UADF carried out a monitoring and evaluation exercise in Kambia, Makeni, Kono and Pujehun. This exercise began on Wednesday 19 February 2014 and ended on Saturday 22nd February 2014. These projects are Multi-Purpose Community Tele-centers (MCTs).The goal for these MCTs is to enhance accessibility, availability and affordability and as well as sustainability of information and ICT in unserved /rural communities.
Furthermore, other UADF projects at Fourah Bay College and Lungi International Airport have been assessed in a bid to make the fully operational
Details on the results of the monitoring and evaluation of the projects will be made available on request from the Project Manager.
THE WAY FORWARD FOR THE UADF.
Since the February 2014 to date, the administration of the UADF headed by Madam Bridget A. Saidu has been involved in a series of activities in order to infuse renewed impetus geared towards making department more institutionally robust, administratively efficient and operationally viable to the development of the country as a whole.
Key among these activities includes:
1. OPERATING PRINCIPLES:
The Operating Principles are the guide lines with which the UADF is to be run. They can be seen as the operational blue print governing the activities of the department and its relationship with other national and international actors and stakeholders. Some extensive studies and comparison with sub regional and continental success stories have been conducted. In the final analysis, there is now a workable document being put together. This takes into consideration the peculiarities of the Sierra Leonean situation while factoring the high points of the colleague departments in other sister countries into it.
2. UPDATING THE TELECOMMUNICATIONS ACT:
The Administration of the has been actively involved together with NATCOM in the review of the Telecommunications Act of 2006 Amended 2009 that will see the birth of the Communications Act of 2013. It is hoped that this new Act will not only reflect the contemporary dynamism of the sector, but will give UADF a robust presence in the industry both nationally and internationally.
3. NEW REGULATIONS:
Added to the operating principles, the Administration is also working on an updated set of regulations which will make the department more administratively well-defined both in structure and stature.
4. INTERNAL RE STRUCTING
The UADF administration has benefited from renewed interest from its key stakeholders like the Telecoms operators, Services Providers, the Ministry of Information and the even NATCOM. As a result of several fruitful meetings and other engagements there is a massive internal restructuring going on within the entity especially the reconstituting of the Board of Trustees.
The Operators and service providers have also unanimously consented to pay up their contributions in full to provide much needed resources for the department to implement its projects and run its own day to day affairs.
Perhaps most importantly, is the fact the new NATCOM Chairman, Mr. Momoh Conteh and his Board of Commissioners have made rural telephony, a key function of the UADF, as one of the pillars of their achievement benchmarks. This has tremendously boosted the profile of the UADF within the hierarchy of the Commission.
5. ACCESS GAP STUDIES:
As an offshoot from this development, the UADF is right now engaged in Access Gap assessment studies in order to identify potential areas of need and project implementation. This, it must be noted, goes hand in hand with a monitoring and evaluation of existing projects undertaken by the department.