By SANCHESKA BROWN
Tribune Staff Reporter
ONE of the government’s lead negotiators in the BTC take-back talks yesterday publicly apologised for his earlier claim that the purchase of BTC was a “horrible deal”.
Franklyn Wilson yesterday backtracked from his harsh stance on Cable and Wireless, saying his earlier claim was not intended to incriminate the company.
He spoke after the Prime Minister’s announcement that slightly less than two per cent of BTC had been transferred to a new foundation which would benefit Bahamians.
When all transfers are completed, CWC will hold a marginally larger number of BTC shares than the government, the company said.
Under the agreement, CWC will transfer slightly less than two per cent of its 51 per cent shareholding to the BTC Foundation, ‘benefitting from regular dividends from BTC,’ said CWC.
The government will hold 49 per cent, the foundation two per cent and CWC 49 per cent. The two per cent transferred by CWC will be non-voting shares.
A senior Bahamian policy advisor will be appointed at BTC to help CWC bosses “ensure the company is managed to the good interest of the Bahamian people.”
Mr Wilson’s conciliatory stance was echoed by other former antagonists of the deal including Prime Minister Perry Christie, who thanked the company’s executives for the positive climate of negotiations.
In previous interviews with the Tribune, Mr Wilson, one of the government’s lead negotiators, called the BTC deal “unwise” and said “the public will soon be presented with considerable evidence as to why this was an horrendously bad deal.”
In fact Mr Wilson said during the take-back negotiations his team had come across several “shocking” details of the BTC deal about which the Bahamian people should be informed.
“We have considerable evidence to support the notion that the public knew better than the policy makers of the day. It was an horrendously bad transaction. In time, the public will be presented with considerable evidence as to why this was so... It’s in the national interests of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas for this horrendously bad transaction to somehow be reversed.”
These comments of Mr Wilson, a longtime PLP stalwart, followed a sustained onslaught by PLP leaders, which included Senator Frank Smith accusing BTC of “financially raping the Bahamian people” while under CWC management.
However, yesterday at the press conference to announce the deal between the government and Cable and Wireless, Mr Wilson said his previous statements “were not intended to implicate Cable and Wireless in any way”. He said the new deal is “truly the best combination” for the Bahamas.
He said: “We have developed a great deal of trust in Cable and Wireless and I go on record saying that when this exercise started there was a lot of rumours and talk about the possibility of impropriety on the part of Cable and Wireless or whatever the case may be, but I want the world to know that obviously our committee investigated all those rumours and you heard what you heard but we found no evidence of impropriety with respect to the conduct of Cable and Wireless. And when I, in the media from time to time, spoke about the transaction itself having been a ‘horrendously unwise transaction’ nothing in that was intended to implicate Cable and Wireless as a organisation. I put that on the record.”
Prime Minister Perry Christie said the deal was successfully negotiated at no cost to the government.
He stressed that executive control and management will “continue to rest with CWC”.
“The people of the Bahamas will not pay one single cent, not one. On the contrary, the government has been able to amicably secure the return of majority economic interest in BTC without having to pay anything for it and I should add without having to make any deals to get it done either. In particular there will be no extension of BTC’s monopoly as indicated before by me with the content and approval of Cable and Wireless and no postponement of the liberalisation of the telecommunication sector again as agreed to and indicated by Cable and Wireless,” he said.
“Let us be very clear about this then we will not have paid and will not have to pay for the required shares in any form or fashion. So in financial terms this is a win-win for the government and people of the Bahamas.
“I said that upfront so that all the naysayers out there who were saying that we were wasting our time and that we were going to have to pay huge sums and crippling penalties, I don’t know what they will say now, they have all been proved wrong . Let me say dead wrong.”
The deal will result in the transfer of 5,930,200 shares back to the government to be placed in a foundation that will hold the shares in trust ‘for the Bahamian people.’
“In addition to these shares, the new foundation will also hold all of the dividends and other income and all other economic benefits that will come from ownership of the shares,” said Mr Christie.
“We confidently expect that annual dividends from the required shares will be in the low seven figure range based on historical performance,” he added.
“The income will be separately held and used for the foundation so as to ensure that money will be used only for permitted purposes. Mainly to improve and expand the Bahamian people’s access to and enjoyment of telecommunication technology through the Bahamas. Secondly to assist in the development of athletics and other sporting and recreational activities in the Bahamas and thirdly to assist in the war against crime by expanding the use of CCTV and telecommunication technology as tools of law enforcement.”
CEO of Cable and Wireless Communications Phil Bentley said the agreement is a “win-win situation” that strengthens the agreement between the government and the company.
He said: “We have a shared vision to ensure that BTC is the key driver for economic growth in the Bahamas. We both want BTC to be the world class telecommunication operator the Bahamian people deserve.
“We will continue to regularly report its progress to government and the government will be represented of course on the Board of Directors and the Prime Minster and I will meet twice a year to discuss progress of the business.
“As the Chairman of BTC I plan to appoint a senior Bahamian policy advisor, to assist myself and the board in ensuring the company is managed to the good interest of the Bahamian people.”