|PM Barrow (left) takes on BTL, which belongs to Lord Ashcroft (right). |
Belizeans have never seen a public utility company taken over by The Government of Belize (GOB) until this week. In an unprecedented and bold move, GOB took over Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) on Tuesday evening. This historic move follows the passage of a bill through all three stages that bestowed GOB with the legal rights to take over 94% ownership of BTL, all being shares that were previously owned by Lord Michael Ashcroft’s related companies.
In a House of Representative meeting on Monday morning, Prime Minister Dean Barrow introduced the bill to amend the Belize Telecommunications Act that provided for the acquisition of control over telecommunications by the Government in the public interest. According to Prime Minister Barrow, “the UDP cabinet voted, in the name of the Belizean people, to resist honoring the Accommodation Agreement.” Honorable Barrow said that the straw that broke the camel’s back was a judgment of $38.5 million by a London Court which mandated requirement that the government now begin to honor the Accommodation agreement. In response to the mandate Prime Minister Barrow stated, “I have said that as God is my witness I will never pay that award.”
Honorable Barrow went on to outline that in April of 2009 Telemedia informed GOB of further claims which they will make to the London Court of International Arbitration. The size of a new award according to the Prime Minister, “could pale the current award of $38 million into insignificance”.
Because of these legal battles between GOB and Telemedia, Prime Minister Barrow said that, “in the name of the people we will put up with it no longer.” In wrapping up his presentation in the House meeting Honorable Barrow stated that, “this is our House, this is our country. Here we are masters, here we are sovereign. And, with the full weight of that sovereignty we must now put an end to this disrespect. In the exercise of that national power that is ours by Constitution and inalienable right, this government will now acquire Telemedia.”
The bill was taken through all its stages during Monday’s House meeting. In making his contribution Leader of Opposition’s People’s United Party Honorable Johnny Briceño, expressed various concerns. “I don’t think that we’re sufficient enough as a player in the world economy that we can just one day decide that we can go into nationalizing a company,” stated Briceño. He added that, “as we know already our economy has slowed down considerably, there is little confidence in the private sector as we speak and when we take these issues again I certainly believe it is going to have a negative impact on the investment climate in Belize.”
After a vote by division (constituency), 22 voted for, three voted against, two abstained and four House of Representative members were absent. As announced by the Honorable Barrow on Monday, the bill was sent to the Senate on Tuesday and was approved. The Governor General, Sir Colville Young, penned his signature to put the bill into law. By day end on Tuesday evening, the new GOB appointed board members walked into the BTL’s Belize City Headquarters and took full control of the new state-owned telephone company.
The government appointed Board of Directors is headed by Chairman Nestor “Net” Vasquez, Former Prime Minister turned Senior Advisor to the Prime Minster the Right Honorable Manuel Esquivel, Anwar Barrow, the son of the Prime Minister, and Lois Young Barrow is the board secretary. Other board members are Carla Barnett, Alan Slusher, Audrey Wallace, Ambrose Tillett and Colonel George Lovell.
Prime Minister Barrow stated that services will remain uninterrupted and all BTL employees will keep their jobs.