The Government of Belize acquired a 94% supermajority stake in the Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) just over a year ago, and Prime Minister Dean Barrow told Amandala today that he plans to make an announcement on Independence Day, September 21, on the proposed divestment of the country's most established telecommunications company.

According to Barrow, he wants Belizeans to retain at least a 51% ownership of BTL, even if the Government has to retain a block of shares to ensure that this is the case. "There cannot be majority foreign ownership of BTL," he told us.

The Prime Minister said that two foreign companies with investments in Central America and the Caribbean, and at least one with investments in Mexico, have expressed interest in purchasing shares as well. He declined, however, to name the companies.

Recently, the workers of BTL, through the Belize Communications Workers Union (BCWU), have been talking again about acquiring BTL shares. Barrow told us that government and the company should find a way to facilitate the BTL workers, and there is the possibility of working out an arrangement through a deferred dividend arrangement, whereby a portion of dividends would be used to help finance the purchase of the shares.

He added that the employees cannot be given shares for free, as some have suggested, since government will have to pay compensation to the Ashcroft group of companies, from which Government acquired the shares via a legislated nationalization process last August.

The prospectus for the sale of BTL shares won't be released before Independence Day, said Prime Minister Barrow.