#349202 - 08/25/09 08:53 AM
Joined: Nov 2002
Here is the news on 7 News Belize:
Government Passes Law to Takeover Telemedia
There was a Special Sitting of the House of Representatives today but the term “special” doesn’t do it justice – it was historic, epochal, seismic. The Prime Minister introduced and the House passed the Belize Telecommunications Act of 2009 which allows government to acquire Belize Telemedia Limited. It is the most dramatic, consequential and bold piece of legislations ever taken to the legislature – and it changes everything. Government did it to resolve what had become an intractable and costly series of legal battles with Ashcroft affiliated interests which own BTL. The central basis for those battles was the Accommodation Agreement secretly signed by the Musa Administration in 2006. The Prime Minister gave a detailed rationale.
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
“Let me once say that the long title is quite clear and what the government is doing by way of introducing this measure is preparing to take control of the company formerly known as Belize Telecommunications Limited and currently going by the name of Telemedia. I must also say immediately Mr. Speaker that government intends to take the bill through all its stages today. The Senate will then meet tomorrow and we expect that the Bill will be signed into law by Tuesday or Wednesday morning at the latest. At that time, the new government appointed board of directors will assume operational control over Telemedia and the re-Belizeanation of the company will be complete.
The infamous secret Accommodation Agreement in which the PUP government guaranteed the Ashcroft group a minimum rate of return of 15%. According to that agreement and under that guarantee, Ashcroft could in any year declare that BTL had not made that 15%, entirely a matter for him, declare under a formula that did not give the government any opportunity to seriously dispute what he was saying, Ashcroft could declare that BTL had not made that minimum 15%, declare how much the supposed short fall was and simply not pay his taxes until the so-called shortfall had been recovered. That Mr. Speaker s exactly what happened in 2007 so that thereafter Ashcroft’s Telemedia ended up paying no business tax, no Customs duties, no impress of any kind. In addition the Accommodation Agreement stipulated that the Public Utilities Commission, which is there to regulate all utility services providers, that Accommodation Agreement stipulated that the PUC, could not regulate Telemedia’s rates, just leaving the consumers at the complete mercy of the company.
The UDP Cabinet voted in the name of the Belizean people to resist this treasonerous Accommodation Agreement. Belizean law and Belizean dignity would be upheld, Belizean pride and Belizean patriotism and Belizean patrimony vindicated. And of course resisted we have.
Now no one can doubt the justice of our stance but as we always knew it would, it has been costly. Michael Ashcroft had Telemedia invoke a arbitration in London, arbitration which the PUP administration and in particular the then Prime Minister and the then Attorney General had provided for in that Accommodation Agreement, Michael Ashcroft had Telemedia invoke arbitration in London to enforce the Accommodation Agreement and as we all know, he obtained a judgement of $38.5 million and an LCIA mandated requirement that this government now begin to honour this Accommodation Agreement. Well Mr. Speaker, I have said that as God is my witness I will never pay that award.
But it doesn’t stop there, in April of 2009 Telemedia informed the government of further claims they will make to the London Court of International Arbitration and that the size of the new award they hope to get, and I am quoting now, could pale the current award of $38 million into insignificance, end of quotation. Mr. Speaker, Members, fellow Belizeans, this is intolerable. I and the United Democratic Party government in the name of the people will put up with it no longer. That an agreement, so patently illegal, so patently immoral, so patently anti-Belize should continue to torture us, to bleed us, to subject us to this death by a thousand cuts cannot for one second more be countenance.
This is our House, this is our country. Here we are masters. Here we are sovereign. And with the full weight of that sovereignty, we must now put an end to this disrespect, to this chance taking, to this new age slavery. There will thus be no more Telemedia awards against us, no more Telemedia court battles, no more debilitating waste of government’s energy and resources, and there will be no more suffering of this one man’s campaign to subjugate an entire nation to his will. After long and sufficient consideration and in the exercise of that national power that is ours by constitution and inalienable right, this government will now acquire Telemedia.
This is no ideology, this is not triumphalism, this is a country in particular circumstances reaching the end of its patience and doing a singular necessary righteous thing to protect its national interest. It is not part of any pattern, part of no new philosophy, it is plain and simple, a special measure for a special case.
No one need feel any sympathy for Lord Ashcroft. This is not an ad hominem move. It is to deal with a structural problem. Indeed, apart from his compensation, Lord Ashcroft’s interests will remain profit making participants in Belize’s telecommunications sector because those interests own Speednet and Speednet will be left free to fly.
This I repeat then is only about Telemedia and no more and no less than a case of the Belizean national interests trumping any other consideration. Thank you Mr. Speaker, I look forward to the debate.”As we said, it is historic. The Government of Belize has never - to our knowledge acquired a private company by an act of parliament – particularly one of the most profitable, essential and ubiquitous companies in the country. It is a bold manoeuvre, but beyond the broad stokes there are the details, the practical considerations that will operationalise such an acquisition. The Prime Minister also listed those today.
Hon. Dean Barrow,“That the Bill makes every provision for fair and proper compensation to be paid to the owners of the shares that we will acquire. This is not, I repeat, some cowboy action but something done in the full plenitude of and compliance with our constitution. As well, we are only acquiring the 94 percent or so of Telemedia that is controlled by the Ashcroft interests. The shareholding owned by Belizeans will be left intact. The actual acquisition will be done by an order made by the Minister of Telecommunications who will in that same order appoint a new Board of Directors.
As soon as practicable after, an extraordinary general meeting will be held and new Articles of Association adopted. The new Articles will essentially be the articles of the successful BTL that was launched in 1988. In other words the safeguards to protect Belizean shareholders will be re-established including protection of the special share and the limitations on the amount of single ownership.
As well and perhaps most important, the Articles will guarantee that dividends will be paid annually to the shareholders at the rate of 40% of the company’s yearly profits. I also want to say that the new Board of Directors will be chaired in an executive capacity by Mr. Nestor Vasquez and it will have as one of its members the Rt. Hon. Manuel Esquivel.
Telemedia’s current employees will of course all keep their jobs. Indeed we expect a greatly improved industrial relations climate and the quick resolution of any current outstanding worker grievances. I think particularly of the arbitration case of the dismissed workers, a case that the current owners of Telemedia have utterly frustrated. I am positive therefore that Telemedia’s staff like all other right thinking Belizeans will completely support the government’s move and cooperate to make the transition as seamless as possible.
For consumers, we expect services to continue uninterrupted. We do not believe that the present operators of the company will try any kind of sabotage. If they do, we will have to use already existing provisions of the law to move and take control even before the passage of this bill.”The timeline is as follows, the Senate meets in its own special sitting tomorrow to consider the act, approval is expected to be forthcoming and thereafter, either on Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning, the governor General is expected to sign it into law. The Minister of Public Utilities will then sign an order activating the new board of directors, which should go into BTL on Wednesday. And while that’s the plan – it is expected that BTL’s Ashcroft-controlled ownership may throw a series of legal obstacles to undermine that plan. http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=14843
Telemedia Transfers Ownership of Channel 5
Here’s what they are saying today. First a release was issued announcing that the Telemedia Board of Directors held an emergency meeting today to transfer the ownership of Channel 5 from under BTL’s corporate umbrella to individual BTL shareholders – the principal shareholder being Ashcroft-controlled entities which administer 94% of BTL’s shares. A release says this is because, “the Telemedia Board felt it was important that the television broadcasting company not form part of the nationalized assets.... (so that shareholders) continue to have an unbiased voice in the media to stand up against the hostile and illegal acts of the government.”
The official BTL position on those acts was elaborated upon in quite heated evening release which described government’s acquisitioning as, quote “an outrageous abuse of executive power, which is both unconstitutional and unlawful.” The release characterizes government’s decision as a, "heavy handed and draconian attempt to tackle the commercial dispute....which has already been resolved in Telemedia’s favour.”
The release notes that the Prime Minister also did not mention that the Accommodation Agreement had aldready been terminated by Telemedia. That’s an interesting statement as the notice of that termination came from the law firm of Allen and Overy in the UK only this morning. According to the Prime Minister It simply accepts government’s repudiation the accommodation agreement – to make the point that with the repudiation government can’t justifiably acquire BTL because of the accommodation agreement, since it has been repudiated. Clever, but it would have been a more convincing gesture if it had been repudiated months ago.
And while those are tactical manoeuvres, in terms of money, according to Telemedia, in 2008 it had been offered US$300 million from a company that wanted to buy them out – suggesting that’s what government will have to pay for it. http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=14844
Johnny Briceno & Francis Fonseca Vote Against Takeover
And while that will be settled in the courts, much has already been said today in the House as members debated this extraordinary piece of legislation. Here are a few excerpts starting out with the Opposition Leader who acknowledged his family’s interests in a phone company, specifically Speednet or as its known, SMART.
Hon. Johnny Briceno, Leader of the Opposition“There are certain issues that I think we need to bring up that jumps to my mind, issues of concern as a member of this National Assembly, as a Belizean, as a concern for our country and the whole issue of nationalization, the principle of nationalization because if we were to look at the histories of nationalization, there are very few cases where it has worked.
That when we take on these fights, I think that it can have serious repercussions outside of Belize because certainly I believe that a lot of or there is going to be a number of Belizeans that would be supportive in this issue of requiring or nationalizing BTL. But I don’t think that we’re sufficient enough as a player in the world economy that we can just one day decide that we can go into nationalizing a company. The point is Mr. Speaker that once you start, it would be so easy to continue to do that as using that to be able to solve your problems. So certainly on that principle Mr. Speaker, I have a concern.
As we know already our economy has slowed down considerable, there is little confidence in the private sector as we speak and when we take these issues again I certainly believe it is going to have a negative impact on the investment climate in Belize.”
Hon. Michael Finnegan, Minister of Housing
“Mr. Speaker this was a agonizing decision. It was not an easy decision because no government wants to get up today or tomorrow or yesterday and interfere with private entities operating in their country. But this government felt that this was the only way to go to bring an end to the chaos that was happening in the telecommunication industry. Mr. Speaker the bill is simply the government will be taking over the Belize Telecommunications Industry, Telemedia. But the Leader of the Opposition just said that we are a small country and we are not a big player in the world of things and that I want to agree with. But it comes a time in life when a man has to claim his dignity and claim his pride and stand up on his foot, and say what I got I got and I will be a man.”
Hon. Francis Fonseca, Freetown Area Representative.
“You said that obviously one of the issues foremost in your mind and in the mind of the government is the issue of putting an end to the endless litigation and we know abut that on this side of the House, we’ve beenengaged in legal battles with Michael Ashcroft since 2001 and some of those battles ended in bad agreements, I would say, bad agreements and today I hope you’re not making that mistake as well. So the question is will this in fact put an end to those legal challenges or will it in fact create a new round of legal challenges, a new series of legal, constitutional and other wise battles. That is a very important question I think the Belizean people have a right to hear about because one of the primary arguments being advanced for the move today is that we’re going to put an end to litigation. But is that in fact so, are we not in fact entering into a new era of litigation.”
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
“How come the member for Freetown had no interest in discussing with his constituency or sharing with the people of this country any of the several multiple agreements that his government signed in secret.”
Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education
“Mr. Speaker the Member from Freetown spoke about what it would cost and where we would we get the money and he even mentioned that the private sector may not be able to handle it. Mr. Speaker we want to be clear about that, we want to be open about that because we are fully cognizant, in fact this was the intention some years when the company was first privatized that we understand fully well that there will be maybe the necessity for foreign companies that have the knowledge, that have the technical know how, that have the financial capital to invest to invest in a company like BTL. We are aware of that and we aren’t saying no to that but one thing you can be assure of is under the UDP government no one entity will control the company in such a way as Michael Ashcroft and Prosser and all of these others were given the opportunity to do by that last administration.”
Hon. John Saldivar, Minister of Public Service
“And I know Mr. Speaker that Mr. Ashcroft is right now screaming bloody murder, now that he knows of our intention and I know that he will do his darnest to smear the good name of the people of Belize with potential foreign investors. But Mr. Speaker I dare say it is a small price to pay to give assurance to our Belizean people that this government, this Cabinet, and our Prime Minister are loyal to only one people and that is the Belizean people.
Then the Leader of the Opposition, I can’t understand his concern about us being a small country and seems to be suggesting to me Mr. Speaker that because we are a small country, we must capitulate to the whim and fancies of these billionaire investors. Mr. Speaker I am happy to know that the Belizean people would never put a wimp like that in charge of this country.”
Hon. Wilfred Sedi Elrington, Attorney General & Minister of Foreign Affairs
“We firmly believe in the right to property and we firmly believe in access to the court so that whatever is done pursuant to this law, there will have to be provisions for adequate compensation to the owners of the property that will ultimately become under the government’s possession and those owners will have the right to go to court, not only to challenge the acquisition but also to challenge the quantum that’s being offered in compensation. So that no harm really is being done, this is a perfectly natural and normal exercise of the democratic process.”
Hon. Dean Barrow,
“You say that the UDP was bankrolled. Yes, I have not denied that because unlike you people, I don’t lie to the people of this country. But remember that I stood in this house from early as the time of the UHS guarantee and made it clear I had worked as a lawyer for Michael Ashcroft, I have received financial contributions for the UDP from Michael Ashcroft but I oppose with every fibre of my being that UHS and I made it clear. It is part of the democratic process that investors would want to contribute to a political party. No such contribution can handcuff me, no such contribution can padlock me, and no such contribution will ever cause me to betray the interests of the people of this country.
Notwithstanding that, that was well before the election, when we came to go into the election Michael Ashcroft contributed again, he can’t claim to not have known where I stood. It was on record, I said it over and over in this House. He never told me when he contributed about the secret agreement but what, could he seriously have expected that after I discovered those agreements, because he had contributed substantially to the party, I would have countenanced and supported those agreements, man he could never have known me. He could not have known me. For years he had been a client of mine. For years, I might even say he might have been a friend of mine, but obviously he did not know this friend. Nothing will ever cause me to shirk my duty to the people of this country.”
And while PM Barrow made it clear that he was not beholden to a campaign donor he described as substantial, he made it clear that opposition leader Briceno is in a different position. http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=14845
PM Barrow: Ashcroft is Majority Shareholder in Speednet
When the Prime Minister dropped the bomb on Ashcroft, seems Briceno was standing at ground zero. Barrow outlined the startling state of the Telecommunications Industry – where instead of competition, there’s a duopoly, managed competition, controlled by Ashcroft affiliated interests. The bottom line being that SMART – which is operated by John Briceno’s brother and cousin, is, according to the PM, owned by Ashcroft affiliated interests.
Hon. Dean Barrow,“Telecommunications – information and communications technology – is a critical part of the development apparatus of any modern society. Indeed, as has been officially recognized by our regional integration movement CARICOM, it is an indispensable tool in that restructuring of developing countries’ economies that, in the face of the global crisis, must begin to take place now. Accordingly, unregulated monopoly control and abuse of the sector cannot be permitted. Yet, that is precisely what the Accommodation Agreement mandates. This is especially so in view of the fact that even the very limited mobile phone so-called competitor to Telemedia, is owned by Telemedia. That is right and I have the documents to prove it. 77.38% of Speednet is owned by three companies – Callerbar Limited, Riddermark Ventures Limited, and Heaver Holdings Limited. These three companies are headquartered at the Belize City Cork Street premises owned, bougth and owned by Michael Ashcroft, and the companies are in turn controlled by two of the now notorious Trusts owned by Michael Ashcroft.
Mr. Leader I was happy that you declared your family’s interest because and I am not going to say you are personally interested in Speednet, in Smart, but you freely concede that your family, Jaime Briceno, your brother, Renan Briceno your first cousin, and Jorge Briceno, I am not sure in what relation he stands though, are principals in Speednet. From the time I checked Speednet, when I thought that in fact it was majority owned by the Ashcroft group, I discovered that there were two companies, Callerbar Limited and Riddermark Ventures that in fact together own 55% of Speednet but I didn’t know at the time who controlled Callerbar and Riddermark. I suspected it had to be the Ashcroft crowd because of the address, 4 Cork Street. That is the old Colton house, almost directly opposite the entrance of the Radisson Fort George that I happen to know Michael Ashcroft bought because I was trying to buy it myself and he beat me to it.
So I knew from then companies headquartered there belong to him but it wasn’t until later that I found out about the trust and in the meantime you see that 55% has been increased to 77.38% because on 13th January 2009 Jaime Briceno transferred 58 of his shares to a new Ashcroft company Heaver Holdings Limited of #4 Cork Street Belize City for a consideration of $6,090,000. On the same date Renan Briceno transferred 17 of his shares to the same Heaver Holdings Limited for a consideration of $1,785,000. You said I should have taken you to my confidence, how could I? Your family, I nuh say you, are minority shareholders in Speednet which is owned by Ashcroft. Your family, they work for Ashcroft.”When Briceno rose to speak, he did not refute Barrow’s assertion that Ashcroft affiliated entities owned 77% of SPEEDNET. When a division was called for individual members to state their vote Briceno voted against the Act and so did Francis Fonseca. PUP Deputy Leaders Mark Espat and Cordel Hyde abstained. http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=14846
Expect Major Changes at BTL in 48 Hours
So in the next 48 hours, we should expect to see major changes at BTL – along with the paroxysms of an enforced transition in ownership. Today after the House sitting the Prime Minister discussed a few contingencies with the media.
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister“There will be a prospectus done after the new Board of Directors takes over and the new articles of association have been adopted, shares will be valued and offered for sale to the public. That offer will not be limited to Belizeans. We are determined however and the new Articles of Association that will be adopted will in fact oblige this, that ultimately Belizeans must maintain at least a 51% ownership of the company that’s being taken over.”Jules Vasquez,
“Sir is that realistic to say you cannot step into the same river twice, you can’t step into the investment climate that prevailed in 1988, 21 years later and expect that strategic investors will not want to be the majority shareholders. That means unrealistic.”Hon. Dean Barrow,“Well that’s your opinion and I suppose the events will prove whether you are right or wrong but certainly as of now that is the clear intention of the government and that is what the Articles of Association will in fact prescribe.”Jules Vasquez,
“Sir Mr. Finnegan said the decision was an agonizing decision. What made it so? clearly you feel that it is the right thing to do so was it agonizing because you know of the many intractable legal battles you are now invoking?”Hon. Dean Barrow,“But you are putting Mr. Finnegan’s words into my mouth. Did I say that I was agonizing? If you ask me, I would say that of course long and anxious thought had to be given to this and for some fairly obvious reasons. One, Michael Ashcroft is nobody to lightly challenge, we know now that he will do everything in his power to hurt Belize and that is our first concern. Certainly, it will hurt the UDP with respect to the next election. He will spend every last dime if he has to, to ensure a loss for the UDP. The need to reassure the international community, the legitimate concerns about whether the signal that the signal the acquisition sends is not one that could potentially be harmful, all these things made the inputs into the final decision, inputs that had to be made after exhaustive discussions and over a long period, but in the end there was absolutely no doubt I believe in anyone’s mind that this was what we needed to do.”
Later on, we’ll tell you how the Prime Minister also made an offer to the family of Charles and Hirian Goode. http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=14847
Here is the news on Channel 5 Belize:
Unconstitutional and unlawful takeover of Telemedia by GOB
The Barrow administration today made the announcement that it was nationalizing Belize Telemedia and is expected to assume total control in the next day or so of the utility company. We start our newscast with the reaction from Telemedia on this stunning move. In a release late this evening, Telemedia condemned the action of the Government as an outrageous abuse of executive power, which it said, is both unconstitutional and unlawful. According to Telemedia, there is no public purpose to the Government’s actions since the utility company has been providing a high standard of services at competitive prices while it has been paying a whopping twenty-four point five percent in business taxes to the government treasury. Telemedia says that its nationalization is targeted at certain shareholders, who contrary to statements made by Prime Minister, are the Hayward Charitable Belize Trust and the B.T.L. Employees trust. The release further describes the actions by G.O.B. as heavy handed and a draconian attempt to tackle a commercial dispute which arose in relation to the Accommodation Agreement but which as been resolved in Telemedia’s favour and has already been terminated. As to the real value of Telemedia, the company says that in 2008, it held discussions with a major international communications group and the value of Telemedia was put at three hundred million US dollars, the starting point that shareholders will use as the worth of the company. http://www.channel5belize.com /archive_detail_story.php?story_id=25095
Barrow rationalizes why he hijacked Telemedia...
The reports percolated over the weekend and this morning, in a special session of the House of Representatives, which interrupted the summer recess, Prime Minister Barrow rammed through the House with indecent haste, the first, second and third readings of a Bill for the government to take over control of Telemedia. The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back came after a ruling against the government by the London Court of International Arbitration last Friday awarding forty million dollars to the B.C.B. Holdings Limited and the Belize Bank as part of a long list of legal battles between G.O.B. and various Ashcroft associated companies. The U.D.P. controlled House passed the Bill in a vote of twenty- two in favour, three against; John Briceño, Francis Fonseca and Florencio Marin Junior, two abstentions – being the PUP’s Mark Espat and Cordel Hyde - and four absent. Notably, former Prime Minister, Said Musa was not present to vote on the Bill. And Barrow hopes to make the change before the end of this week with the Senate voting on it on Tuesday and signing by the Governor General. Barrow also announced it was taking control of the management of Telemedia. It is has named Nestor Vasquez as the chair of the new board and like déjà vu, the former Prime Minister Manuel Esquivel as a member. According to G.O.B., the government assumed shares will be offered for sale to the public and services will continue uninterrupted. The debate was short and members of the House on the opposition side were not privy to the decision and only found out when Barrow made the announcement. So why the rush on such a crucial matter of national interest? First we air Barrow’s explanation, including his admission that Lord Michael Ashcroft was his friend and funded his party’s campaign.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow“Now, I confess Mr. Speaker that the Opposition, indeed all members of the House, are only seeing the Bill for the first time this morning and yet we intend to pass it today. The lack of notice is regretted but could not in the circumstances be helped. The current owners of Telemedia, as they have repeatedly demonstrated, will stop at nothing to frustrate the business of governance in this country.”
“I have received financial contributions for the United Democratic Party from Michael Ashcroft but I oppose with every fiber of my being the U.H.S. guarantee and I made it clear, it is part of the democratic process investors will want to contribute to a political party. No such contribution handcuff me, no such contribution can padlock my lip. Could he seriously have expected that after I discovered those agreements, because he had contributed substantially to the party, that I would have countenanced those agreements? Man he could never have known me. For years he’s been a client of mine, for years I might even say he would have been a friend of mine but obviously he did not know this friend.”John Briceño, Leader, P.U.P.“I need to point out that w have not seen the bill so he has not given us the opportunity to sit down and properly study what is in front of us so that we can have a meaningful debate.” http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=25096
…And says Supreme Court will decide on compensation
The U.D.P. regime always had issues with Telemedia over the Accommodation Agreement and did not participate in the proceedings before the London Court of International Arbitration, except for a reaction last Monday when the court ruled in government’s favour. Earlier this year, G.O.B. threatened to arrest senior executives of both the telephone company and the Belize Bank. This was followed by an increase in business taxes imposed on Telemedia to the tune of twenty-four point five percent. Barrow answered the questions posed by the media following the House sitting.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow“There will be a prospectus done after the new board of directors takes over and the new articles of association have been adopted. Shares will be valued and offered for sale to the public. That offer will not be limited to Belizeans. We are determined, however—and the new articles of association that will be adopted will in fact oblige this—that ultimately Belizeans must retain at least a fifty-one percent ownership of the company that’s being taken over.”Jules Vasquez, Channel Seven
“Sir, who will determine the value of the asset that he is repaid and who will determine the terms upon which it is repaid?”Prime Minister Dean Barrow“The Supreme Court; the bill provides for claims of compensation to be made if there is dispute and we know there will be as to the amount of compensation to be paid. The Supreme Court of this country will make the final determination. Once you remove the accommodation agreement, if the court agrees that that accommodation agreement always was void, illegal, contrary to public policy, I think that the compensation becomes more reasonable—the value of the company becomes something that we would be more readily able to handle, perhaps three hundred million, three hundred and fifty million.”Jules Vasquez
“US or Belize?”
Prime Minister Dean Barrow“I’m talking about Belize dollars. It’s difficult for me, I am not an expert, I am not an accountant, I am not a valuer but I would think three hundred, four hundred million, that sort of thing.”Marion Ali
“And in the interest of the staff of B.T.L. and the customers, the paying public, can you assure that the benefits of the staff would remain the same, that the rates would remain the same for the public?”Prime Minister Dean Barrow“I would hope that very shortly the rates would be lowered for the public but remember this will be run as a business. We have the people who are going to be in charge along with the senior management, being Mr. Nestor Vasquez and the right honourable Manuel Esquivel. I am sure that with that stewardship, the company will do extremely well.”
Opposition says PM sending wrong message to investors
What does the nationalization mean for investors confidence? P.U.P. leader, John Briceño, says it sends the wrong signals and that efficiency and productivity will suffer. Briceño says it is also a matter of what’s good and what’s bad mostly for the layman and woman.
John Briceño, Leader of the Opposition“I think what is important, what is of concern today and what I was trying to tell the prime minister is that we did not get a look at the bill so that we could study it and make an informed decision. The first thing that jumped to me was the issue of nationalizing a private company. We can go through history and they show that every time governments nationalize a company, it usually does not work out. There’s serious inefficiencies in the companies and in many instances when they decide to divest of that company that they nationalize, many times cronies and friends of the government are the ones that benefit the most. I was also making the point of investor confidence. As it is right now, the investment climate in Belize is low. The private sector in Belize right now is having great concerns and grave concerns for the government, the way they have been managing the affairs of this country. When you couple that with foreign investors and a foreigner looking at the government of the day can just arbitrarily decide—because they can’t get what they want—decide that are going to take over your company. That certainly would not go well with foreigners. In a democracy, there are ways of dealing with this. We have access to the courts and the government has been going to the courts and they should continue fighting—they have won already some cases. So now why the haste? Why turn it around and go into nationalizing a private company?”Marion Ali
“He said because of the dire situation that we are in and we have been in over the years with Mr. Ashcroft and his company.”John Briceño“But the point is that this is not going to solve the issues that are affecting the Belizean people.” http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=25098
Channel 5 independent of Telemedia and GOB takeover
And that be told, if you are wondering about the future of Great Belize Productions/Channel Five, even before the move was taken to nationalize Telemedia, the Board of Directors met in emergency meeting and approved a dividend to Telemedia’s shareholders of the entire issued share capital of Katalyst Developments Limited, the owner of this company. According to a release by Telemedia, the Board felt it was important that this television broadcasting company not form part of the nationalized assets to continue to allow for an unbiased voice in the media. The Telemedia Board approved the immediate payment and distribution by way of dividend in specie, of the entire issued share capital of Katalyst to shareholders. What this means is that the takeover of Telemedia will not include Great Belize Productions/Channel Five and we will continue to provide our viewers with the same quality of programming. http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=25099
Here is the news in the GOB Press Release:
Ministry of Finance
Prime Minister's Introduction of Bill to have Government assume control of Belize Telemedia Ltd.
Belmopan - 24 August, 2009
I rise to introduce the Bill for an Act to amend the Belize Telecommunications Act to provide for assumption of control over telecommunications by the Government in the public interest; and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
Let me at once say that the long title is quite clear and what the government is doing by way of introducing this measure, is preparing to take control of the company formerly known as Belize Telecommunications Limited, and currently going by the name of Telemedia.
I must also say immediately, Mr. Speaker, that government intends to take the Bill through all its stages today. The Senate will then meet tomorrow, and we expect that the Bill will be signed into law by tomorrow evening or Wednesday morning at the latest. At that time the new, Government-appointed Board of Directors will assume operational control over Telemedia, and the re-Belizeanization of the company will be complete.
Now I confess, Mr. Speaker, that the Opposition, indeed all members of the House, are only seeing the Bill for the first time this morning. And yet we intend to pass it today. Members will thus have to read and digest quickly between the introduction and the resumption after committee meets, in order to debate the measure. The lack of notice is regretted, but could not, in the circumstances, be helped. The current owners of Telemedia, as they have repeatedly demonstrated, will stop at nothing to frustrate the business of governance in this country; and will act with every resource at their command to thwart the interest and legitimate aspirations of the Belizean people. While the minimum requirements of our democracy means that there will still be a two day window of opportunity for those that would stymie us, government had to do what was necessary to narrow that opening as much as possible. I say again to all members that I would have wished that we did not have to proceed in this fashion. But the exigencies of the circumstances, the larger demands of Belize’s national interests, left us no choice.
The questions will of course be asked: why this move, and why now? In answering these questions I need to rehearse for the house and the nation a fair amount of background. Mr. Speaker, Belize Telecommunications Limited was incorporated in 1987 during the first UDP administration. At that time the purpose was to Belizeanize telecommunications, replacing the control of the foreign entity Cable and Wireless with a national company. It was always the UDP government’s intention that the new BTL would be majority owned by the citizens of Belize, not by the government. That first privatization worked wonderfully well and has remained one of the proudest accomplishments of the 84 – 89 UDP administration. We made sure then to insert particular safeguards into the company’s Articles of Association to protect the national interest in BTL. And history has recorded what a fabulous success story that whole enterprise was. In the years immediately after 1987 BTL returned record profits to the many Belizeans that invested in the company. A 20% return on investment was the order of the day, and there were years when BTL paid a dividend yield of as much as 30%.
All remained well until February 1992 when the predatory designs of one man were facilitated by the greed and hunger for cash of the then PUP administration. At that time the PUP began to sell shares in BTL to Michael Ashcroft at a rate and in a manner that was counterintuitive and counter nationalistic. Under the UDP Articles of Association there was a 25% cap on the shares that could be sold to any one person or entity. This was so that no single individual could dominate the company and in order to make the ownership as widely Belizean as possible. In violation of this Article, the PUP presided over an ever increasing transfer of shares to Ashcroft. This process was interrupted by the 93-98 UDP return to power, but restarted as soon as the PUP became the government again. It culminated in March 2004 with the infamous sting operation perpetrated by then Prime Minister Said Musa, which leveraged almost 94% of BTL shares into the control of Lord Ashcroft. Since then the PUP double dealing in which they screwed Glenn Godfrey for Ashcroft, then Ashcroft for Prosser, then Prosser for Ashcroft again, has produced litigation after litigation. Between 2005 and 2006 alone, there were at least 6 BTL cases in Belize, England, the US and Canada. In the end Ashcroft prevailed and cemented his total control.
But, he was not satisfied. Between 1998 and 2005 BTL’s profits were 20 cents for every dollar invested. Nevertheless, and perhaps as payback for the PUP support, however fleeting, of Jeffrey Prosser, Ashcroft wanted more. And he got it from the PUP in 2006 after he had regained supreme control of BTL. This came by way of the infamous secret Accommodation Agreement, in which the PUP government guaranteed the Ashcroft group a minimum rate of return of 15%. According to that Agreement and under that guarantee, Ashcroft could in any year declare that BTL had not made that 15%; declare how much the shortfall was; and simply not pay his taxes until the so-call shortfall had been recovered. This is exactly what happened in 2007, so that thereafter Ashcroft’s Telemedia ended up paying no business tax, no customs duties, no imprest of any kind. In addition, the Accommodation Agreement stipulated that the PUC could not regulate Telemedia’s rates, leaving the consumers at their mercy. But it still did not stop there. All other existing Telecoms licenses ( excepting Speednet’s – about which more later) had to be revoked. Voice Over Internet Protocol, which we all know gives consumers the cheapest option, is outlawed. Telemedia is able to refuse interconnection to any and everyone, including internet service providers. And the PUC cannot, for any cause and no matter what the complaint, in any way touch or alter Telemedia’s license. Finally, the Accommodation Agreement binds each government department, agency, or associated body, to use only Telemedia’s services at onerous pre-arranged rates until 2015, and thereafter for successive 3 year renewal periods.
Now, Mr. Speaker, this is where the new government of the United Democratic Party came in. As soon as we discovered this Accommodation Agreement and the fact that it had been secretly signed and secretly implemented by the PUP, we came to the Belizean public and denounced it. Lord Michael Ashcroft is an extremely powerful man. His net worth may well be equal to Belize’s entire GDP. He is nobody to cross and the new government could well have chosen the path of least resistance; to cower in the face of the certain wrath of this potentate; to continue in the PUP style with business as usual; to betray, in other words, all that we had campaigned for, all that we had promised, and all that is basic and decent and straight forward if there is to be any ounce of trust left in public office. But betrayal of the people is not in my nature, and not, I am surpassingly proud to say, in the nature of the United Democratic Party.
And so we took counsel among ourselves and to a man the UDP cabinet voted, in the name of the Belizean people, to resist this treasonous Accommodation Agreement at all costs. Belizean Law and Belizean dignity would be upheld; Belizean pride and Belizean patriotism and Belizean patrimony vindicated.
And, of course, resisted we have. Now no one can doubt the justice of our stand. But, as we always knew, it has been costly. Michael Ashcroft had Telemedia invoked arbitration in London to enforce the Accommodation Agreement. And he obtained a judgment of 38.5 million dollars and a court – mandated requirement that government now begin to honor the Accommodation agreement.
Well, I have said that as God is my witness I will never pay that award. But it doesn’t stop there. In April of 2009 Telemedia informed the government of further claims they will make to the London Court of International Arbitration, and that the size of a new award “could pale the current award of 38 million into insignificance”.
Mr. Speaker, Members, fellow Belizeans: this is intolerable. I, and the United Democratic Party Government, in the name of the people will put up with it no longer. That an agreement so patently illegal, so patently immoral, so patently anti-Belize, should continue to torture us, to bleed us, to subject us to this death by a thousand cuts, cannot for one second more be countenanced. This is our House, this is our country. Here we are masters, here we are sovereign. And with the full weight of that sovereignty we must now put an end to this disrespect, to this chance taking, to this new age slavery. There will thus be no more Telemedia awards against us; no more Telemedia court battles; no more debilitating waste of government’s energies and resources; and there will be no more suffering of this one man’s campaign to subjugate an entire nation to his will. After long and sufficient consideration, therefore, and in the exercise of that national power that is ours by Constitution and inalienable right, this government will now acquire Telemedia.
Think on it Mr. Speaker. Telecommunications uses the airwaves as its medium. But these airwaves constitute a God-given natural resource of Belize, just like our sun, our sea, our rivers, our forests. These things together help to make up the patrimony of the Belizean people, and the exploitation of that patrimony must always be consistent with the interests of Belizeans. When those that come to partner with us demonstrate beyond all doubt that they will upend equitability, upend reasonableness, that they will, infamy upon infamy, beat us about our heads with our own inheritance, the very blood coursing through our Belizean veins obliges us to act.
Just as fundamental, though perhaps a little more prosaic, telecommunications – information and communications technology – is a critical part of the development apparatus of any modern society. Indeed, as has been officially recognized by our regional integration movement CARICOM, it is an indispensable tool in that restructuring of developing countries’ economies that, in the face of the global crisis, must begin to take place now. Accordingly, unregulated monopoly control and abuse of the sector cannot be permitted. Yet, that is precisely what the Accommodation Agreement mandates. This is especially so in view of the fact that even the very limited mobile phone so-called competitor to Telemedia, is owned by Telemedia. That is right and I have the documents to prove it. 77.38% of Speednet is owned by three companies – Callerbar Limited, Riddermark Ventures Limited, and Heaver Holdings Limited. These three companies are headquartered at the Belize City Cork Street premises of Michael Ashcroft, and controlled by two of the now notorious Trusts owned by Michael Ashcroft.
And so Mr. Speaker let no one be in any doubt as to why we are doing what we are doing today. Let no one confuse or misunderstand our purpose. This is not ideology, this is not triumphalism. This is a country in particular circumstances reaching the end of its patience and doing a singular, necessary, righteous thing to protect its national interest. It is not part of any pattern, part of no new philosophy. It is plain and simple a special measure for a special case. We make no apologies for it, but we also do not seek to elevate it. As must be clear from the developments in even the global bastions of super capitalism and private property, this is what countries do to protect themselves. It is an article of faith and a cardinal rule of statecraft that a nation will act in any way necessary to preserve its national interest. That national interest, in these circumstances, now absolutely demands our present course of action.
So there you have it, Mr. Speaker, the government’s brief from the heart. In the days to come, the dissection and the deconstruction, both at home and abroad, will of course take place. But no matter which way you look at it, ours is a straightforward case and a compelling case. We will move ahead not unaware of the difficulties that will be thrown up, but with a confidence that is both supreme and serene because we know we are right.
Before I conclude, just let me spend a little time telling you what will happen as we proceed. First of all, you will see that the Bill makes every provision for fair and proper compensation to be paid to the owners of the shares we will acquire. This is not, I repeat, some cowboy action but something done in the full plenitude of, and compliance with, our Constitution. As well, we are only acquiring the 94% or so of Telemedia that is controlled by the Ashcroft interests. The shareholding owned by Belizeans will be left intact. The actual acquisition will be done by way of an order made by the Minister of Tele communications, who will in that same order appoint a new Board of Directors. As soon as practicable after, an extraordinary general meeting will be held and new Articles of Association adopted. The new Articles will essentially be the Articles of the successful BTL that was launched in 1988. In other words, the safeguards to protect Belizean shareholders will be re-established, including protection of the special share and the limitation on the amount of single ownership. As well, and perhaps most importantly, the articles will guarantee that dividends will be paid to shareholders at the rate of 40% of the yearly profits.
Of course, a prospectus will as early as possible be published. On this basis, Belizeans will be invited to purchase the shares now being acquired in Telemedia by the Government. In other words, there is no intention for government to hold on to those shares. This acquisition is, rather, to give all Belizeans a chance to invest once again in a company that has proven to be a money maker.
I also want to say that the new Board of Directors will be chaired by Mr. Nestor Vasquez and will have the Right Honorable Manuel Esquivel as a member. Telemedia’s current employees will, of course, all keep their jobs. Indeed, we expect a greatly improved industrial relations climate and the quick resolution of outstanding worker grievances. I think particularly of the arbitration case of the dismissed workers, a case the current ownership of Telemedia has utterly frustrated. I am positive, therefore, that Telemedia’s staff, like all other right-thinking Belizeans, will completely support the Government’s move and cooperate to make the transition as seamless as possible. For consumers, we expect services to continue uninterrupted. We do not believe the present operators of the company will try any kind of sabotage. If they do, we will have to use already existing provisions of the law to move in and take control even before the passage of this Bill.
Mr. Speaker, I close by saying that no one need feel any sympathy for Lord Ashcroft. This is not an ad hominem move; it is to deal with a structural problem. Indeed, apart from his compensation, Lord Ashcroft’s interests will remain profit-making participants in Belize’s Telecommunications sector, because those interests own Speednet, the other telecoms provider. This, I repeat then, is only about Telemedia; and no more and no less than a case of the Belizean national interest trumping any other consideration.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I look forward to the debate. http://www.governmentofbelize.gov.bz/press_release_details.php?pr_id=5613
Live and let live
#349210 - 08/25/09 09:32 AM
Re: BTL Nationalized!
Joined: Oct 2003
Ch 5 was hastily separated yesterday from Telemedia and so is now a private company owned by Ashcroft.
#349350 - 08/26/09 05:09 AM
Re: BTL Nationalized!
[Re: Katie Valk]
Joined: Nov 2002
Today's BTL news on 7 News Belize:
New BTL Board Assumes Control
The public acquisition of BTL is complete; tonight, BTL is under the management of publicly – appointed directors. The takeover was made official this evening. At ten to 5:00, the new Board of directors headed by Executive Chairman Nestor Vasquez went in to the corporate headquarters at the Esquivel Telecom Center on St. Thomas Street in Belize City. The new board comprises Chairman and architect of the first privatization of BTL in 1988, Nestor Vasquez, senior Advisors to the Prime Minister, Manuel Esquivel and Alan Slusher, CEO in the Ministry of Finance, Audrey Wallace, Businessman and the Prime Minister’s son, Anuar Barrow, and Secretary of the Board, Lois Young. Ousted chairman of the committee of management Dean Boyce walked out as they walked in and he told Keith Swift he has no hard feelings.
Dean Boyce, Ousted“I certainly hope that going forward, the company flourishes. It’s got a great bunch of employees that put a lot of hard work into the company over the years and I feel proud to have been part of the team so I just hope we can move on to bigger and better things.”
“What are your thoughts about the takeover?”
Dean Boyce,“Well I think it was a different way of doing it. We could have sat down and discussed this for the last 18 months at some point and I really think nationalization was really unnecessary. We had said last year that we would give up the agreement. We had said things like minimum rate of return, we were going to give that up and it wasn’t a problem. What we wanted was just an agreement that was workable for this company.”
“Are you voluntarily leaving or because you know that there were police in there?”
Dean Boyce,“No the police had nothing to do with it. I met with the new Board and shook their hands and wish everybody well and it was very friendly, very amicable.”
“You’re not angry or bitter, you seem to be taking it in stride.”
Dean Boyce,“No but you can’t be emotional about it. It is all supposed to be very matter of fact. You do what’s in the best interest of everybody. I’ve said I think there was a better way of doing it, other people had a different perspective of it.”
Interestingly, though he functioned as the boss at BTL, Boyce maintained in communications with government officials that he was never an employee of Telemedia.
The new board was empowered in the order signed by the Minister of Public Utilities Melvin Hulse this evening. He did that after the enabling legislation was passed by the senate this morning and signed into law by the Governor General this afternoon. It was immediately gazetted and Hulse signed the order – the new board could only go in only after all that was done. The passage of the bill into law was done in near record time – and the reason for that – as explained by the Prime Minister - was so that Michael Ashcroft or his assorted interests couldn’t find some way to undermine it with nuisance litigation. http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=14856
Senate Approves BTL Takeover Bill
But that pace didn’t stop the Senate from getting in a hearty and revealing debate. Leader of government business in the senate Douglas Singh started it off like Roberto Duran.
Senator Douglas Singh,“The litigation continues and the government of Belize is saying no mas, no more, and therefore Madam President in the public interest it has become necessary to remove BTL from this pariah. I want to remind this House that in our national anthem there is a phrase that says “despots most flee.” In the concise Oxford dictionary, despot is defined as a ruler who exercises absolute power especially in a cruel or oppressive way. Well Michael Ashcroft is the ruler over BTL and he exercises that power in a cruel and oppressive manner and fitting to Samuel Haynes 1925 anthem and certainly he had some vision in that context, the despot must flee or be forcefully made to do so.”Senator Godwin Hulse,“We have seen the monster of an accommodation agreement under a government run awry who ceased to represent the best interest of the people. BTL, Madam President I could not stand here in just conscience and defend as a principle the nationalization or the takeover of any private sector entity. I could not because it is against the principle of the free enterprise system. But, and this is the big but, this is the but that has me dancing on the point of the tap, not the sensationalism out there, I don’t pander to that, but the fact that my private sector entity which I would guard and cherish never came between hands, it did not come between hands, it deliberately, purposefully, skilfully, stripped, disclosed, got into the bed, and now after voluntarily getting in there calls murder.
It got in bed to accommodate the other party who was in heat and willing to get its thing satisfied because the scandal would have been something it couldn’t stand. Nobody anticipated the work, as much as it has not been heralded, and I will not champion our cause, but Senator Gomez sitting up there and Senator Chan and all the other members, particularly those two gentlemen and myself put in 22 months of tireless, unpaid work; we dug and we dug and nobody thought we would get into that bedroom to see what was happening. And so they had to cover it, quick blanket over it, accommodation and so we have an accommodation which literally screwed the people of Belize. We got to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
That the private sector Senator who should stand up for the private sector has not stood up, well I am properly standing up and saying bwoy if you are dragged into that bed and wrestled down onto mattress I would defend your case but you walked into there willingly and stripped yourself. And then you put the bill on me and I don’t think the Belizean public needs to carry that.”Senator Hector Silva“But today as I said we are in serious trouble because we gave ourselves away to this shining, to this bright stars called investors that come here without money, they borrow money and I will tell you right now how I am going to vote, you will see it when I get to that point, but I am against monopolies. It is good to give concessions, listen to me, it is good to give concessions. We need investors, bring them in under concessions but also based on regulations and within the ambit of our law.” Senator Paul Perriott,“We are now here, we have gained through this administration that position that we have been fighting for since then. We had the signs and the public could remember our signs said we don’t want any Prosser or any Ashcroft controlling BTL. As I said the past administration had the chance to make things right when the shares were passed from Michael Ashcroft to the government of Belize. If they had been honourable and done what supposed to have been done from then we wouldn’t be at this juncture. But we know now that through all of that there was always the secret deal to put back BTL in the hands of Michael Ashcroft. If you listen attentively to the radio shows, you could go back to what Mose mentioned this morning, about BTL controlling the road and the cars going on the road and this should never be. I recall a while back that because we had, or Krem were having issues with BTL, they were removed from the cable companies, they had been refused continually to have their services to be passed through the fibre network. Now, the government in this position could take control of that and make it right for all Belizeans.
And since the management had been taken over by Michael Ashcroft, we have had continued issues with the administration of the company. We have seen employees, because of being vocal, being terminated, and I applaud this move as a Belizean and as a Senator representing workers. Having felt the wrath of BTL under the Ashcroft management and at the eve of our September celebrations, the battle of our forefathers to drive out the tyrants and despots is applauded. I applaud the bold move by the government of Belize to put things in order. Belizeans can now be proud owners of BTL.”In the end a division was taken meaning each senator had to declare their vote. 9 voted in support, meaning the UDP senators and the civil society senators, while the two PUP senators abstained. Noteworthy that that the PUP senators did not vote along with their party leader who cast an opposing vote yesterday. http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=14857
And while the words of Labour Senator and BTL employee Paul Perriot were the most poignant, everyone was waiting to hear what Senator Godwin Hulse had to say because yesterday evening the Chamber of Commerce issued a statement saying, “The intended nationalization of our major telecommunication provider or any other company sets an alarming precedent.....For an action of such magnitude...the BCCI requests the government to delay the process in order to provide an opportunity for consultation with the business community ...” And no, they’re not kidding. Tellingly, the Chamber had nothing to say about the revelation that, as it stood, the telecommunications industry was a sham, with Ashcroft-affiliated interests controlling the majority shareholdings in both BTL and SMART. Also the Chamber had nothing adverse to say about the accommodation agreement which flouted the authority of the Pubic Utilities Commission...but to the Chamber, the BTL acquisition is what’s alarming. Good one. Or not so good...business senator Hulse told us why he wasn’t convinced.
“You are in favour of this legislation, how do you square that with the fact that the Chamber of Commerce issued a release yesterday saying that they are alarmed at it and they view it with a great deal of trepidation for the investment climate?”Senator Godwin Hulse,“A good question Jules and thanks for asking. First of all I stand in lone right in the Senate even though I am representing the business community and as I said in the Senate I would have had no problem denouncing the legislation and its intended purpose if the private sector entity we were dealing with was squeaky clean. In other words it doesn’t matter, the issue is not the benefits that they purport to have derived from some agreement or otherwise which has us in this litigation process. It is how it was arrived at and it is a big institution, filled with corporate attorneys who know the ropes inside and out and they know that it was illegal, that is the first thing. Second thing, I am the only singly named individual in a litigation against the Accommodation Agreement. There is the ACB and Godwin Hulse and so that is my position from day one.
My problem with the Bill however is that it is all encompassing, it is too wide, it captures all utility providers. I could have simply demanded it stayed in the committee but I understand the urgency so I have requested an amendment to the bill so the other public utilities providers are not nervous and I listed all of them; electricity, water and all the other ones like BELCOGEN on which I sit as a board remember. So that is of concern to me.
Also, of concern is the fact that it talks about possession without the details of what that entails so if in the future they come up with five or six other telecom providers they could be nervous that suppose this happens to me. You have to spell out exactly what you mean and that needs to happen in another Bill or an SI. But the most fundamental thing to my mind is to ensure that in the future, government cannot do what it did. We must understand that BTL could be looked at as in a way by some the victim. They were just beneficiaries as any businessman of a runaway government. We elected a government to protect and preserve our interests and they are the ones who should have held on to the legislation, they are the ones who should have maintained none of this happened and they did not and so to even license a way our jurisdiction to a foreign arbitration council, almost a court, is inexcusable.
So with all those things it is hard to stand up behind BTL and say poor BTL.”Marion Ali, News 5
“Should corporate companies be in anyway alarmed or concerned that the government can on any one day walk in and take over your place if they don’t agree with what you’re doing?”
Senator Godwin Hulse,“I don’t think they should be alarmed quite frankly. That would be overreacting. There are lots of remedies in law, there are lots of things that one can do. The government has said public interest and public interest involves a fantastic consolidated fund debt that you are saddling the public with to pay. This public is sick and tired of paying and paying and paying for what we don’t get. I think all of you are sick and tired of it. I certainly am. I have lambasted the superbond for ever and I think that now we have a $38 million with BTL, there are threats of additional money for what, while we are not collecting any taxes.
Please man, every company in this country has a legitimate responsibility to pay their taxes. Everybody has to step up to the plate. If it was a case that you are doing expansion and you need some relief, fair enough, go for an extended concession, the public might be outraged but go get it and do it through an SI. Don’t do it through a sneaky agreement and finally use that sneaky agreement to create a vesting act to create a whole new company is painful. I stood up against it then, I stood up in 2001 against the amendment and I’ll stand up now against it.” http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=14858
Hayward's ThreatAnd while Hulse had no tears for Telemedia’s former owners,
we received a cautionary press release from the Hayward Charitable Trust this evening. Hayward is the inscrutable trust which holds 70% of the shareholdings in Telemedia.
We can’t say that they own it because the companies register shows the same old set of Ashcroft familiars as the owners of record: those are ECOM, BB Holdings Limited, BTL International Inc., BTL Investments Ltd., Valkyrie Communications Ltd., Thiermon, New Horizon Inc, and the employees trust Sunshine Holdings Ltd. Combined, those companies own 26 million shares, about 95% of the issued share capital in BTL which is what government is acquiring. There are one thousand other small shareholders who hold who hold 5% whose holdings are not being acquired.
But back to the Hayward release which, to our reading, seems to very much carry the tone of Michael Ashcroft. It warns that there will be more litigation, in Belize and London and states that Hayward will invoke the investment treaty between Belize and the United Kingdom. But, the release says it’s all for the charitable causes that Hayward wishes to pursue not for Lord Ashcroft, who, the release informs, “has no economic interest in Telemedia.”
Strange though that Ashcroft’s corporate mothership BB Holdings shows up as one of the owners of record in the Companies register. Nonetheless, Hayward’s position is that it is now only interested quote, “in ensuring that the charities it was set up to help..receive full and lawful compensation.”
And while on the subject of charitable trusts and the public interests they so happily serve, it seems odd that when what the Prime Minister says are Ashcroft-affiliated charitable trusts recently acquired the majority shareholdings in Speednet that no glad-handing release was issued to inform Belizeans of the beneficial acquisition. Of course, those trusts may be for “corporate charity.” Interesting also that no denial has been issued either from Ashcroft-dom or from the Briceno’s on the Prime Minister’s claim that “Speednet is owned by Michael Ashcroft.” A key point because it exposes as a sham the whole notion of competition. http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=14859
Mark Espat Explains Why He Abstained
Yesterday PUP Deputy Leaders Mark Espat and Cordel Hyde “fainted the crowd” at the House of Representatives when they abstained in the vote on the Belize Telecommunications Act of 2009. Particularly disappointing when we consider that Espat is the one who in June of 2005 dropped bombs from the backbench when he righteously criticized Michael Ashcroft’s, “scorched earth campaign to gain control of Belize's most profitable public company – BTL” as a ”conspiracy to control and suck dry BTL and its Belizean consumers.” Tough talk – so why did Espat abstain yesterday when the bill was introduced to reverse what he had called a conspiracy? Espat explained to us today that before he starts cheerleading he has to make sure that there is actual progress on meeting the expectations of consumers.
Hon. Mark Espat, PUP Deputy Leader“I think what is on the minds of most Belizeans today is how will this directly affect them. First of all how will it affect the hundreds of workers that are at Telemedia. The government has offered verbally an assurance but that ball is in the government’s court. Secondly, will telecommunication rates go down and will the playing field indeed be levelled. Again the jury is out on that. And third, is what you mentioned just now in terms of the ownership of the company, the directorship of the company, re-Belizeanation so to speak, will dividends from the new telecom company remain in Belize and benefit Belizeans.
These are as you know all issues that I had addressed four years ago and at the time because I felt and I feel now very strongly that those are the elements that must be put in place and so I would say in response to your question that while the House considered yesterday an enabling legislation that in fact the proof is going to be in the pudding and so it is now up to this UDP government to ensure that those issues are addressed.
The very nature of my decision yesterday and also the decision of the Hon. Cordel Hyde and in fact of our Senators today to abstain is an indication that in principle the concept is one that favours positively or augurs well for our national development. No one can I think reasonably quarrel with the concept of Belizeans owning their telecom company with argument of dividends staying here, with employee security, and of course with lower more competitive rates and a level playing field.
Those are all laudable and noble objectives and I think if that is the direction we are going to move in, and if it can be achieved in a timely and efficient and effective manner then I think when the foreman stands up the verdict will be a positive one. But please I want to underscore that what was passed yesterday was not the new Articles of Association or company byelaws of BTL. It was not what the workers can expect that we were voting on. It was not who was going to own the company. What we voted on was an enabling law that now gives this UDP government to proceed as they had promised to proceed and I think our job as the Opposition and the job of the electorate is to ensure that the assurances that were given are delivered upon.”Jules Vasquez,
“You and your other co-deputy Cordel Hyde abstained. Why couldn’t you just support your party leader?”Hon. Mark Espat,“The party did not take first of all a party line. Because again no fault of the PUP, this was an abrupt bill, we did not have notice of it until we were there. In fact we only knew a few hours before. There were lots of rumours going around and so the simple answer to your question is perhaps others would have been persuaded to abstain if we had had that opportunity. Perhaps we might have been persuaded to vote a different way. The fact is that as you know, I am on record in the House of Representatives on many of these issues that surfaced yesterday and it was not just the member from Lake I and myself. As you know, the Senators of the PUP also abstain. I think for the same reason that I explained earlier that it is difficult for us to assess this in such a short period.”Jules Vasquez,
“Would you agree then that your leader is in some sense compromised on his flexibility of responses to this issue because his family business or the business owned by his family, in which he is at least an interested observer is apparently owned by Ashcroft affiliated interests?”Hon. Mark Espat,“Well no I wouldn’t say that Jules because the party leader has made it clear where he stands and where the party stands on the issue for example of so-called secret agreements and he repeated that position yesterday so I think that is a clear indication of the direction that he has been attempting to head in and I think the Prime Minister also made it absolutely clear that whatever motives he was impugning as it related to the lack of competition in no way related to the leader of the opposition.”Interestingly, the first secret telecommunication agreement we ever heard of was in March of 2004 and it involved Speednet and BTL which at the time was still managed by Ashcroft-affiliated interests. It was an interconnection agreement which was agreed to between BTL and Speednet right before Jeffrey Prosser was supposed to take over. We say it was secret because the Prime Minister at the time Said Musa told us that he didn’t know about it and told us that the secret manner in which the agreement was arrived at seriously jeopardized the sale to Prosser. Of course knowing what we do now about the ownership of Speednet, the context of the agreement is more easily understood. http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=14860
The Cost of the BTL Takeover
And while all that is background, the issue in the foreground right now is how much will Government have to pay those Ashcroft-affiliated companies for their holdings in BTL. According to releases from Ashcroft, it’s in the range of 300 million US dollars, but when we spoke to the Prime Minister yesterday, he was thinking about something more like half of that.
“Who will determine the value of the asset that he is repaid and who will determine the terms upon which he is repaid?”Hon. Dean Barrow,“The Supreme Court. The Bill provides for claims of compensation to be made if there is dispute and we know there will be as to the amount of compensation to be paid. The Supreme Court of this country will make the final.”Jules Vasquez,
“How much roughly would you say the asset is valued, you must have made an offhanded guess in your calculations?”Hon. Dean Barrow,“Well it depends on whether you take the accommodation agreement into consideration, naturally from my point of view and the law does say that in assessing compensation the court cannot take into account any accommodation agreement that contains provisions that are contrary to law. In a sense that is self-evident but it perhaps is not as clear as it ought to be since the tribunal in London clearly didn’t get it. Once you remove the Accommodation agreement, if the court agrees that that agreement was also void, illegal, contrary to public policy, I think that compensation becomes more reasonable, the value of the company becomes something that we would be more readily able to handle. Perhaps $300 million, $250 million.”Jules Vasquez,
“Belize or US?”Hon. Dean Barrow,“I talk in Belize dollars. It is difficult, I am not an expert, I am not an accountant, I am not a valuer but I would think $300 million, $400 million that sort of thing.”Marion Ali, News 5
“And in the interest of the staff of BTL and the customers, can you assure that the benefits of the staff will remain the same and that the rates will remain the same for the public?”Hon. Dean Barrow,“I would hope that very shortly the rates will be lowered for the public but remember this will be run as a business.”
The Prime Minister also discussed the US$22 million award given against government to Ashcroft’s BBC Holdings and the Belize Bank by the London Court of International Arbitration. Add that to another US$19 million that Telemedia won against government form that same court and you have $80 plus million. Even for people who print money – that a lotta cheese, and Prime Minister Barrow told us he’s duly concerned but feels he is morally on high ground.Jules Vasquez,
“The LICA had a powerful ruling in terms of financial significance against your government last week, another US$22 million.”Hon. Dean Barrow,“Yeah that is with respect to another settlement deed that the PUP gave to the Belize Bank under which they were entitled not to pay any taxes but you will recollect that when they first took that to arbitration, that same tribunal that has now given them the award gave them an injunction saying that we have to refrain from collecting our taxes in the meanwhile eventhough it said that the agreement was legal. The Supreme Court of this country refused to uphold that injunction and the judge said that in so far as he needed to form a preliminary opinion on the agreement, it was his preliminary opinion that it is illegal. That is the basis therefore on which we will resist any effort to enforce that award in this country that it is void as being against public policy, that it is illegal because it violates very clearly the tax laws of this country and the constitution of this country.” http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=14861
Today's BTL news on Channel 5 Belize:
Owner of Channel 7, Net Vasquez, assumes control of Telemedia
Early this afternoon, the Governor General, Sir Colville Young, penned his signature to put into law, G.O.B.’s acquisition of Belize Telemedia. Just like that in a period of twenty four hours, that began on Monday, with a special session of the House, G.O.B. hijacked the utility company. The events unfolded with a surprise introduction, debate and approval of a Bill to amend the Belize Telecommunications Act 2009 and with that the Barrow regime took its greatest political and economic gambit and nationalized the largest private company in Belize. According to Barrow, the move was necessary to put an end to the legal battles with Lord Michael Ashcroft over the Accommodation Agreement signed with the government in 2005. But the battles are far from over and now take on an added dimension. Under its past management, Telemedia said there is no public purpose to the nationalization of the company which has been valued at three hundred million US dollars, an indication that this is where battles lines will be drawn. This afternoon, the new board showed up in convoy to essentially get the keys of the St. Thomas Street headquarters, which in their first term the U.D.P. administration named the Esquivel Telecom Center. Businessman and the owner of Channel Seven, Net Vasquez, will be chairing the new Board of Directors and another old hand, Manuel Esquivel, was also named to the Board. Notably, new board members are Anwar Barrow, the son of the Prime Minister and his mother Lois Young as secretary. Other board members are Carla Barnett, Alan Slusher, Audrey Wallace, Ambrose Tillett and Colonel George Lovell. It is not known yet if under the new management, an executive committee will be put in place. http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=25110
What does nationalization mean for B.T.L.?
No doubt that you’ve have been following the news that Government has seized control of ninety-four percent of the shares in Telemedia. And after the legal formalities, Telemedia is now a state owned company. But what does the takeover really mean for investors? Will the litigations end? News Five asked attorney Eamon Courtenay earlier today for his views.
Eamon Courtenay, Attorney“Those shares related to the Ashcroft Group and by that government is going to take it over and, I assume, run it until they sell it again. I find it quite ironic. A few years ago, if you recall, when the People’s United Party was in government the then P.U.P. had literally forced Telemedia away from Prosser because Prosser had not paid. You will recall the 2007 vesting act which vested all B.T.L.’s assets in Belize Telemedia, taking it away from mister Prosser. At that time, if I recall there was a big hue and crying by the then opposition saying that was wrong and that you should never take away people’s private property. Two years later, here we are, the same people who are complaining about it, taking it away from another private investor.”Jose Sanchez
“By taking away Telemedia, does that bring an end to the litigation?”Eamon Courtenay
“If they take over the company all the directors have to say is we forgive the government that debt and say we are not going to collect it. So whatever award was made in favor of Telemedia, because they now control it and because the award was made against the government all we have to say is we don’t want to collect it.”Jose Sanchez
“When it comes to foreign investment, what is the message that is sent to potential investors?”Eamon Courtenay
“The message is to any investor, whether it be foreign or not. This law that is proposed, is an amendment to the Belize Telecommunications Act and what it provides actually is the minister by one signature can take away the shares in a public utility, it can take away the debt of a public utility, it can take away all the assets of a public utility simply by the stroke of a pen. Now as I understood the prime minister yesterday, they will be taking away Telemedia, I assume later today or tomorrow, and then they are going to hope to sell the shares in Telemedia to Belizeans and to foreigners. Well, would you invest in such a company when the law will provide that anytime in the future, the minister can with the stroke of a pen, say I have now decided to take the shares you have bought? I think it sends a very, very negative signal to foreign investors, as well as to local investors. It is saying that the government has the power to take away private property and if it chooses to do so because it has a serious dispute or difference with you, that it will do it. As I understand it, Mister Net Vasquez is going to be the new chairman of the Belize Telemedia as of tomorrow. I find that also to be a very curious appointment. I think everybody in Belize knows that Mister Net Vasquez along with other investors have already started another company in which they are attempting or intending to offer telephone services. I can only assume, his being put as the chairman of BTL, and then being told that they are going to sell it, I will not be surprised to see who is going to buy it. There are other utilities out there, Belize Electricity Limited for example. You know the water services. You remember the big debate with Stann Marshall when he said what he had to say and the government condemned him and everybody condemned him, I mean, they must be wondering if they’re next.”
Chamber of Commerce says Telemedia Nationalization alarming
In the private sector, one of the first to weigh in is the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry. In a stern release issued late Monday evening, the B.C.C.I. said it viewed with concern the proposed Belize Telecommunication (Amendment) Act 2009 and the haste with which it was dealt. The Chamber says (quote) “the nationalization of our major telecommunication provider or any other company sets an alarming precedent, wherein the business community at home and abroad may be more discriminatory when considering future investments in our country.” (Unquote) The B.C.C.I. further stressed that an action of this magnitude by the government is likely to have wide-ranging repercussions on current and future investments in the economy. When News Five spoke with President of the B.C.C.I., Amparo Masson, she told us that tentatively on Thursday after consulting with members and stakeholders, the B.C.C.I. will make a more detailed comment on the ramifications, locally and internationally, with respect to the takeover the utility company. http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=25112
Ex Telemedia Chairman says more litigations to come
A day after government announced it was nationalizing Telemedia; the debate is raging on the airwaves and in the board rooms. While the Prime Minister says the take over will end legal battles, outgoing Chairman of the Executive Committee, Dean Boyce, appearing on this morning’s edition of Open Your Eyes, says the contrary and that a lengthy legal battle for the full value of the company, can be expected.
Dean Boyce, Chair, Exec. Committee, Board of Directors, Telemedia“We heard very late on Sunday that this was going to take place on Monday. So, we thought, well ok, if the accommodation agreement is going to be used as the excuse, we’ll give up the accommodation agreement and just take our chances. So, our lawyer sent in a notice and we’ve gotten rid of it entirely and that still doesn’t make any difference. The statement was made in the House that all these problems will go away, right, if we nationalize and we take the company over. Well, sure yeah, that’s gonna happen. It’s gonna be worst. You have, they will assess what they consider a fair value. We know what the fair value was in a certain environment, a reasonable in environment. This is not a stable environment; people will only pay a certain amount under these current conditions. So, we’re gonna be fighting for the difference and that’s gonna take as long as it takes. The people that buy B.T.L. are going to pay the lower price. Well, the ones that we fight for: the shareholders, the employees trust will fight for the difference, the Hayward trust I’m sure is going to fight for the difference they’ve already said. Let’s say we won, let’s say we make three hundred million and somebody says yeah it’s worth three hundred million US, the government has valued it at a hundred and fifty million or whatever they come up with. The difference between the two will have to be paid by government when it should have been paid for by whoever it was that was buying the company and an international operator will be prepared to pay a reasonable sum of money providing they’ve got a good platform.”This evening Boyce handed over Telemedia to the new board in a smooth and courteous transition. http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=25113
Senator Godwin Hulse concerned about Nationalization Bill
Still on the biggest story so far, in the Senate today, the vote was not unanimous on the Telecommunications Act. Nine senators supported the bill, none were against, two abstained and one member was absent. Senator Godwin Hulse, representing the business community objected to the Accommodation Agreement but said that it is no secret that he has concerns about the bill.
Godwin Hulse, Senator“My problem with the bill, however, is that it’s all-encompassing, it’s too wide. It catches all public utility providers. I could have simply demanded it stayed in the Committee, but I understand the urgency, so I have requested an Amendment to the bill so that the other public utility providers are not nervous. And I listed all of them: electricity, water and all the other ones like Belcogen of which I sit as a board member. So that is of concern to me. Also of concern to me is the fact that it talks about possession without the details of what that entails. So if they, in the future, come up with five or six other telecom providers, they could be nervous that hey, suppose this happens to me. You have to spell out exactly what you mean, and that needs to happen in another bill or an S.I. But the most fundamental thing to my mind is to ensure that in the future the government cannot do what it did. We must understand that B.T.L. could be looked at in a way, by some, by some, the victim. They were just beneficiaries, as any businessman, of a runaway government. We elected a government to preserve and protect our interests. I was in a meeting yesterday with my Chamber colleagues and the issue and the concerns centered around the umbrella aspect, but it didn’t divorce it from the order which will be made. As you would note this morning, the Senate nor the House has not nationalized B.T.L. They created the enabling environment for the Minister to so do. That order still has to come. You’ll probably see it tomorrow.”In terms of BTL attracting investors, Hulse says it is important for government to assure potential investors that it is not a blanket bill that was passed and that can be revoked. http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=25114
Senator Hector Silva refuses to vote on Nationalization Bill
Hector Silva was one of two Senators who abstained from voting on the matter. Silva said he is against monopolies but the areas in this B.T.L. takeover are so grey that he absolutely had to abstain from voting.
Hector Silva, PUP Senator
“What I’m saying is this, why I abstained is one: are we sure that we are going to get a buyer locally for that? We have to go back to some foreign people ok. Are we going to ride that same horse again? Like we ride with Prosser, we might get somebody else. The other question that I have is the London litigation, Courts of London. Now, there are two judgments, one in favour of Belize, one against Belize. The one against Belize is bigger by far, almost three times. Now, what will be the next step of that court when they find that their order will not be carried? Then there are other things that I have always questioned; what will be the benefits to the people? Are we going to get improved benefits? Will there be a reduction in rates?”Marion Ali
“Mister Barrow, umm, said yesterday it’s for a general improvement.”Hector Silva
“Yes, well I have heard that over and over about general improvements and those improvements never come. So I have question marks. I want to see the methodology, what will be the framework, but especially what will the Belizeans benefit. Will we get back the skype that was taken away from us? Better rates? Even proof that we are going to get better service.”The other Senator who abstained on voting was the other P.U.P. Senator, Corona Villafranco. http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=25115
Hayward Trust will fight to protect charity’s investments
The Hayward Charitable Belize Trust owns approximately seventy percent of Telemedia and this evening, it issued a release regarding its stake in Telemedia. Hayward's view is that the nationalization is both illegal and unconstitutional and that assertion will be tested through the Courts under international law and it will invoke the Investment Treaty between the UK and Belize. Hayward says it wants to ensure that the four hundred and fifty employees of Telemedia and the eight hundred small shareholders receive full and lawful compensation for any shares that are usurped by the government. The employees of Telemedia own roughly twenty-three percent of the company and forty million dollars were borrowed to secure those shares. It says it hopes that the employees receive full value in order to pay off the debts used to purchase them.
The release says (quote) “there will probably now be even more litigation in the future than there has been in the past. This litigation, in both Belize and before an International Arbitration Tribunal, may last for several years but ultimately Hayward is entitled to protection of its interests.” (unquote). The release goes on to state that Lord Ashcroft has no economic interest at all in Telemedia and that employees must not be caught in the middle of the crossfire with G.O.B. and they must be treated fairly. http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=25118
Live and let live
#349491 - 08/27/09 08:44 AM
New BTL team & BEL concerned over Nationalization
Joined: Nov 2002
New Team In at BTL
The new government-installed executive management team at BTL had its first full day in office at the Esquivel Telecom Center today. There are no reports coming out as we gather they are busy getting up to speed with current and prospective events at the country’s largest telecommunications provider. A release from the company – the first from its new management - reports that when they went in at a few minutes to five yesterday - the new board of directors first held a meeting with BTL’s Heads of Department. The release reports that it was cordial and harmonious. They were unable to meet with the union but report that they intend to have that meeting shortly.
After that, the board went into its introductory meeting. The board is chaired by the architect of the first privatization of BTL Nestor Vasquez and has the membership of a trio of Prime Ministerial advisors: Manuel Esquivel, Alan Slusher and Dr. Carla Barnett, along with Ministry of Finance CEO Audrey Wallace, as well as Ambrose Tillett, Anuar Barrow and Secretary Lois Young. We are informed that they intend to hold a press conference possibly in next week.
And while the board has been busy, the PUP has been silent. We’ve heard the not exactly identical positions of Leader John Briceno and Deputy Mark Espat – but quite surprisingly – there has been no official statement issued from the PUP on this most dramatic event.
Today – there was no statement issued from Ashcroft-dom. We do know though that his television station Channel 5 has been busy moving into new digs at what was formerly the NDFB Building on Coney Drive. BTL paid Social Security over four million dollars for that building – but it wasn’t a donation and now that Channel 5 is no longer a BTL subsidiary, it is unclear how the phone company will get back the money it paid. After the takeover Channel 5 had to abandon its new studios at BTL on Church Street http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=14868
B.E.L. concerned over nationalization of utility company
A commercial dispute has ended up in the nationalization of Belize Telemedia. Since Tuesday the Government took over full control of the telephone utility company, which, at least for now being, is run by businessman Nestor Vasquez and Anwar Barrow, the son of the Prime Minister. So what lies ahead for the other utility company, Belize Electricity Limited? Its parent company, Fortis operates out of Canada. Fortis’ C.E.O., Stan Marshall, has sparked fiery rhetoric at government in the past over rate disputes with the Public Utilities Commission. There were once talks of nationalizing the electric company… that did not go anywhere. But things have changed dramatically in the last forty-eight hours. At his first quarterly press conference on May twenty-ninth last year, Prime Minister Dean Barrow said the government would be interested in buying back B.E.L. And in light of Telemedia’s hostile takeover, B.E.L.’s C.E.O. Lynn Young expressed concern today about the future of the utility company.
Lynn Young, C.E.O., Belize Electricity Limited“If the government wants to take back the company, I personally prefer to see it done in a more amicable manner. That’s an option the government always has; if they want to take back the company; sit down and try to work it out. I think that’s always better than a hostile takeover. It is a possibility that is obviously more likely now in the sense that we have a government that seems now to not hesitate about it. Maybe they did hesitate, I don’t know, but is willing to go that step. But having said so, it is a really drastic step and I don’t think any government would or should make such a step lightly because as has been expressed in the media already, it sends a certain message to investors. And it’s not the best message. Mister Marshall has said already that if he knew what he knows now, he wouldn’t have invested in Belize. He said that publicly. You know the government has to look at those statements and take it for what they think it is and make changes accordingly. But coming back to B.E.L., even before this happened with B.T.L., I think the situation in B.E.L. has reached a point which I have expressed to the government, that something’s got to be done. The company as a result of the decision last year is in a situation where the banks won’t lend it money. And the investors are saying they won’t invest in the company. And it is not realistic for us to have a utility like B.E.L. that’s the life and blood of the organization cannot more—the company cannot borrow money to do any expansions and it cannot get investments. So, as I have put it publicly, on several occasions, something has to be done. Fortis, obviously, has to look after its own interest. And I know it is doing so. Will it be a court case? Probably. And I don’t think the government is not expecting that. I’m hoping we can get things resolved before it gets to that. Because obviously when it gets to that then we would be going down the same road that we saw B.T.L. went. But what happens, if it works that way, then we just have to deal with it right. Fortis has said that, publicly again, that if the offer was right, they would sell. I think Mister Marshall said that on Open Your Eyes that he said that they would do that. Perhaps what has happened here might even add to his anxiety, but I don’t want to put words in his mouth and I don’t want to speak for him. All I can say is he said publicly that if the offer was made, he would.”If there is any comfort, according to a government release today, Act Number Nine, which led to the takeover of Telemedia, is limited to telecommunications. http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=25124
Senator’s vote did not represent Chamber’s position
Following Telemedia’s takeover on Monday, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry stated that they viewed with concern the Amendment to the Telecommunications Act and the haste with which it was dealt. The Chamber also felt that the business community at home and abroad may be more discriminatory when considering future investments in Belize and that government’s action is likely to have wide-ranging repercussions on current and future investments. And while he was appointed to represent the Chamber on the Senate, Senator Godwin Hulse makes no apologies for voting in favour of the bill. When we checked with the Chamber of Commerce on Hulse’s vote, we were told that the Chamber is looking at the situation to clarify the matter and that Hulse sits on the Senate as a representative of the private sector, the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Bureau, and not in his own capacity. http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=25125
Senator Hulse clarifies his position on nationalization
The Senator spoke to News Five today and said he does not have a problem with any other company related to the Ashcroft group of companies, including Smart, the other telecommunications supplier. Hulse says he does not see how the take-over could be extended to Smart.
Godwin Hulse, Senator“As far as I know they are a different company, a different business with different licenses operating in their own right. So, I could not see how on earth it could be extended to them. I don’t see how it could be extended to them. The enabling position was so that government could bring an end, if you like, to the continued litigations, fights to collect its taxes, all premise on an accommodation agreement which has nothing to do with Smart whatsoever. In all my presentations in the Senate, I never called Lord Ashcroft’s name. He is a legitimate businessman doing business the way business people do it and he is a smart businessman clearly. We are talking Telemedia—that is the company, that is the entity that is in court—that is the entity that has the Accommodation Agreement; that is the entity that we’re dealing with. Channel Five is a legitimate business house doing business like any other business house and doing a good job. There could be no difficulty with Channel Five. Why would there be any difficulty with the Belize Bank? The Belize Bank is one of Belize’s largest banks doing legitimate business, having a lot of customers, people go there doing transactions. That’s a legitimate business.” http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=25126
Belize Business Bureau says govt was hasty with Telemedia
But while Hulse says he feels he did the right thing, the Belize Business Bureau does not support his position. President of the Bureau, Misael Flores, told News Five today that while the Bureau is of the view that government was too hasty in making the decision – one that could have some serious implications for investor’s confidence in Belize.
Misael Flores, President, Belize Business Bureau“We would have liked to maybe have had the opportunity to have an input and if we felt that that was the only way to go, then we would have supported it. But without knowing any details, we cannot say whether we support the matter or not. We did not have a discussion with the Senator prior to him making his vote, but we would have expected that he having seen the statement that the Chamber had put out, that he would have either abstained from supporting or would have voted no. Taking over or nationalizing a company or a private enterprise in this manner sends a wrong signal to the investment community internationally because then no investor would want to come to Belize and invest their money with the fear that at any point in time the government can take such actions, so it does not send a good signal. We believe that it may have been possible to have arrived at some negotiated settlement in the same manner that it was done a couple years ago when the government felt that it was in the best interest of the Belizean public to nationalize the Belize Water Services. It was done through a negotiated settlement. And so, we don’t really know what transpired and if we had been consulted or more involved in this matter, we would have been able to make, take, a position.”The Belize Business Bureau represents over three hundred businesses over the entire country. http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=25127
B.E.L. says it can supply country’s power demands
You will know that there have been scheduled blackouts around the country. In July the Public Utilities Commission (P.U.C.) held a press conference regarding the loss of power supply from its main source, Comision Federal de Electricidad; its generator at West Lake Park on the Western Highway and from Hydro Maya. It all came in a flurry, and the P.U.C. had to admit that B.E.L. would likely be forced to resort to rotating power outages around the country. The black- out scare was real, but it didn’t quite live up to the hype. But are we yet out of those troubled waters? B.E.L.’s C.E.O., Lynn Young explains.
Lynn Young, C.E.O., Belize Electricity Limited“We’ve completed repairs at West lake. That took us about little over a week—I think it was about ten days to get it back in service. It was an expected—during one of the routine maintenance, we found one of the shafts had a little burn on it and the manufacturer advised that we should get it replaced to avoid a catastrophic failure. So we decided we had to take it out and that was just about ten days. The problem is that C.F.E., during that time, had one of its main units out and then later on they had another one of their units its Merida that they had taken out. So C.F.E. had given us notice that they cannot guarantee the supply to Belize. We worked out an arrangement with them where they would supply power, kind of, what we call interruptible power that they could just give us short moments notice and take off the power. We have enough in country sources to keep the power on even without C.F.E., but ones the gas turbine had to be taken out, then we need that if C.F.E. had called us, we would have to have rotating outages as it turns out C.F.E. was able to keep on the power during those ten days and now we have the gas turbine back. So right now, we are still ‘ify’ with C.F.E. C.F.E. is still in a situation where they call every so often and say they can’t supply power because they are still trying to get their machines back up and running. They have said that they should be out of the situation sometime in September. But because we have hydro running at full tilt right now, the gas turbine is back on line. So, between those and the Belize Aquaculture—the power that we are buying from them—even when C.F.E. says its can’t supply us, we can supply whole country with those sources.” http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=25128
Live and let live
#349521 - 08/27/09 11:02 AM
Re: New BTL team & BEL concerned over Nationalization
[Re: SP Daily]
Joined: Nov 2002
What does BELs announcement have to do with the BTL deal?
B.E.L. concerned over nationalization of utility company
Live and let live
#349589 - 08/28/09 04:37 AM
Today's Nationalization news in Belize
[Re: SP Daily]
Joined: Nov 2002
No shortage of Nationalization news today: While Barrow is not afraid of Ashcroft (that seems obvious), he defends the appointment of his son Anwar to BTL Board, says there is no need to acquire any other utility company (at this moment that is) and has no interest in Channel 5, BEL is still concerned about Nationalization, the PUP releases a statement against the Nationalization of BTL and Channel 5 claims that Channel 7 owner/Telemedia Chairman Nestor Vasquez stops ads on Channel 5. As a bonus an interesting point of view in the Guest Editorial of the San Pedro Sun.
Jules Vasquez made an interesting remark in one of his interviews with Hon. Dean Barrow: The Prime Minister Nationalized BTL, his son is now his a member of the board, the son's mother is the secretary of the board, and if it should end up in court the PM's brother is on the Court of Appeals: A true FAMILY-OPOLY.
Barrow Not Afraid of Ashcroft
What will Michael Ashcroft do next? That’s what everyone has been asking. The British Billionaire has been huffing and puffing – but in real terms he hasn’t done much beyond threatening to bring more and bigger lawsuits. Today we caught the Prime Minister leaving a morning show and asked him, does the threat of sustained litigation cause him great worry?
“The central threat has been that there will in fact be more litigation and that they will invoke the Belize-UK investment treaty and that all these various battlements await the government of Belize.”
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister“Well I want to show how much this is not personal for us. Despite all the threats we will do nothing for example to affect Belize Bank, nothing to affect any of his other enterprises in this country. This is principally and to the extent of certainly legislative action only about Telemedia. But if we look at some of the details of the threats he is issuing, how will he invoke the Belize-UK Protection of Investment Treaty when he keeps assuring us that all these trusts are Belizean charities. That can only be invoked if the shareholders whose property has been appropriated are in fact nationals of the United Kingdom. Was he not telling us the truth when he said that these are all registered entities in Belize, set up for the purposes of doing well by the people of Belize? I don’t think that he can go anywhere in terms of any constitutional challenge. I believe that ultimately he will be limited to the battle over compensation which is an inevitable and necessary part of the whole process.”
“So you are not alarmed then by the threat of more litigation?”
Hon. Dean Barrow,“Not at all.”
“But it disserves your central purpose in it which was to dispose of litigation. Iif the litigator, the man who negotiates by litigation is saying that he will bring more litigation and we know he can bring any amount.”
Hon. Dean Barrow,“No man, the central purpose was to dispose of Telemedia litigation on the basis of the Accommodation Agreement. That certainly is at an end, even he has had to concede that this action and the repudiation by the government of the accommodation agreement puts that to rest. Telemedia can’t any longer sue the government. In so far as Michael Ashcroft and his other entities are concerned, again I don’t want to have him provoke me into saying that if it is war he wants, then bring it on. I am saying that we are prepared to live and let live and of course we will take care of business. We will defend ourselves and I hope and expect that the threats aren’t going to prove in the result as dire as he is making them sound now.”Of course, in the past, Ashcroft didn’t just threaten legal action; he did it – fighting government for BTL’s rights under the accommodation agreement in every court from Belize to Britain. He retained the very best Belizean Senior Counsel and British Queen’s Counsel to do so, and at the end of the day, rate-payers are the ones who footed the bills. According to BTL’s accounts, in 2007 those legal bills were 7.5 million dollars.
In a related note, one of those former attorneys – soon to be PUP Senator Eamon Courtenay – told Channel 5 on Tuesday that Channel 7 owner and BTL Chairman Net Vasquez has “started up” a company that intends to offer telephone services – implying that there was some conflict of interest. There is none because that is untrue. To set the record straight: Net Vasquez owns no such shares; 7News Director Jules Vasquez does own a single share in a Company that is an Internet Service Provider. That company has no telephone license. That it wishes to offer VOIP and other telecommunication services in its own right is well known and duly acknowledged. http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=14878
Barrow Defends Appointment of Son Anwar to BTL Board
That aside, another appointment to the board that has drawn criticism is Anuar Barrow. He’s the Prime Minister’s 27 year old son and an independent businessman who owns and operates the Quick Stop Personal Finance Center. His mother, Lois Young is Secretary to the BTL Board – a post she formerly held from 1988 to 2004. We asked the Prime Minister, why his own son?
“It seems like overweening nepotism.”Hon. Dean Barrow,“No man. As I explained my son is as you put me in an uncomfortable situation, obliging me to say this, is very personable, very bright, very knowledgeable in terms of the cutting edge issues with respect to the modern day corporate culture. In that context, for me to be able to have him there to play the extremely constructive role that I know he will play but also as my personal eyes and ears is I think to be understood. I have a lot politically riding on this. The nation has a lot riding on it as an issue of overarching importance. While completely the board of directors is wonderful, I don’t see that anybody can grudge me wanting to have that extra edge which in my view and on the basis of my thinking Anwar’s presence represents.
But please, I absolutely am positive that having him there is a good move. Having him there means that the personal connection with the staff, which is very important, the messages of reassurance that I want conveyed to the staff and repeat it over the days ahead, that that will get through to them loud and clear because the messenger is my son.”Jules Vasquez,
“You can see though how it can be interpreted from outside. His mother is the secretary of the board, he is a member of the board, and if it should end up in court your brother is on the Court of Appeals. View it from outside, imagine you don’t know these people, you don’t know that Miss Lois is a pre-eminent attorney, that Anwar is a young bright businessman, that Denys is a widely respect jurist, imagine from the outside you’re looking at this and saying, are we running a famili-opoly.”Hon. Dean Barrow,
“Those who are looking at from the outside will no doubt be enlightened because of this interview and because of the material that will be readily available if they just dig a little deeper. It is a little bit of a misfortune that this should become anything of an issue but I am happy to confront it squarely and to say that I am absolutely comfortable with the decision I made, that even after the reflection triggered by the concerns that people have expressed, I know that it was a good move and that it will pay dividends in terms of the particular role that Anwar will exercise.”Anuar Barrow was sworn in as a temporary senator for a single session on Tuesday in the absence of Pulcheria Teul. http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=14879
...And Has No Interest in Channel 5
Another pressing BTL issue is the role that Channel 5 plays. BTL paid over $3 million for the company last year and then paid another $4 million for Channel 5’s headquarters-to-be on Coney Drive at the old NDFB building. That’s a total in the range of $7 million – and after Channel 5 was hastily disjoined from BTL on Monday – the question is, what is BTL left holding after spending those millions of dollars, or was that corporate charity? The Prime Minister today said he has no interest in the ownership of Channel 5 – but he is very intent BTL’s owners getting value for those millions that the phone company spent.
Hon. Dean Barrow,
“The thing is that I have no interest in Channel 5 and if we make a fight of this and don’t explain clearly the reasons for such a fight, it might be misinterpreted and there are some who will be all too quick that we want to get after a media house and that is not my contemplation, not part of my strategy at all. But to the extent that the company Telemedia, now owned by the government and people of Belize, has to ensure that it has not been bled illegally of any asset, I imagine that the good Chairman and the good Board of the Directors will take legal advice and seek to follow the money.”Jules Vasquez,
“Because all indications are that BTL money paid for the NDFB building;”Hon. Dean Barrow,
“Absolutely. We know that it was Telemedia’s money because in fact the Social Security people tell us and I believe that it was as a result of some little oddity, some little quirk that Social Security refused to have the transfer done in the name of Telemedia and that has turned out to be most unfortunate but the very fact that there was kind of argument proves beyond a doubt that it was Telemedia’s money and clearly the new Board will have to in fact insist on this transaction being brought to book.”
In other BTL-related media developments we note that BTL senior managers have already held meetings with KREMANDALA representatives to normalize relations with that media house. BTL launched a boycott KREM and Channel 7 in mid 2007 when the vesting bill was passed.
Through the unsolicited mediation of a third party that relationship with Channel 7 was marginally restored in the latter part of 2008. However, Channel 7 was still treated as a hostile party when its signal was barred from CBC’s national cable network earlier this year. And recently this company had to endure another BTL-affront as the company BTL placed a false, unapproved and illegal banner on Channel 7’s cable signal into Orange Walk and Corozal saying “this channel is brought to you by BTL.” That has now been removed. And so has the ban on KREMANDALA. BTL ads will air on KREM and appear in Amandala starting tomorrow.
And in another related media development, government reports that Channel 5 has refused to air a pro-government commercial. Government today circulated a letter from Press Secretary Delroy Cuthkelvin to the Chairman of the Broadcasting Authority Tony Leslie informing him that channel 5 has refused to air an ad titled “Act No 9 of 2009.” The ad which aired earlier on in this newscast outlines government’s rationale for its acquisition of BTL.
But according to Cuthkelvin, it was not aired and he was informed that it will not be aired. No reason was given, he says. The broadcasting Authority has reportedly sent a letter to Channel 5 reminding them of Clause 23 of the terms of their license which states that “the licensee shall not discriminate unfairly against any particular advertiser.” We’ll see how that one plays out.
PUP Calls BTL Takeover "Expropriation"
Last night we asked why the PUP had not issued an official position on the takeover of BTL – which is just about the biggest official thing to happen since Independence. Well this evening – 80 hours after the legislation was passed we heard from the opposition. The statement calls the acquisition an expropriation and states that, “In Belize the right of citizens to own or to hold private property is a hallmark of our democracy....” and “(the move) has already started to raise the level of uncertainty and will affect the investment climate and further erode investor confidence.”
And it adds that, “the immediate actions of the government to appoint an interim board of Directors which includes his son, his ex-wife and others closely related to his inner circle is a clear indication that the motives of the Prime Minister is purely political.”
And for good measure, the release alleges – without offering any details that, quote, “Since the appointment of this new board, several members of the Belize Telemedia staff have been fired.” Chairman Nestor Vasquez this evening flatly refuted that telling us that quote, “not a single person has been fired.” http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=14881
Channel 7 owner/Telemedia Chair stops ads on Channel 5
We told you on Monday night that we are home safe, that the legal detachment of Great Belize Productions/Channel Five had taken place before the G.O.B.’s nationalization of Belize Telemedia, the former parent company of this station. True to this, shareholders today began receiving by post, dividends of the entire issued share capital of Katalyst, the owner of the company. The decision was taken in anticipation of the current hostile environment and to provide viewers with the professionalism and objectivity that characterize our programming. Certainly, given the state of play, there would be an obvious conflict with Nestor Vasquez as the new chairman of Telemedia, who is also the owner of Channel Seven. But speculation continues from detractors and there is a generous dose of mischief and pettiness afoot. You would think that there was enough to do in the transition of the three hundred million US dollar private company to government hands than to embark on a witch-hunt on the business of this company as it related to its former parent company, including the former N.D.F.B. Building on Coney Drive. That property was acquired since September fourth of last year by G.B.T.V./Channel Five as the future headquarters of this station so that any move to that building is purely a matter of course. Among the first acts by the new management of Telemedia, was notice to this station that it would advertise only on a “needs basis” and was discontinuing sponsorship of Open Your Eyes, and other commercial arrangements for production of advertisements. But be that as it may. Also on Tuesday, in respect of the immensely popular new morning show, Open Your Eyes, we were disconnected from our Church Street studios, and had to revert to our newsroom studios on Regent Street. And as odd as it seems, we have been experiencing some rather strange technical difficulties. Today, the press office wrote to this station complaining about a government ad which was not aired on Wednesday. The truth of the matter is that with so much coming our way in the last two days, we have been simply burning the midnight oil to keep apace without disruption in our programming. With your support, Channel Five will continue to innovate and provide the best nationwide and unbiased coverage and service. http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=25138
Nationalization not good for B.E.L., says C.E.O.
And in respect of the take over to Telemedia, G.O.B.’s apparent knee jerk reaction to concerns on how a commercial dispute precipitated its acquisition of the telephone company came in the form of a release on Wednesday. It stated that the nationalization related to telecommunications and not to power and water. But that is not providing any comfort for the electric company. B.E.L. expressed on Wednesday and again this morning on Open Your Eyes, it’s general unease. C.E.O. of the utility company, Lynn Young, says that he made it clear that although some people may think otherwise, he believes private ownership is the best option for the utility. According to Young, the drastic changes that come with being nationalized have never been good for B.E.L.
Lynn Young, C.E.O., B.E.L.“When it comes to the question of B.E.L., yes there’s some people who feel that it should not be privately owned or they would think it would not be better off privately owned. I have worked at B.E.L. under two different—well we’ve only had two different political parties in government—I’ve worked under both and I have worked under the private environment and I far prefer the private environment. I think the company has made much more progress under the private environment, it’s been more stable too because when it’s owned by a government, you find that things change kind of drastically every time there is an election and change of government. You find that there's a change at the top management of the company, there are changes in the policies. Not to forget also, that you end up with people being pushed in the company that are not competent to do the job that they should be doing. And in some case you have cronyism taking place and being forced to buy certain things from certain companies. And those kind of things happened when the company was owned by the government and we had have to have gotten rid of those kinds of things. I’m not saying that every minister of energy did that, but it’s a crap chute. You didn’t know when you’re gonna get a good minister of energy and when you’re gonna get a crazy one.” http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=25139
Opposition lashes out against nationalization of Telemedia
While they did not vote in unison, the opposition People’s United Party has reacted to Monday’s takeover of Belize Telemedia by the government. A release this evening says that “the right of citizens to own or to hold private property is a hallmark of our democracy.” According to the P.U.P., the prime minister spoke of strategic investors but did not offer any indication of who these interests are and their relationship to the U.D.P. Says the P.U.P. “The acquisition of public property from one entity to sell to another cannot be seen in the public interest. The recent action by the Prime Minister and his government is contrary to the public interest, since it has already started to raise the level of uncertainty and will affect the investment climate and further erode investor confidence.”
The P.U.P. also questions how the government will pay the cost of such expropriation and in what timeframe. The P.U.P. says it is a high handed and undemocratic manner in which the amendment was passed and that it did not have time for a clear examination of the bill prior to its introduction and calls on the government to cease acting in this manner, which is contrary to our democratic practice. http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=25140
PRIME MINISTER BARROW SAYS THERE IS NO NEED TO ACQUIRE ANY OTHER UTILITY COMPANY
August 27, 2009
Government’s takeover of Belize Telemedia Limited has been the main news item over the past few days. Prime Minister Dean Barrow was the guest on Love FM’s morning show today and he said Government did what needed to be done. Prime Minister Barrow said the Government has no intention of holding on to the shares or control of Telemedia.Prime Minister Dean Barrow“The Board that’s been appointed is an interim board to find out exactly what the state of affairs inside the company is, to ensure the continued smooth running of the company on this interim basis until a prospectus can be issued, until the value of the company can be professionally assessed and shares can be offered for sale at a price that is consistent with that value. I don’t believe the process of doing the valuation and preparing the prospectus ought t take too long, at the outside most I would say six months. Thereafter of course, shares will be offered for sale to the Belizean public. Anyone who can afford to put even a dollar into Telemedia, any Belizean citizen will be encouraged to do since it is an investment that can’t miss especially since we are going to go back to a version of the old articles of association that allowed Telemedia to be such a successful Belizean company after the privatization in about 1987. Only to the extent that the Belizean public does not take up all the share offering in Telemedia will we be seeking an international partner, or perhaps international partners. In those circumstances we could of course benefit from the kind of technology transfer and capital transfer that a partnership with a minority foreign interest would yield. If of course at the end of all our efforts there is still an amount of shares that remains not taken up either by the Belizean private sector or the foreign private sector then Government would have to hold on to the shares.”
Prime Minister Barrow said arriving at compensation for the former owners of the company might take a while.Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“The previous owners of Telemedia will make their claim; the Financial Secretary will advertise for anybody who’s been dispossessed as a result of the law and the order of acquisition to file a claim. We know that there will be no agreement between the Government and the Ashcroft interests about the appropriate level of compensation. He has already said he values his company on the basis of the accommodation agreement which is 300 million US dollars. We have provided in the law that if there is no agreement on compensation, the Supreme Court will determine that. That is the only way to do it in terms of fair play, in terms of an unbiased assessment of the true worth of the company and of the compensation award that he ought to get.”
The Prime Minister said given the conflict between the previous owners of Telemedia and the Government were well documented, he is satisfied that the Government can successfully make its case to investors at home and abroad. The Prime Minister also mentioned that talks of the Government acquiring other utilities are not accurate nor are they feasible.Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“We don’t believe in stateism, we don’t believe in Government’s control of the private sector but we reserve the right to intervene in extreme, extraordinary circumstances. I don’t know how better to frame it, I underline the words extreme and extraordinary. The situation with BEL in that context is not extreme and it is not extraordinary. We might not like as citizens some of the actions of BEL but those actions are there to be regulated by the PUC and as long as the balance can be held fairly even, because of the presence of the regulator, we will have to be satisfied with that. I make absolutely no apologies for saying that. That is the way the system works, and that is the way the system ought to work. If we want it otherwise then we must do something to become rich where we can say we in fact will be able to afford some form of socialism when it comes to public utilities, as of now that cannot be on the table for discussion. We’re having such tremendous difficulty even to pay our debts in terms of this confounded super bond that is an even bigger nightmare than Telemedia was so that we are not in any position to contemplate going down that road.”
Prime Minister Barrow also addressed the issue of the country’s current economic standing.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow“We had to make this huge payment on the super bond last week Wednesday so it will take us a while to get back on the good foot in terms of cash flow. That’s only a temporary problem; the larger problem is that next year it gets worse. We’ve had to pay something like 45 million dollars this year; you need to add an additional 20 million dollars to that next year because there is a step up in the interest payments and then two or three years thereafter it goes maybe from four percent to six percent next year and that’s responsible for the 20 million dollars more and then in two years time it goes up to maybe eight and a half percent, there is no end. Ultimately although that’s way in 2029 there is this bullet payment but I quite honestly have to accept that the assessment of the EIU is bang on, in those circumstances your room to maneuver is quite limited.” http://www.lovefm.com/ndisplay.php?nid=10677
Guest Editorial – Nationalizing a company
The Government’s bold move to take control of Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) this week is a move that has gone down in the history books of Belize. Nationalizing a well established and profitable company is not often seen in this Caribbean jewel. In fact, Belize has always welcomed investors by introducing several incentives to promote healthy investing in the country. While nationalizing (Belizean-izing) a company can bring economic benefits to a country facing economic problems, this action can send mixed signals to investors abroad.
Established in 1988 as Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL), the Article of Association stipulated that no one person or group could own more than 25% of the company. In addition, it was drafted in such a way that Belizeans would be the major shareholders in the original BTL. However, over the years, successive governments were able to amend the Belize Telecommunications Act to an extent that eventually pushed Belizeans’ control of the telephone company out the window. Both, the People’s United Party (PUP) and the United Democratic Party (UDP) administrations caused Belizeans to slowly lose control of Belize’s telephone company. It got to the point that both governments allowed for 94% of BTL’s shares to be controlled by various Lord Michael Ashcroft related companies.
During every election campaign, political leaders speak to the business sector, meet one-on-one with voters, pontificate at rallies and talk to students in an attempt to get their support. You will hear every political leader say, “We will protect the national interest of our people.” Fine and very good!
Governments are elected to govern and get the job of nation-building done. Whichever and whatever method government chooses should be in accordance with the law of the land, international standards and by consensus of the people. From what I have perceived, because of certain actions done under the previous administration to secure BTL’s interest, the general population was not happy with Lord Michael Ashcroft. But, it boils done to one thing in business; investors are in the business of making money. The way politics works in Belize is sad, but it is a reality; both political parties get monies from these multi-millionaires to finance their electoral campaigns. Once a political party is elected, there is a general sense of commitment to these financiers. An investor will do what needs to be done to make money, straight as that. Understandably, the government is frustrated over a London Court ruling where the Government of Belize (GOB) will need to reward BTL some $38.5 million as part of a secret agreement signed by the previous administration. In addition, government would have faced another court case against this same BTL for a reward of more than $38.5 million based on other litigations between GOB and BTL. But these decision were not subjected by BTL, these decisions were made by the court in a ruling. The Prime Minister told the nation that GOB will not honor these rulings and in fact, “will put up no longer” with BTL. Because the government is cash strapped and cannot and will not pay BTL the monies ordered by the London courts, it has proceeded to “take control” of BTL in “the best interest of the Belizean people.” It is a bold move by the current administration; a move that will have its repercussions.
However, owning BTL brings to light other issues that allows them for complete control. Remember the issue vested between 1993-1998 and the whole issue of phone tapping? With GOB owning BTL, they will have absolute power to tap into private phone conversations. Whether this is to happen or not, how will we know or keep track of the event. Is the government hiding behind the so called “best interest of the Belizean people,” and taking advantage of a people that have been abused by successive governments to carry out hidden political purposes? Sure we the poor Belizean people admire the bold move of the government to Belizean-ize BTL, but the repercussions are far too much for an unstable economy. If Belizean-izing BTL fails as Plan A, does the PM and his cabinet have a Plan B? And if they do, will they let us the Belizean people know what that Plan B is, before boldly making other changes?
As much as I am not happy with the way BTL is owned, I will say that the PM’s decision to nationalize/Belizean-ize BTL was not the best way to deal with the problem. To take a company by force, thereby leaving the investor no choice but to file for compensation through the Belizean Courts may send bad signals to investors home and abroad. It means that if government cannot meet a debt obligation to your company, it may move to take control of your business rather than compensate you; simple and straight as that. These actions display a socialist behavior that is not healthy for any country with a struggling economy seeking to attract foreign investors. The government should have made an offer to BTL, asked Belize to purchase the shares and move on from there. GOB took control of BTL instead, and as temporary owners, will squash the court issues then proceed to sell hopefully to Belizeans. That action is not safe for investors who seek an environment that they can be a fair player in the country’s economy while protecting their business ventures. http://www.sanpedrosun.net/09-325.html
Live and let live
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Jun 10th, 2007