Carlisle sell shares in BTL

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 13, No. 47            December 18, 2003

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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 appealed them.

    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.



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