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#388032 - 09/17/10 11:30 PM Irish Digicel, eyes BTL
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Irish Digicel, based in Jamaica, eyes BTL

Executive chairman of Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL), Nestor Vasquez, told Amandala Wednesday that the company is finalizing the prospectus for the sale of shares in the company, which should go to press within the next couple of weeks and be publicly released in October.

Vasquez confirmed reports to Amandala that the Irish company, Digicel, which has its central operations in Jamaica with 11 million customers across 26 countries in the Caribbean and Central America and 6 in the Pacific, has expressed serious interest in purchasing BTL shares. The Digicel group is chaired by its founder, Denis O’Brien, said to be one of Ireland’s leading entrepreneurs.

The BTL chairman told us that a Digicel team was given a tour at BTL last week, and they are in the process of exchanging information, under the terms of a non-disclosure agreement between the parties.

“They have been told very clearly in their visit that controlling interest is not available,” said Vasquez.

During the 3-day visit at BTL, the Digicel reps also had a chance to look at the Telecommunications regulations and other documents.

Although a Mexican investor has also expressed interest separately to the Government of Belize, Vasquez said that BTL will not be engaging in negotiations with any other group, until they have seen it through with Digicel and until they make a decision whether they will buy or not. He expects a proposal from Digicel shortly.

The next major interested buyer is the union representing the workers of BTL, the Belize Communications Workers Union (BCWU), which had 5 years ago initiated a move to acquire a sizeable block of shares in the company. Those shares never made it into their hands but remained in the hands of a management controlled company and trust up until the Barrow administration acquired those shares, totaling 23%, in the nationalization of August 2009. Vasquez said that the ownership of shares by the union would be “a healthy situation.”

“Originally, in the 80’s, the concept was that there would only be two types of permitted persons: government and an employee share scheme.” This would protect the company, said Vasquez. “No government can shake up company,” he added.

With 25% owned by staff (management and union) and 10,000 Belizean shareholders, for example, it is the only protection the company could have from abuses, he noted.

Currently, the union only has about 1.5 to 2% or just over half a million, but it is not enough, he furthermore commented.

The Belize Social Security Board (BSSB) is also looking at re-acquiring shares in BTL. At the time of the resale in 2004, the then administration led by ex-prime minister Said Musa, sold off the BSSB’s shares to American Jeff Prosser, who later lost them to the Michael Ashcroft group. With the 2009 re-nationalization, they are back in the Government’s hands.

Vasquez, also the chairman of the BSSB’s investment committee, said that the SSB is also looking at whether it will purchase shares in BTL.

The BSSB’s Investment Department, said Vasquez, has been doing its due diligence and will make a report soon to the investment committee, which should make a recommendation to the board of the SSB, he explained.


The prospectus should include a 5-year financial forecast from 2010 to 2015. Vasquez said he could not tell us yet what the value of the shares would be, as the financials are still being finalized and the Government would be the one to determine what the sale price would be.

At the next AGM, due in November 2010, a new set of Articles and Memorandum of Association would be tabled for approval, Vasquez told us.

According to the chairman, BTL’s board has not yet decided if the limitation on shareholdings would remain at 25%; however, the plan is to fix a minimum of 45% of profits to be paid out in dividends every year.

It could be 2011 before the sale of shares is closed, he indicated.

http://www.amandala.com.bz/index.php?id=10315
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#388463 - 09/24/10 02:27 PM Re: Irish Digicel, eyes BTL [Re: Short]
Marty Offline

BTL Employees Trust interested in purchasing majority shares in Telemedia

Classes have been called off for Friday at schools around the country in light of the imminent threat from Tropical Storm Mathew. We have detailed reports on the storm, but first we go to another development. Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced on Independence Day that the prospectus for the sale of shares for Belize Telemedia will be available on October fifteenth. Well there is an interesting update and word to our newsroom this afternoon is that the BTL Employees Trust has just written to the Prime Minister expressing its manifest interest in acquiring for the benefit of the BTL employees, a majority share interest in BTL. According to the letter dispatched today, “Such an investment will ensure that BTL remains in Belizean hands and that the company will be fully supported by all the BTL staff.” The Trust says it would also be prepared to partner with the Belize Social Security Board should SSB wish to take a minority investment. A copy of the letter can found on the website of the Trust at www.btlemployeestrust.com. As far as we know, the Social Security Board and Digicel Caribbean are the other two entities that have interest in acquiring shares but the PM has maintained all along that the majority ownership in the company must stay in Belizean hands. We’ll have more on this in Friday’s newscast.

Channel 5

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#388548 - 09/25/10 04:01 PM Re: Irish Digicel, eyes BTL [Re: Short]
Marty Offline
Editorial
By Harry Lawrence - Publisher the Reporter

It is true, as the Leader of the Opposition pointed out in his Independence Day address, that Belizeans have not enjoyed lower telephone rates since the company, Belize Telemedia Limited, was nationalized nine months ago. We had not been offered Voice over Internet Protocol, which was a huge criticism of the previous owners, and our Internet is still too costly and too slow, making it more difficult for our private sector to compete with the rest of the world.

But none of this can begin to compare with the enormity of what we have achieved in bringing Belize Telemedia Limited home and giving Belizeans a chance to have a stake in this important industry.

It has cost us dearly to assert our sovereign right to take back this vital link to world communications. We had to take it back because Belize Telemedia Limited was being used to punish an element of the free press vital for our democracy. It was being manipulated as an instrument of exploitation for the investing family to the detriment of our peace of mind and national well being.

Now that we have taken it back, we should support it and show the world that Belize has the will to invest in our national economy and we have the confidence in our future to put our money where we put our rhetoric.

In time we, as shareholders, will be able to demand of BTL the kind of top-notch service we expect from an essential industry such as telecommunications This is a work in progress. Rome was not built in a day!

We want faster internet service at a more affordable price. And we want Voice over Internet Protocol to help bring down the cost of doing business in Belize.

Last Tuesday in his Independence Day message Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced that Belize Telemedia Limited will immediately double the speed of its internet service at no extra cost to subscribers. Those who subscribe for 125 kbps will now get 250, and those who subscribe to 250 will now get 500 kbps at no extra cost. Those who subscribe to 500 will get 1,000 kbps.

This is a modest gain, but substantive nonetheless, and one which we would never have received under the absentee BTL regime. We are grateful for small mercies, and confident that as we grow together, greater good will come to all of us.

Former Prime Minister and Leader Emeritus of Belize, Mr. George Price, used to observe with wonderful insight: Nation- building is a task for giants.”

It is good for us to remember on this 29th. anniversary of our independence that while there was a great deal of intolerance and cronyism characteristic of our early independence years, there was much that was good and inspirational about them.

One can be small of stature and be a giant in conceptual outlook. One can light a small candle and make a magnificent glow!

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#388692 - 09/28/10 02:26 PM Re: Irish Digicel, eyes BTL [Re: Short]
Marty Offline

“The Trust” Wants To Buy BTL

BTL's prospectus will be published on October 15th - and the company will be open for sale to the public and strategic investors.

One group that has expressed interest is the BTL Employees Trust. Of course, the trust is for the employees in name only because it is and has always been actuated and operated by employees or affiliates of the Ashcroft alliance. No BTL employee makes decisions or signs on behalf of the trust.

Still, immediately after the Prime Minister announced on September 21st., that Telemedia shares would be offered for sale, Trustee Dean Boyce wrote to the Prime Minister saying the trust is interested in buying shares and not just a few; the trust says it wants to purchase controlling interests.

So is it legit, or just more clever Corporate gamesmanship? The Prime Minister told us he won't even dignify the letter with a response:…

PM Dean Barrow
"Not at all because as far as I am concern that employees trust is fraudulent that is merely a vehicle for the exercise of control over what ever share the trust would own by Ashcroft cohorts by the Belize Bank who is protector of the trust and by Dean Boyce and Keith Arnold who in fact the trustees. What has the trust ever done for the employees of Telemedia? So there is empirical evidence to go by, not only are the employees not involve in the trust; not only is the trust control by Ashcroft cohorts on the basis of the data on the basis of the facts that trust has never done anything for the employees so in my view this is merely a roost to try to gain back control of the company by the Ashcroft forces."

Jules Vasquez
"Not clear by how you can close the sale because the trust can operate perhaps thru some special purpose vehicle and purchase the shares without you even knowing who is really behind it."

PM Dean Barrow
"We will be looking carefully at the applications for the purchase of shares. I am not suggesting that these people aren't ingenious, we know that they are but we believe that we can guard against that."

And while the trust says it wants to buy, its attorney Godfrey Smith has written a cautionary letters to Digicel - the Irish phone giant that has been considering a BTL investment - warning that company of pending claims against Telemedia.

Channel 7


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#388756 - 09/29/10 02:40 PM Re: Irish Digicel, eyes BTL [Re: Short]
Marty Offline
Unions and private sector vote “no” on purchase of BTL shares by SSB

As we have reported weeks ago, the Social Security Board (SSB)—which had sold off its 26% interest in Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) back in 2004—has been looking at repurchasing shares in the company when the Government makes shares available sometime around the middle of October 2010.

However, both the unions and the private sector, whose reps sit both on the SSB’s investment committee and board of directors representing workers and employers who contribute to the scheme, have voted “no” to a proposal tabled at the investment committee of the SSB to purchase shares in the company.

When Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced on Independence Day, September 21, that the shares will be ready for sale to the public on October 15, he did not quote a price.

When we asked chairman of the Investment Committee of the Social Security Board, Nestor Vasquez, who is also the government-appointed chairman of the Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL), he also declined to quote a price, saying that it is set by the government.

At a meeting of the SSB’s Investment Committee early last week, Vasquez exercised his casting vote to break a 2-2 tie. Winston Michael, government representative, was the other member of the 4-person committee that voted “yes.”

Lorelei Westby, representative of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize, and Emil Mena, representative of the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry, both voted against the purchase.

Although the SSB’s Investment Committee has given its stamp of approval (with the chairman exercising a second vote to break the deadlocked votes, as stated above) for the purchase of BTL shares, the board of directors of the SSB, at the time of this writing, has yet to vote on this matter.

Dylan Reneau, president of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), told Amandala Monday, September 27, that the unions voted “no” because they were not provided with the prospectus and don’t know how much government will sell the shares for. Reneau said that he understands that the SSB is being asked to purchase about $50 million worth of shares.

He told us that union members are divided on the issue because for one, they want the company to have more Belizean investors, but they don’t know what they will get for $50 million and they don’t want to buy “puss eena bag.”

Amandala asked: Why not abstain rather than vote no? It sends a stronger signal, said Reneau.

Just as Ashcroft (the former owner of the company) was accused of having bled BTL, the government could have also bled BTL to do things like pay the billion-dollar super-bond, said Reneau.

He said that they are also worried about the litigation pending, challenging the privatization of BTL.

When we put the unions’ concern over the missing information on the share price to Vasquez, he told Amandala that while the unions were not provided with the prospectus, which he said has not yet gone out to print, they were provided with details of the historical performance of BTL as well as 5 years of forward-looking statements which indicate that BTL’s profits would increase at the end of the financial year with a growth in services, and that growth should continue over the 5-year period. The accounts, said Vasquez, were audited by Pannell Kerr Forster.

As to allegations that there is a conflict of interest because Vasquez, who sits as SSB investment committee chairman, is also the executive chairman of BTL; and the attorney of BTL, Lois Young, is also the chairman of the SSB, Vasquez said that the SSB’s general manager, Merlene Bailey-Martinez, had gotten a legal opinion from a private law firm which says there is none because (1) the shares are owned and will be sold by the Government of Belize and not BTL, and (2) neither Vasquez nor Young have anything personal to gain from the sale of the BTL shares.

Vasquez said that the SSB’s actuary had recommended that SSB needs to put more assets into long-term investments, because the level of investment in that pool is far from what it needs to be.

SSB has $150 million investment in the banking sector, and $24 million of that deposited with the Central Bank of Belize is earning only 2.7%, he added.

Reneau told Amandala that there are members of the NTUCB who believe that the workers of BTL, who have been trying to gain ownership through the Belize Communication Workers Union (BCWU), should also have part ownership in BTL. With that, said Reneau, you can expect them to perform better as workers because they have a vested interest in the company.

Vasquez had told us previously that Digicel, the Irish company which has interests in other parts of the Caribbean, has been considering the purchase of BTL shares as well.

According to Vasquez, the plan is to fix a minimum of 45% of profits to be paid out in dividends every year.

Amandala

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