Though Lebanon-based Management Development International Company (MDIC) has signed a three-year management contract to run the operations of Sierratel, the business structure of the state-owned telco will remain unchanged, officials say.

MDIC started negotiations with the Sierra Leone government's National Commission for Privatization (NCP) last year to manage the state-owned telco.

Though the day-to-day operations to turn around the business will be done by MDIC, Sierratel still remains 100 percent government-owned and its business will remain unchanged, said Madonna Thompson, head of the NCP's Utilities Section

MDIC was one of two companies that submitted bid documents for the management of Sierratel after two of the initial four companies that expressed interest in the offer withdrew. The national telco suffered huge destruction of its infrastructure during the decadelong civil war that ended in 2002 but has received a boost in recent years and now offers mobile phone, fixed-line and Internet services.

The NCP has said that the management contract of Sierratel would cover all areas of business operations and that the management company would be responsible for day-to-day management, operations and maintenance, as well as long-term business planning.

Sierratel is a limited liability company registered in 1995 as Sierra Leone's sole fixed-line telephone provider. It operates seven exchanges in the Freetown area with plans to add two more and has a reported installed capacity of 23,000 lines, of which 14,000 were active as of 2010.

NCP claims that Sierratel is overstaffed and its financial position is weak. The company had to go into joint venture partnerships with United Telecom of India and Huawei of China -- both through direct negotiations rather than competitive bidding -- in order to meet some of its urgent rehabilitation needs.

According to MDIC's website, the company has performed consultancy missions for Sierratel since 2009, starting with a feasibility study for assessing the ACE fiber-optic cable connecting West Africa to Europe and negotiating the membership of Sierra Leone in the ACE Consortium on behalf of the telco.

A delegation from MDIC is expected in Freetown by the end of the week.