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#498442 - 11/29/14 09:54 AM CCJ Rule to Nationalize BTL And BEL
Marty Offline
The Caribbean Court of Justice will hear the nationalization cases next month. The CCJ will ruled and make a final resolution to the nationalization of Belize Telemedia Limited, BTL and Belize Electricity Limited, BEL. The move to nationalize both companies is being challenged by the former owners, the BTL Employees Trust and Fortis Energy International. A close door case management session was held this morning and Attorney for the Government of Belize, Senior Counsel, Denys Barrow, spoke to the media.

DENYS BARROW

“There are six consolidated appeals, two of them are from the 2009 acquisition so those two have been consolidated with three against the 2011 acquisition brought by Boyce, BCB and Fortis and then the sixth one is an appeal by the government of Belize against the failure of the court of appeals to accept that the acquisition took retrospective effect. A lot is at stake and there are different levels of possibility, one major possibility is that the eight amendment specified not just that the compulsory acquisition is deemed to be effective but it also required that the government owned majority shares in the public utilities. So one interesting question is if the actual acquisitions are struck down as unconstitutional, if the eight amendment in relation to deeming the properties to vest is found to be wrong or unconstitutional although it is a constitutional amendment the question is will the CCJ go so far as to say that it is impermissible for the nation of Belize to say that public utilities shall be owned by the public.”

Hearing has been set for the second week in December from the 10 to the 12.

LOVEFM

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#498964 - 12/13/14 10:10 AM Re: CCJ Rule to Nationalize BTL And BEL [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

More Arguments From CCJ

The Caribbean Court of Justice has reserved judgment in the nationalization case, the so-called "war of the worlds" between the Ashcroft Alliance, Fortis Energy International and the Barrow Administration. It has been a 3-day appeal hearing in which voluminous legal arguments concluded this afternoon at the CCJ Headquarters in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

You'll know that the Government of Belize has retained control over the utility companies, BTL and BEL, since the nationalizations in 2011. The dispute that has been at the core over the fight for these companies is the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, in which the Government sought to legislate perpetual, public ownership of the companies and put it beyond legal challenge.

And while that's the root of the appeal, over the course of the 3 days, the arguments had less to do with the utilities and more to do with the extent of government's power to legislate matched against the power of the court to review such legislation.

Yesterday on day 2, Queen's Council Edward Fitzgerald, the English Barrister representing Fortis, got his opportunity to finish up his arguments on why the Government ought to have left BEL in the hands of his clients.

Viewers may remember that the nationalization of this company came after a then Fortis owned BEL threatened power outages because it no longer had the cash flow to keep current with its power purchase bills.

At the end of Fitzgerald's 1-hour presentation yesterday, one of the CCJ judges on the panel asked him if popular sentiment is a proper measuring stick for enacting legislation such as this one. He responded that even if the individual or the organization is unpopular with the masses, a government should not be allowed to take away its rights:

So, up until now, we been showing you what the former utility owners have had to say to the CCJ, but what about the Government side? Well, lead attorney Denys Barrow got 4 hours to state his case, and here's a small excerpt of submissions to the judges' panel:

As we told you on Wednesday, today was the response from the attorneys for the former owners, to wrap of the rest of the appeal. The court has reserved judgment to be announced when they arrived at a decision. All the attorneys will have to return to Trinidad and Tobago on the 23rd of January, next month, to deal with the question of what remedies the court will award based on how the case is decided. They attorneys will be allowed to make recommendations on what reliefs the court should grant.

Channel 7


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#499056 - 12/16/14 10:05 AM Re: CCJ Rule to Nationalize BTL And BEL [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline
CCJ to hand down judgment on BTL nationalisation in January

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is expected to hand down its final decision on the nationalisation of incumbent telecoms operator Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) on 23 January 2014, following three days of arguments, the Reporter writes. The court proposed to accept additional written submissions on certain points by 17 December with three days allotted for the government’s reply.

According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, in August 2009 BTL was re-nationalised in a matter of just two days after Prime Minister Dean Barrow presented a surprise legal amendment to parliament, the ‘Bill to amend the Belize Telecommunications Act to allow for the public acquisition of Belize Telemedia’ (Act No. 9 of 2009, or ‘Acquisition Act’). On 24 June 2011 the Court of Appeal issued a surprise judgement, ruling that the renationalisation of BTL in August 2009 was unconstitutional, and handing a victory to ousted shareholders affiliated to Lord Michael Ashcroft. However, following a shock defeat in the appeal court, on 4 July 2011 the government took steps in parliament to introduce new legislation to enforce the re-acquisition of BTL. PM Barrow introduced a new ‘Bill for Act No.8/2011 to amend the Belize Telecommunications Act’ to ‘clarify and expand provisions relating to the assumption of control over BTL in the public interest’. Further, the administration also changed the Constitution with the so-called Eighth Constitutional Amendment (formerly the Ninth Amendment) in a bid to avoid new censure by the justices. In May 2014, meanwhile, the Belizean Court of Appeal ruled that the nationalisation process was constitutional and valid, but only from 4 July 2011.

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#500752 - 02/06/15 10:06 AM Re: CCJ Rule to Nationalize BTL And BEL [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Both Sides of BTL/BEL Dispute Ask CCJ For Specific Relief

Another case that Ashcroft attended personally was the appeal cases of the BTL/BEL acquisitions, which was heard by the Caribbean Court of Justice in December and January at their headquarters in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

It's the so called "war of worlds" where the former owners have appealed to the CCJ asking them strike down the acquisition of the utility companies. In 2011, the Barrow Administration acquired BEL and reacquired BTL and sought to legislate perpetual, public ownership using the 8th Amendment to the Constitution. The purpose of that was put it beyond legal challenge in the Courts.

That case has already been argued, and the panel of judges are expected to deliver their ruling at a later date, but on January 23, the attorneys of both sides went back to Port of Spain to present to the CCJ judges what options that they have available for remedies if the acquisitions are ruled unlawful.

Today, we asked Government's attorney, Denys Barrow what submission were made. He told us that the Government wants the CCJ to allow the companies to remain in public hands while the former owners want the companies to be returned:

Denys Barrow, SC - attorney for GOB
"The government's position of course is that the acquisition was lawful and it was made lawful or confirm as being lawful by the 8th amendment to the constitution. The government's further position was that even if it is unlawful, the CCJ should order that the shares remain with the government and the government pay damages for the acquisition of the shares."

Daniel Ortiz
"If you hazard sir, can you talk to us about what the other side submitted should happen if it should rule unlawful?"

Denys Barrow, SC - attorney for GOB
"They were very clear that the shares should return. BCB, whose loan was acquired, or whose loans were acquired, said, they don't want back the loan, they want payment of the monies which should have been paid under the loan. Dean Boyce and the trustees of the BTL employees trust who are suing sort of as representatives, or as a lead claimant on behalf of the former shareholders - they want back their shares."

Daniel Ortiz
"Which would mean that the management returns back what it was before?"

Denys Barrow, SC - attorney for GOB
"Yes, the ownership, the management and the directorship would return to them. So, that's what they want."

Eamon Courtenay, who represented British Caribbean Bank and Fortis Energy International, told us today why the Ashcroft Alliance and Fortis want the companies back:

Eamon Courtenay, SC - attorney for Belize Bank
"I represented British Caribbean Bank. We were also there on behalf of Fortis and as you know Lord Goldsmith was there on behalf of the Dean Boyce and the employees trust. So, there were three appeals that were being heard at the same time. In so far as the bank is concern, you will recall that in 2009, the government acquired that was about 21 million dollars at the time. It is now over 50 million dollars because of the period of time that has passed. They acquired that from British Caribbean Bank. The government has not compensated British Caribbean Bank. We have argued to the court that the taking was unconstitutional, it was null and void and what the court should order, because so much time has passed, it to order the government to pay British Caribbean Bank the 50 plus million dollars. I am sure its 50 plus million US dollars by now. If the CCJ agrees with us and does not, then British Caribbean Bank would after being paid, if it is paid, assigned the rights that it has under the loan to the government and the government can go after Telemedia for that. So, very simply, British Caribbean Bank say to the CCJ, if you find this to be unconstitutional, order the government to pay the total amount that is outstanding in the books of the bank - 50 million US dollars."

"In so far as Fortis and the employees trust are concern, the primary claim is for return of the shares. If you have an unconstitutional taking, what the cases say, is that is null and void and therefore the acquirer, in this case, the government, never got title. The property actually stayed where it was and therefore those parties are asking the court to restore them to their shareholding, so that they would take over those companies. For which as you are well aware the government has paid not a dime in compensation."

Later in our newscast, we'll show you what Courtenay had to say about what would happen with those rate reductions government has given you, if BTL was to revert back to the Ashcroft Alliance.

Would Ashcroft Alliance Force A BTL Rate Rollback?

In our last segment, we told you how the former owners of BTL and BEL want the Caribbean Court of Justice to return the companies back to them if it rules that the Government should not have nationalized.

Well, while we were in our interview with Eamon Courtenay, who is one of the attorneys for the Ashcroft Alliance, he told us that even if the company is returned to them, that wouldn't be enough. That's because according to the Alliance, the new management, controlled by Government, has mismanaged the companies.

Now, since the Government take over of the telecommunications company in 2009, Digicell4G was launched. The company tried to make DSL internet more affordable by doubling the internet speeds 3 times for the same price, which means that it has reduced 3 times. Digicell 4G has been reduced, and GST was taken off the service. Text bundles have gone down, and International calls went down twice also.

With all those benefits to you, the customer, you might think that the management is doing well in trying to be more consumer friendly, which should lead to a growth in customer base. Well, the Alliance isn't impressed, and they say that behind all those improvements, government interference has caused mismanagement in the background.

Today, Eamon Courtenay, told us that if the CCJ should give the company back to the former owners, the business mistakes would be corrected:

Eamon Courtenay, SC - attorney for Ashcroft Alliance
"The issue there is, first of all it was a private company, not government owned and controlled and as you are aware it operated in a regulated environment and therefore it sought to maximize profits, but subject to the public utilities commission. Now, you have an incestuous relationship in which the government controls the public utilities commission and yet it controls Belize Telemedia and so, there is, in truth and in fact no regulations and so what you have is gross mismanagement, seeking to achieve political objectives, rather than potential business objectives. What it means and the consequence for Belizeans is that if the court says that the taking was unconstitutional and it must revert to the shareholders - somebody and it can only mean the people of Belize, will be called upon to pay the cost for the loss that arises from the gross mismanagement by the current management of Telemedia. So, the point that was being made is that when the shares go back, if they go back to Telemedia, if they go back to Fortis, that the CCJ should order and assessment of the management, find out the mismanagement and calculate the loss that the shareholders have suffered and order the government to compensate them."

Daniel Ortiz
"Sir, what would happen to those different policy decisions made at BTL where rate reductions took place. Is that an issue as part of the mismanagement you are referring to?"

Eamon Courtenay, SC - attorney for Ashcroft Alliance
"I would say first of all, each one of those decisions have to be looked at on a case by case basis. Yes, you cannot put the genie back in the bottle. Certain things have been decided and done - they can't be undone. There are others that can be undone. There are decisions that have been taken that are continuing to negatively affect these companies and if the old shareholders go back in, they will stop it and the loss that has been incur will be calculated and the only person who will have to pay for that are the tax payers of Belize."

And what about all of those rate reductions, would those be rolled back? Courtenay said that it may not be necessary, but each will have to be looked at on a case by case basis:

Eamon Courtenay, SC - attorney for Ashcroft Alliance
"First of all I dint hear people out in the streets saying, great we are having lower telephone rates, so I dispute that. In any event, if Telemedia is returned to its former owners, it would then come under the public utilities commission. The rates that it is entitle to charge are set, manage and control by the public utilities commission. So, to the extent that it goes back to the private owners, it will be up to the regulator to ensure that a fair price is charge, so that the investors can make a fair return and that the public doesn't suffer unduly. So, going back to private ownership, does not necessarily mean that consumers will suffer because you have a regulatory environment. The problem you have today is the incestuous relationship between the PUC and Telemedia. You know, I know that every day internationally, because of innovations, because of new products, the cost of telecommunication is going down. You have to invest, but the cost of actual use is going down. Skype etc., cannot be rolled back - that will not be rolled back and the PUC is there to ensure that that will not be rolled back. So, a lot of the gains that the public say that they are enjoying, are not things that are going to be undone. What you will have undone are bloated contracts which we know exists in Telemedia. What we have is high salaries for certain executives in Telemedis, that are unqualified and are eating at the trough of Telemedia. What you will have is the many people who are being hired at these companies who are unqualified and just been given jobs to get on the payroll for political purposes - that is the type of inefficiency that the former owners will go in and say cut out this fat."

Government took control of the company in 2009, and has been in control of the company for 5 years going on 6.

Channel 7


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#506999 - 08/29/15 10:46 AM Re: CCJ Rule to Nationalize BTL And BEL [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Four Years Later, Government Will Compensate Fortis For BEL Expropriation

Last night we told you about the special Cabinet meeting which is set for Monday, and the special House Sitting which we are now informed will be Wednesday, not Tuesday. But what's it all about; what could be so special? Many have speculated that it's to announce a date for elections - but tonight 7News has confirmed that it's not that. Best information to our newsroom is that Government has hammered out a settlement agreement with Fortis International to compensate the Canadian Power company for taking over BEL.

Our information says that the special Cabinet meeting to sign off on the agreement will be held in Belize City in the morning followed by a press conference in the afternoon - where the Prime Minister will publicly announce the settlement. From there, it will be taken to the house for approval on Wednesday and then the Senate on Friday.

The terms of the settlement are not known - but the Canadian company is expected to receive compensation of well over 100 million Belize dollars for their asset, BEL, which Government took over in June 2011. At that time Fortis said it needed to increase electricity rates or Belize would face rolling power outages - so government swooped in. Since the takeover - thanks in no small part to rapidly declining world fuel prices - the government controlled BEL has lowered rates dramatically. And while we don't know the figures or the terms of the settlement tonight, just from a tactical perspective, it will be seen a major boon for the Barrow Administration - since it will have disposed of one very big question mark and price tag hanging over government's head. The other, with the Ashcroft Alliance for BTL, remains unresolved.

Channel 7


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#507065 - 09/01/15 10:50 AM Re: CCJ Rule to Nationalize BTL And BEL [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

GOB Settles BEL Compensation With BECOL

In mid-2011 – the Government of Belize took over BEL. They took it from the Canadian company Fortis – who was the majority shareholder at the time. At the time, the Fortis-managed BEL was insolvent, in other words, it had run out of cash, and could not pay its debts. The company said it needed higher rates, or it would be forced to implement rolling power outages. Government rejected that, and moved decisively to pass legislation and swooped in to take over the power company. Since then, BEL has been stabilized and earned record profits – while bringing down rates to a modern low. Sounds like a happy ending, but, one big part of the story was missing: Fortis had not been paid for its shares – and according to them Government owed them over 300 million Belize dollars. More than that, Fortis was challenging the takeover in court – and that case is at the Caribbean Court of Justice – where Fortis found common cause with the Ashcroft Alliance.

So, it was a ticking time bomb – either government would have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars – or it could lose the case, and be forced to give them back the company. Both prospects were grim, but things took a turn when former Fortis boss Stann Marshall retired and was replaced by Barry Perry. He didn’t want hundreds of millions, and he didn’t want the company back – he just wanted a fair settlement. Perry met with the Prime Minister in July and since then, things moved very quickly to a settlement – the details of which were announced this afternoon at a press conference at the Biltmore:…

Barry Perry - Chairman, Fortis Inc .

"The settlement that we will be announcing today is a significant event. One that will enable for us to continue participates positively in Belize."

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister

"I believe that the settlement, which will be taken to parliament on Wednesday; is good for Fortis and good for Belize. In essence the settlement is this. As compensation totality for GOB's original acquisition of all of Fortis' 70% shareholding in BEL; GOB will now pay to Fortis 35 million US dollars in cash, 70 million Belize dollars. And GOB gives back to Fortis 33 and a third shareholding interest in BEL. Government keeps the rest of the 70% that it had acquired and together with SSB; which has something like 26.9%, we will continue to own well in excess of the 51% mandated in the constitution."

Barry Perry - Chairman, Fortis Inc.

"Prime minister, I hope what we have done today will be the start of a long and peaceful relationship between Fortis and the government of Belize. Thank you very much."

With its 33.3 shareholding, Fortis can appoint three directors – but will not be involved in the day to day management of the company. Those Directors are Lyn Young, Kay Menzies, and a Fortis executive.

The government seems to have gotten off cheap on this one – since Fortis was originally asking for over 300 million dollars compensation, and that’s before interest and damages. As the Prime Minister noted Government is paying 35 million US in cash and 33% in shares.

And where will government get the money? – That’s what the press asked the Prime Minister today:…

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister

"The source of the funding is government money that it has in its account. It's 35 million US; you will know of course that the foreign exchange is no problem since our reserves now stand at a billion Belize dollars or 500 million US."

Jules Vasquez

"In June of 2011 when you all took the company over; now you are having to pay a dear cost all told in terms of equity and cash for a decision which had you let things lye, Fortis would be realizing the same profits that the state-run BEL or state majority control. BEL is realizing now because it is actually just a product of lower fuel prices; it’s not that the wheel was reinvented."

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister

"That's one mother of a question. I don't know how you could say that the cost to Belize of the settlement is dear. That 35 million US for what would it be; 36 almost 37% percent of the shares on BEL that government now gets to keep is I believe less than half of the value Fortis had put on those shares at the time of acquisition. And certainly a huge discount on the share price now, if you were to calculate it in terms of the last year end audited financials. So I'm not going to sit here and argue with anyone who is wilfully blind. Government has succeeded in securing once and for all now, majority ownership of BEL."

Jules Vasquez

"Will the government recoup the compensation which is now the equivalent of its investment? Will the government recoup that over the long term?"

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister

"How do you put a price on the preservation of patrimony and nationalism; but if you insist, we have absolutely no doubt that in terms of the continued profitable operation of BEL and the dividends that government has already gotten and will continue to get now on the basis of its 37% shareholding; that the 70 million dollars will be very easily and rapidly recouped."

Government expects to pay Fortis the 35 million US dollars by Tuesday.

The settlement is a big deal for government and this was underscored by the fact that it held Cabinet today at the Biltmore before the press conference. Cabinet meeting in a hotel conference room? Now that’s a first! And it’s indicative of the seriousness with which the Barrow administration takes this settlement. But, all that anticipation, all that advance buzz – and it didn’t even make the headlines in the news tonight! We asked why it’s so important:

Jules Vasquez

"We know there was a cabinet meeting held here today; very unusual, the first. This is really a big deal for your administration but how in the public mind it may be seen as a very technically refined and sublimed move but it does not have any visceral tog. It is an Operatic Arias but people want dance to Punta. Explain if you can, why do you think it is really such a big deal when most people would say, alright well they pay it off, my light bill is still high."

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister

"I'm not sure that your premise is entirely correct when you say that the confirmation of the government and people's ownership of BEL; at a price is more and fair. I'm not sure you're right when you say that it will not strike any sort of responsive chord in the bosom of the Belizean people. I think it will."

"If we hadn't settled now and that judgement came down and the court said government of Belize you were wrong, give that company to Fortis; you'll look at it that way that would have produced a hell of a response. Hell of a negative response on the part of the public."

"If it doesn't pay any political dividends in the immediate term; history has somebody once famously said and to appropriate it and misquote it, will absolve us."

Of course, that history is still being written – when the government takes the bill for an act to settle the acquisition to the House of Representatives for a special meeting on Wednesday.

Channel 7


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