FRANKLYN Wilson, reputed to be a clever businessman, persists in his mission to reverse ownership roles at Bahamas Telecommunications Company. Despite an ironclad contract, signed by the previous government, with Cable and Wireless Communications as majority shareholder of BTC, Prime Minister Christie has appointed Mr Wilson to head a committee to convince CWC to reverse ownership roles with his government.
It is a most unusual — and indeed an unhealthy situation for a country that depends on foreign investment not to honour an agreement entered into with a foreign investor by a previous government. There are those close to the take-over mission who claim that Mr Christie’s heart is not fully committed to the exercise, but politics being politics he probably has to be seen to be going through the motions.
It is also understood that CWC has no intention of giving up its majority stake in BTC. If it becomes too unpleasant, we have been told, rather than step down to a minority position, CWC would sell its shares, pack its corporate bags and leave. Already strapped for cash, the Bahamas government would be in no position to make the purchase. And yet, Mr Wilson and his negotiating team persist.
In an interview, Mr Wilson told a reporter that “the national interest is involved”. It most certainly is involved and continuing this exercise is not helping that public interest.
If Mr Wilson is as clever as others say he is, then he should know that what he and his committee are about makes no sense — as a matter of fact, in the business world it is tantamount to committing economic suicide.
Has he forgotten Moody’s repeated warnings when, in December, it downgraded the Bahamas’ credit rating from A3 to Baa1, and said that the Christie administration’s attempt to regain majority control of BTC “raises fundamental concerns about policy predictability and could damage the country’s investment climate” ?
This observation seems so obvious, but yet Mr Wilson — presumably with the backing of PM Christie – persists.
According to Moody’s, this nation’s economy is not growing fast enough to significantly dent a near 15 per cent unemployment rate and its growing fiscal problems. So, we again ask: If CWC decides to bolt, where is the Christie government going to find the cash to buy back all of CWC’s shares? Seems that Mr Wilson and his crew are sailing into uncharted waters, headed for certain shipwreck.
According to Mr Wilson, Prime Minister Christie has instructed him to “respect the law” and “operate respectfully”. So far, it would seem that he and his committee are respectfully tiptoeing around, observing the law and accomplishing nothing — except announcing loudly to the outside world that contracts are not sacred in this country. In other words, it might be better in the Bahamas, but it “ain’t the place to do serious business”.
Has Mr Wilson suddenly realised that it cannot unhinge CWC and therefore, has decided to undertake a smear campaign?
The deliverance of BTC back into Bahamian hands was a pledge of the Christie government’s election campaign. In fact, Philip “Brave” Davis, now deputy prime minister, while electioneering last year, promised that within its first 100 days in office, it would appoint a committee to investigate the sale of BTC. The first 100 days came and went and all remained quiet on the Davis front.
Mr Christie met with CWC’s top brass who flew out from London, but got nowhere. Now comes Mr Wilson and his committee.
Apparently, to raise a smoke screen to cover the possibility that negotiations have either broken down, or are moving slowly to nowhere, the decision has been made to get government to appoint a select committee of the House to uncover “shocking revelations” that, according to Mr Wilson, are “so serious” that the public has a right to know.
Are these revelations serious enough to make a contract null and void? Are they serious enough to claw BTC back into government hands or do we have another Bluewater scandal in the making? While they are about it why don’t they try to bring some clarity to the Bluewater deal and confirm or deny the names of a small group of Bahamians that the sip-sip on the street claims were in the background doing the deal? It’s time that all of these ghosts are exposed and then laid to rest.
If there is a shocking scandal that Bahamians should know about, bring it on quickly. Don’t use it as a four-year political smear campaign that is certain — as Moody’s has predicted — to damage the country’s investment climate.
If Mr Wilson and his committee are serious in protecting the national interest, then we suggest that they let CWC get on with building a first class telecommunications company without all this unnecessary interference. After all, Bahamians – and not just a select few — will be the ones to benefit from the success of this company.