RE: Contribution to the Debate on the transfer of 51% of the share of BTC to Cable & Wireless
24th March, 2010
House of Assembly
Nassau, The Bahamas
Mr. Speaker, we are here to debate the sale of 51% of the shares BTC to Cable and Wireless, and I will commence my remarks on the matter with a brief history lesson, because it seems that the members opposite need some reminding. Prior to 1973, we were all subjects of the colony of the Bahamas. We were not even citizens of Britain, but rather subjects of this colony. Following independence, we became citizens in a free nation called The Commonwealth of the Bahamas. Most of us can remember the pride swelling up within us as the Union Jack was lowered and the aquamarine, gold, and black flag representing our sovereign nation was hoisted for the first time. Mr. Speaker, I dare say that the members of the FNM have either lost or have never felt that sensation of pride, for they are seeking to gradually sell off the majority of our inheritance and not even to the highest bidder.
You see, Mr. Speaker, when Britain granted us our independence, they did not retain control of our education, our health care, nor our utilities. They left, or rather entrusted these to the care of the Bahamian people. How is it that 38 years later, we now find ourselves under the tyranny of a Bahamian government which lacks this same confidence in the Bahamian people?
Mr. Speaker, let me set the record straight, because there are numerous false rumors circulating about what the PLP would or would not have done regarding the sale of BTC if we were in power. The members of the Progressive Liberal Party do believe that BTC should be privatized. The members opposite have attempted to paint the picture that the PLP is opposed to privatization. We support privatization, however, we would never ever sell the majority of shares in BTC to foreigners. Let me repeat this: The PLP believes that BTC should be privatized, but we would never ever sell the majority of shares in BTC to foreigners. There is a fundamental difference in policy between the PLP and the FNM. Whereas the FNM would readily give up the Bahamian people’s birthright, we seek to retain it. Check the records.
Due to the profanic diatribe of the side opposite and their attempts to confuse the matter before us I have had to make a statement to the press this week. In part the statement dated 23rd March 2011 reads:
“We are more than half way through the debate on the sale of 51% of BTC to Cable and Wireless and so far the Government’s response has been scandalous and shameful. Charles Maynard and others have engaged in outright lying, defamation and propaganda of the highest order. Mr. Maynard’s comments were bold-faced lies. To-date they have engaged in guerilla warfare and smokes and mirrors in their efforts to muddy the waters and detract from the real issues at hand.
So far not a single Government Member of Parliament has spoken to the merits of the deal presently before us. They have danced and spinned but ignored the matter before us. They have ALL failed to address:
- The obvious conflicts of interest;
- Why sell 51% instead of 49%;
- The flawed process that parachuted Cable and Wireless through the backdoor after the bidding had closed;
- The URCA scandal;
- The potential insider dealing;
- The poor human resources and service quality record of Cable and Wireless throughout the region;
- The commercial merits or demerits of the deal; and
- Why does the Government so desperately “Need the money” as stated by the Prime Minister Saturday night?
It is so unfortunate that Charles Maynard and the FNM would use the opportunity of such an important debate to engage in gutter politics and false propaganda. Instead of addressing the real questions of the day it is clear that the FNM has chosen to exploit one of its own, who less than five years ago was begging for a PLP nomination, to defame the PLP and its members in their attempts to manipulate public opinion. They will obviously stoop to any low in the name of gaining political mileage. How sad!”
Mr. Speaker, today is the last day of the debate and the key issues have yet to be discussed openly and frankly with the Bahamian people by the governing side.
The Bahamian people have genuine and serious concerns and the Government has a duty to address them.
Mr. Speaker the whole premise promoted by the FNM and its talking heads is built on a shaky foundation of deception, confusion, and inconsideration designed to bail out an anomalous and outrageous business deal that the FNM seeks to make with Cable and Wireless.
First, the deception. Mr. Speaker, it is downright shameful and disgraceful that a government which was voted in on the basis of trust, would seek to delude and deceive the Bahamian people. The Bahamian people have been fed the notion that this sale is a prerequisite to obtaining optimum data and cellular service. In fact, one Minister even said, on Jones’ Show 2 weeks ago, that iphones don’t work in the Bahamas. This is a boldfaced lie that many in the country can refute. Why the need to lie? I wish someone on the side opposite could answer that. It was also stated by a minister on the same show that BTC is too small to purchase 3G and 4G technology. This, again, is a lie. Furthermore, one of the ministers suggested that Cable and Wireless has engineers to install equipment while BTC has to pay NORTEL engineers. There goes another lie. We believe that our Bahamian engineers are capable of installing required equipment. Even if there was a lack in their knowledge and skills, BTC would not have to pay Nortel engineers to do the work. A simple training exercise would rectify that. Yet again, the FNM prefers to work with foreigners. The PLP, on the other hand, believes in the Bahamian people.
The confusion. The confusion and nonsense in this deal are myriad and multiple. Part of it has to do with lack of strategic and long term planning. There are many questions that remain unanswered because the FNM simply lacks the answers. It seems they just want BTC sold and I wonder why? Do any of them or their special interest friends stand to personally benefit? Why can’t we see or understand the future of BTC after it is sold? Why is there an urgency to sell now with no explanation of what’s next? Following the sale of BTC, what is next? When will Bahamians be able to purchase shares, and at what cost? Will Bahamians even be able to purchase shares? And how will the government guarantee this? At the end of the monopoly, how will the duopoly be created? Once the information highway has been sold to a foreign entity, how are Bahamians to get on? What prevents C&W from frustrating them through interconnection agreement? BTC is a major money-maker. Once it is sold, how does the Government plan to pay for and establish eGovernment, eHealth, and eEducation?
In 2008, $4.7 million dollars was spent on privatization. In 2009, $14.2 million was spent. Why the drastic increase in 2009? And how much was spent in 2010? Is this spending explicable and justified? And who was it spent with?
Between the commencement of the BTC privatization process up to 2002 the FNM spent $130 Million of the Bahamian people’s money. Since their return to office they have spent at least another $18.9 Million which does not include the millions spent during 2010 to the present. Having invested easily in excess of $150 Million towards privatization, the Government has now agreed a sell for $210 Million They have agreed to leave $15 Million cash on accounts and that the Bahamian people would foot the pension leave up to $39 Million. BTC is really being sold for $156 Million, basically the same amount that was invested by this Government in the privatization process. The net financial gain to the Bahamian people and the treasury of The Bahamas is a big fat ZERO. Mr. Speaker, this is the true definition of a give away if ever there was one. How can the Government explain netting exactly what it spent and have the nerve to call it a good business deal?
Mr. Speaker, all of the above are questions that need to be answered, but I doubt that they will be. They simply point to the madness that is the proposed sale of BTC to Cable and Wireless. Perhaps the most pending and pertinent question in the minds of Bahamians is how and why was Cable and Wireless selected to purchase BTC? With all of the drama and discrepancies swirling around this company, how and why were they selected?
Mr. Speaker, I have concrete evidence that as far back as January 2010 while still engaged with lawful bidders the Government was entertaining and negotiating with C&W. Why the deceit? Why C& W? What is the missing link?
If the government is determined to sell a majority stake in BTC to a foreign entity, why would they overlook several more reputable companies and go with Cable and Wireless? Mr. Speaker, allow me to present some information about Cable and Wireless.
The side opposite in an attempt to cause further confusion have attempted to mke this debate about which deal is better, BlueWater or C&W? The reality though is that BlueWater is not an option before us today. The only option before us is a bad deal with C&W. Bahamians are concerned about this deal; the one the Government will force upon them.
C & W is bringing in no cash to invest in infrastructure, but will pay out of BTC cash flow. C&W has been beaten out in the region by Digicel, a new-comer with no experience. C&W, two years ago in Jamaica, tried to make Yellow Page subscribers pay for yellow page subscriptions in full, up front. Additionally, Jamaica, which happens to be C & W’s largest market, has lost over $3.4 Billion annually over the last four years. Their largest market, Mr. Speaker, is suffering losses. BTC, on the other hand, is stable, so much so that it is almost debt free, which is practically unheard of in this business. Why jeopardize this and sell to a company that is losing money?
Again, if the government insists on selling to foreigners, why were the more reputable and profitable companies overlooked? Why was ATN denied? They own Guyana Telephone Company, a Wireless company in the USA, an asset in Haiti, an asset in Bermuda and a cellular company in Turks & Caicos. Why was Vodaphone turned down? Vodaphone has 332 million proportionate subscribers as of September 30, 2010. It operates networks in over 30 countries and has partner networks in over 40 countries. It owns 45% of Verizon. It is the world largest mobile telecommunications company measured by revenues and the world’s second largest measured by subscribers behind China Mobile. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the TSE 100 Index. It has a market capitalization of approximately £92Billion as of November 2010, making it the third largest company on the London Stock Exchange. It also has secondary listing on Nasdaq. Again, Mr. Speaker, we do not agree with selling the majority of BTC shares to a foreign entity. But if the shares will be sold as such, can it be explained why the least reputable company was chosen?
Finally, the inconsideration. Whereas the British government was considerate enough to leave the entities in place for Bahamians to manage and profit from, this Government seeks to snatch that away from the Bahamian people. We’re left wondering if they even have the best interest of the Bahamian people at heart. It was admitted by an FNM minister that BTC is overstaffed, yet they insist that there will be no jobs lost with C & W, a private foreign company with no real ties and no real loyalty to this country. Mr. Speaker, they must understand that the Bahamian people are not stupid and do not believe that. The FNM continues to ignore the legitimate protests and cries of the Bahamian people. They keep mentioning that there is a guaranteed period of two years in which all BTC jobs will be retained. What will happen after those two years? Will C & W have a license to fire the Bahamian persons willy-nilly, similar to what the government did to the workers at ZNS? The Prime Minister himself stated that the only way he could have lowered BTC prices was to send a considerable number of staff home. What makes Cable and Wireless any different?
An FNM minister, on Jones’ show hinted that his interest in the BTC sale is simply that he wants more minutes. Mr. Speaker, how selfish can one be? We, on this side, are concerned about the profit margin and commission changes the many phone card vendors will experience with this sale. We are concerned about job retention for the Bahamian people. We are concerned about our telecommunications remaining afloat & capable of paying its staff, considering the major losses reflected in C&W’s recent history. We on this side are concerned about the possibility of this company taking on BTC then pulling out when it’s convenient for them, leaving the Bahamian people holding the bag.
Mr. Speaker, you should understand that the anomalies surrounding this pending sale serve as an indicator, revealing the fundamental difference between the FNM and the Progressive Liberal Party. The members on the side opposite would sign a contract with their eyes closed, never bothering to consider the Bahamian people. We, on this side, believe in the Bahamian people because we believe in the Bahamas. We believe in the sovereignty of this nation and the capability of its citizens to own and operate entities. We believe that the Bahamian citizens have a right and stake to the jobs and wealth that can be obtained. It is for these reasons, Mr. Speaker, that we cannot agree to the sale of BTC to Cable and Wireless.