GOB reclaims utilities

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 15, No. 33            August 18, 2005

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On Tuesday, August 16th, 2005, United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida Judge Ursula Ungaru Benages issued a comprehensive judgment in the case against the Government of Belize (GOB) and Jeffrey Prosser’s Innovative Communications Corporation (ICC). In the 55 page judgment, Judge Ungaru-Benages ruled in favor of the government and awarded ICC only “nominal charges.” These nominal charges were attributed to the point that GOB failed to credit several million dollars in loan payments towards ICC’s share purchase.

   According to the ruling, Judge Ungaro-Benages reversed her March 11th preliminary ruling when she ruled that government had illegally removed two ICC directors from the Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL) board. According to Judge Ungaro-Benages, ICC failed to prove that GOB had gone against the terms of the share pledge agreement when it repossessed ICC’s B.T.L. shares and took control of the BTL board. It all stemmed when Prosser failed to make the payment of a fifty-two million U.S. dollar promissory note to buy the shares. Judge Ungaro-Benages admitted that GOB acted within its rights, and vacated the preliminary injunction she had granted in March thus freeing GOB from any court imposed restrictions on how it may dispose of its shares.

   It is not clear if the meter is still running, has come to a halt, or has been discharged regarding the contempt charges of US$50,000 a day that was imposed against the GOB back in March. It now appears that for the first time, the GOB is now free to do as it pleases with BTL, without having to face the anger of the Miami Federal Court. GOB’s attorneys are expected to ask the court for an interpretation of the contempt charges while ICC attorneys will appeal the ruling.

Government buys Belize Water Services!

The Government of Belize (GOB) announced last week that they signed a re-purchase agreement with Cascal to buy the Belize Water Services (BWS).

   A press release issued by the Government’s Press Office on August 12th stated, that the government “under the Share Purchase Agreement signed between Government and Cascal, will re-purchase Cascal’s shareholding for the original price of US$24.8 million at the rate of BZ$1.50 per share.” The completion of the Share Purchase Agreement will take place on or before Monday, October 3rd, 2005 when the Government will pay Cascal the down payment of US$14.9 million and Cascal will formally transfer its shares to the government and relinquish the management and control of the company. The balance of US$9.9 million will be paid to Cascal by installments over the next four years, with an interest of 10 percent per annum. The press release further stated that at the completion date, the agreement will also bring to an end the current dispute between the parties. That dispute stems from the legal recourse that BWS had sought to get their 12% guaranteed return on investment that government legislated for them which according to them have not been received.

   According to the press release, the re-purchase of the shares is in the best interests of the Belizean public. There will be a prospectus on how much of the shares will be available to the general public for purchase.

   The Government assured the public that the proposed take-over by the Government will not result in any dislocation of water supplies. Employees were also assured that the assumption of control by the Government will not affect the continuity of the terms and conditions of their employment and that the business will continue as usual.

   Cascal, a British/Dutch company, formerly known as BiWater Capital and incorporated in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, held ownership and served the country for four years. During those four years, Cascal lived up to its binding commitment and improved the management of Belize Water Services, enhanced technology and investment to improve and expand the water and sewerage services in the urban areas of the country.

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