Nearly two weeks ago, the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Dean
Barrow surprised those attending a House of Representatives meeting
with an announcement of "secret talks" being held between government
and Carlisle Holdings Limited for the buyout of Carlisle's shares in
Belize Telecommunications Limited.
Last week, the Government of Belize issued an official press
release attempting to explain this action, taken "to facilitate the
sale of their interest in BTL in keeping with the group's business
plans and to further encourage competition in this sector."
It was further announced that Carlisle agreed to sell its 52.46%
interest in BTL for US$52 million plus an additional US$5 million
premium for its majority position. The actual sale will be completed
within 60 days of the payment of the last US$5 million, after a due
diligence period. This purchase was reportedly financed through another
government loan from the International Bank of Miami.
In turn, these shares are to be sold within 60 days to Innovative
Communication Corporation, LCC (ICC), a privately-owned telephone
company located in the US Virgin Islands. The sale will reportedly
include the purchase of shares from Belize Social Security to "sweeten
the deal," giving ICC owner Jeffrey Prosser ownership of over 80% of
Belize Telecommunication Limited and complete control of the company.
Because of this majority share, Prosser will not be made to publish the
company's financial records for public view. Also, since he controls
80% of the shares, the new owner will be allowed to rewrite the
company's Articles of Association at will.
The GOB press release claimed that because both Carlisle and
Innovative Communication Corporation, LLC have disclosure obligations,
public announcement of this arrangement could not be disclosed earlier.
It also added, "This complex process was necessary in order to ensure a
competitive telecommunication industry. Once fully completed, BTL and
Intelco will be competitors with full connectivity, and Belizeans will
benefit all around."
This was heavily disputed by the opposition leader who was quoted
as saying, "We've been soldÖrates can never go down." It is also
believed the new BTL owner was guaranteed protection against any losses
from the still pending court case lodged by the Public Utilities
Commission (PUC) against BTL earlier this year. Aside from trying to
get BTL to agree to the terms of connectivity with Intelco, the PUC had
also applied to the Supreme Court for a ruling mandating that BTL "roll
over" to its former telephone rates and, in essence, pay back the
thousands of customers who filed claims for refunds from this
alleged "illegal" price hike. To this date, none of the rulings have
been enforced, as the telecommunications company has repeatedly
GOB's "reasoning" behind this deal was to encourage competition in
the market and get out from under Lord Ashcroft's financial grip
(Carlisle Holdings also owns the Belize Bank). This was disputed by the
fact that they have bought out a majority shareholder with only 52.46%
interest in BTL and will reportedly sell to another who will now own
80% of the telecommunications company, continuing the monopoly. It is
questioned why the new owner would be any more fair about connectivity
or price gouging than the last one, and what incentives, if any, there
would be to improve services.
The full terms of the "agreement" have not been disclosed to the
people of Belize nor are they ever expected to be.