ALTHOUGH Prime Minister Christie has admitted that his government cannot afford to purchase the two per cent needed to get controlling interest in Bahamas Telecommunications Company, he continues to waste everybody’s time chasing that elusive rainbow.
When facts show that the Government-owned 49 per cent of shares today earn more under the management of majority shareholder Cable & Wireless than it did when government owned 100 per cent of the company, Bahamians have a right to ask why is Mr Christie wasting time trying to claw back majority ownership? Instead, he should concentrate on privatising all government owned corporations — this would include BTC, Bahamasair, Water & Sewerage and the Broadcasting Corporation — so that they can be operated by the rules of good business practices. It is only then that the country can start to pay off its estimated $5 billion debt, and avoid another downgrade by Wall Street’s credit rating agencies.
Bahamians complain about BTC’s dropped cellular calls, but fail to understand that it would be even worse if still in government hands. BTC in its day was the main stumbling block to the forward motion of this country in the international business world.
Yesterday, Mr Christie announced that he was taking a proposition to cabinet after concluding negotiations with Cable & Wireless for the majority stake. We would be very surprised if Cable & Wireless would ever consider giving up its majority position. We can imagine the strain it must now be under trying to stave off government predators, while fighting to prepare for the expected competition when its cellular exclusivity ends in April next year.
It seems Mr Christie is trying to do a deal that will involve the Broadcasting Corporation, another expensive entity. Will the Christie government ever understand the simple truth that governments should never be involved in business? Some of the more obvious reasons are outlined by a letter writer on this page today. However, the main reason is that governments brush aside good business practices because, instead of deciding what’s good for the business, politicians’ eyes are straining on the next election.
Mr Christie has always talked about getting control of BTC for the Bahamian people. All useless rhetoric. If he were really interested in Bahamians having ownership in BTC, he would have followed through on the Ingraham plan to sell 9 per cent of approximately $40 million of BTC shares to Bahamians. And as time went on more of the 49 per cent of shares held by the government would have been sold to Bahamians.
Bahamians, said Mr Ingraham, would then ”indeed own BTC alongside our global communications strategic partner. When we offer shares of BTC to the public very soon we want the Bahamian ownership base to be as broad as possible. We want every Bahamian wanting to own shares in BEC to be able to.” That in fact is real ownership.
However, the Ingraham government’s time ran out, and Perry Christie took over the helm of the Ship of State. He too wanted BTC for the Bahamian people – 51 per cent of it. However, his interpretation of ownership was that it should be in the hands of his government — all 51 per cent of it. No real share certificates for any Bahamian.
And so that they can afford to continue with this shortsighted policy government has proposed a tax — VAT. It seems that Bahamians will have to tighten their belts to raise taxes for this government to can carry on business as usual.
There is another matter that we would like to bring to the attention of the Bahamian people, and ask for an explanation from government on their behalf.
With Government’s constant bleat that tax revenue is needed to keep government in business, why is government continuing to spend as though the country is not facing a crippling debt?
Is it true that earlier this summer Government rented the seven-storey Centreville House that sits atop Collins Avenue on 2nd Terrace? It is understood that there are two other companies in the building, each renting half a floor. Government has taken over the remaining space on all seven floors to accommodate Urban Renewal and the Gaming Board. Asked why they would do anything so dumb at such a financially delicate time, the sarcastic reply was: “Guess they wanted a harbour view so that they could sit and look at Atlantis!”
It is not amusing. The person giving the information was being sarcastic because he was thoroughly disgusted. “How dare they talk VAT when they waste our money so foolishly?“ we were asked.
There was then speculation as to cost. Some believed that under normal circumstances the building would be rented at $50 per square foot, but it was suggested that “they probably got it down to $30 per square foot because they were renting most of it.”
Would government please tell taxpayers whether this report is true — is this the lavish way Bahamians’ taxes are being spent? If so, how can this decision be justified during such a financial crisis?
On Tuesday, when questioned by the press, Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade said it was not the responsibility of police authorities to decide on the security for Deputy Prime Minister “Brave” Davis. Mr Davis was held up in his home a few days ago when he was acting prime minister. At the time, his security had not yet reported for duty. The Commissioner said that the matter of the level of security to be provided was the responsibility of those at a higher level of authority - in other words, government.
Not so, said National Security Minister Bernard Nottage yesterday, as he kicked the blame football back into the Commissioner’s court.
What we would like to know is: Was the Commissioner even told that while the Prime Minister was out of the country, Mr Davis was acting as his deputy?
We think that this is a valid question as members of this government have ignored all proper practice by leaving the country without telling the public who is acting in their absence.
As we have said before, Governor General Sir Arthur Foulkes is the only official who respects the protocol. We suggest that as each minister leaves the Bahamas he minds his manners and tells the Bahamian people — who are in fact his employers — where he is going and who is deputising in his absence.