Supreme Court rules Stop Order against BTL valid

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 12, No. 46            November 28, 2002

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Press Release - Government of Belize - November 25, 2002 - In a judgment delivered today, the Honorable Chief Justice, Dr. Abdulai Conteh, ruled that the price increases which were unilaterally imposed on the Belizean public by Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL) in December, 2001, were made without consultation and that the Stop Order issued by the Honorable Ralph Fonseca, then Minister responsible for Telecommunications, to stop BTL from implementing the price increases, is valid.

    On the 28th day of December, 2001 the Honorable Ralph Fonseca, acting under section 23 of the Telecommunications Act, made Statutory Instrument No. 11 of 2002 directing BTL to stop the implementation of the new tariffs and to revert to the position as it was immediately before December 1st, 2001 and to program prepaid call boxes already installed in the districts to accept pre-paid cards at fifteen cents per call until further notice and not to issue or serve any telephone bills to consumers for the month of December, 2001 or thereafter based on the new tariffs with effect from December 1st, 2001.

    BTL challenged the validity of the Stop Order and argued that it was ultra vires section 23 of the Telecommunications Act and that it was made in breach of the rules of natural justice.

    The court found that when BTL changed from coin operated public call boxes to pre-paid operated public call boxes, it did not consult the Director of Telecommunications as required by Condition 5.5 of BTL's license but that the requirement in the Stop Order directing BTL to program all pre-paid public call boxes to accept pre-paid cards at fifteen cents per call until further notice did not secure compliance with Condition 5.5 of BTL's license and should be removed from the Stop Order.

    The court also found that BTL did not adequately consult the Minister prior to increasing telephone rates with effect from 1st December, 2001 and as such, the price increases were illegal.

    The court held that the Stop Order is accordingly valid.The effect of this judgment is that BTL has to go back to the rates which were in force before December 1st, 2001.

    The government was represented by the Solicitor General, Mr. Elson Kaseke and Ms. Minnet Hafiz, Crown Counsel, and BTL was represented by Learned Senior Counsel Ms. Lois Young-Barrow.

Editor's Note: The San Pedro Sun attempted to contact BTL representatives to see if a rebate would be issued to customers forced to pay the increased rates since December of last year. As of press time, we have received no reply. Reportedly, although the telecommunications monopoly boasted record-breaking profits last year, they will appeal this decision.
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