REPORT #526 August 2002

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

A minor storm has evolved in the debate about the Belize telecommunications policy off-list from the Belize Culture Listserve. To subscribe send an e-mail to: [email protected] and put the word subscribe in the body of the message, with no signature files, subject line, or the autoresponder will kick it out. To leave the listserve debates, simply do the same thing and substitute the word unsubscribe in the body of a message.

After 15 years of exploitation of Belizeans by a telecommunications monopoly, with obscene profits and an avowed policy of catering to only those telephone markets within Belize, that give a profit and a company self declaration; that serving the needs of more poverty stricken areas is not the social responsibility of the telecommunication monopoly company; most Belizeans have awaited these past last nine years with patience and fortitude for the end of this rape of the local telecommunications market by a monopoly. The complaints of bad service, hi-jacking of the internet ISP service and other questionable shenanigans, aided and abetted it seems by both major political parties for alleged bribes and campaign contributions, has left Belizeans in general throughout the nation with a cynical and bad taste in the mouth of the British get rich monopoly system of government.

Off-list the comments and attitudes have fallen into two camps. Why off-list? Because for Belizeans living within the country, political persecution is feared by many, by those all powerful autocrats who run the police, the military and secret police and manipulate government departments at will, to reward friends and destroy perceived enemies in the one party ruler process we use.

The debate about the end of the telecommunications policy for January in 2003, falls into two camps. There are those who praise the ruling Peoples United Party for their many successes this term of office. Successes like filling a needed housing and mortgage scheme for supplying about 4000 middle class homes. For supplying Cuban doctors for Belizean rural communities under an arrangement with Castro the dictator of Cuba. The success of NEMO the disaster organization that dealt with two direct Hurricane hits on Belize, which was such a good example of government at work; that Belize is now the showcase for such an endeavor throughout Caribbean Island countries and Latin Caribbean Rim countries who suffer the same ravages of Hurricanes each year. There has been a successful program of water systems for rural mountain villages which suffered every few years Cholera epidemics from tainted stream waters. The success of the University of Belize and Community Colleges in the six districts, when the system decentralized. No less, were many successes in smaller less noticable endeavors. These people claim the PUP can do no wrong and have only the best interests of the country and Belizean people at heart.

The subject of debate however, has had more to do with perceived and alleged criminal and corruption activities of Cabinet and party members elected to represent their constitutiencies. There has not been too many such issues this term of five years of office. But of these complaints, the telecommunications off-list debate about a new policy starting in 12 weeks is the foremost and probably the most important issue facing the nation of Belize and the Peoples United Party.

At heart by Belizeans is an abiding hatred and opposition to the monopoly business system. The Telecommunications market, which this year ran approximately $141 million gross revenues is a plum market sought after, by many would be Belizean entrepreneurs. At last count the Belize Development Trust, had listed roughly 27 Belizeans, who had expressed intentions to enter, one or more of the niche businesses associated with the telecommunications markets in Belize at the end of the monopoly by BTL in January of 2003. These niche telecommunications businesses varied from pre-paid international and local telephone cards, to cell phone services and internet ISP's by the dozen. There are probably more with which we are not familiar with.

On the opposite side of the debate are the cynics and nay sayers. Those that claim the two political parties are criminal and corrupt organizations. In particular these cynics charge that the Peoples United Party people are planning to keep the action of the growing $141 million telecommunications market for some of it's inside mafia cliques. Prominent names bandied forth are the more obvious spokespersons for the party, the Prime Minister Said Musa, the Finance Guru Ralph Fonseca and an alleged criminal front man, Glen Godfrey a well known politically connected entrepreneur.

There has been no proof of any criminal, or corrupt activity presented to the public, but the cynics and nay sayers claim it is occuring anyway. In this British system of governance, it is impossible to prove such things, as the many African ex-colonies attest goes the argument.

Amazingly on both sides of the debate, there seems to be one item of agreement. And that is that there should be no more monopolies in Belize for business purposes! In particular, both sides of the debate want the coming demise of this 15 year telecommunciations monopoly broken up into an open competitive multi-niche business market. In which; competition, consolidation, pricing, customer service and technology will serve the needs of the nation into the 21 st Century, on a fair and level playing field.

The cynics and naysayers claim that the Peoples United Party are criminals and crooked corrupt politicians. That in fact; this party and Cabinet has set up a new company under favorite Glen Godfrey with an exclusive government contract for telecommunications services to the tune of more than $12 millon dollars. The claims are also made that Ashcroft the bogyman main investor of the current monopoly is allegedly creaming some $30 to $40 or more million dollars ashore out of Belize through his monopoly each year and has already made deals with the alleged criminal corrupt element within the PUP Cabinet to continue to do so. Rumors are flying wild and the accusations no less. Hints of a buyout of Glen Godfrey and his inner alleged Cabinet mafia by Ashcroft and the biggest rumor of all; is that the Peoples United Party under the Prime Minister Said Musa and Finance Guru Ralph Fonseca will rule in January that the telecommunications market will now be confined to two monopolies. That licensing will be restricted to political favorites.

Rumors and criminal and corruption allegations aside. The future is unclear, but will become clear in January, 2003, just a few months away. Will Belize have an open telecommunications market for any Belizean entrepreneur able to pay the $50 license fee and willing to put risk capital and sweat and then compete in these various niche telecommunications markets? Only the public and nation can win in this situation. It is a no-brainer of a policy decision. The $141 million market is the biggest game in the nation.

Hints have already been received off-list that the decision has been taken by the PUP cabinet, to restrict telecommunications next January and keep it in politically connected monopolies. Here at the Belize Development Trust, we do not believe this! The move would be too stupid! Such a decision would confirm the naysayers and cynics and be a point of infamy. The names of Said Musa and Ralph Fonseca would go down in the histories of Belize for the next hundred years or more, for Belizean history students as examples of political corruption and criminality. Their grandchildren and great grandchildren would read of how corrupt their administration was. This is not a legacy I would leave to my descendants. No matter the short term gains, or financial rewards. It is just too outrageous and atrocious an idea to even contemplate.

But the debate and the results have the nation in suspense! The uncertain outcome creating an expectation more thrilling than the annual bicycle race, the canoe race down the Belize River, or a football game. What will January bring? What will the Peoples United Party do? Are they criminals or patriots? We ALL wait with bated breath to see, which way the cat will jump off the fence.

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