By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
Prime Minister Perry Christie has again slammed the former Ingraham administration for failing to provide the $39 million needed to cover the Bahamas Telecommunication Company’s (BTC) original pension fund deficit, arguing that this had caused the shortfall to balloon to $99 million.
While addressing the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC) annual general meeting on Wednesday night, Mr Christie argued that the costs involved in the BTC privatisation, combined with the pension deficit, meant the Government will effectively earn nothing from the sale.
Then, speaking briefly on the cellular liberalisation process in his nearly hour-long address, Mr Christie said: “We appointed a Task Force. That Task Force has now reported to the Government.
“There have been long delays because we have had to examine the strength of the winning applicant, Cable Bahamas, and satisfy ourselves of their capacity to engage. We had the firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) advising us on this because I had decided that we had gotten burnt badly on the BTC model.
“By that I mean that the situation was that the pension amount [deficit] was about $38 million that we agreed to accept, our predecessors, and is now around $99 million,” he continued.
“So that if you netted the whole thing, you got nothing for it. I decided that I wanted to ask the accountants if we could look at the model our predecessors established with the port in Nassau, where shares were offered, and if we could use that same model for the cellular license.”
Liberty Global has acquired Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC), BTC’s controlling shareholder, for a net $5.3 billion.
“A company named Liberty, beneficially owned by John Malone, who has a second home in the Exumas, has taken over Cable & Wireless and applications are being made to the Bahamas government now,” Mr Christie said.
“The chief executive of Cable & Wireless, Phil Bentley, has just resigned. That takeover probably turns BTC into a hugely valuable entity. We still have 49 per cent plus 2 per cent, which we negotiated, and that remains, but hopefully the market will have a competitor come in.
“Logically, when competition comes in, even though I have my own doubts about it, prices should be going down.”
Commenting briefly on Baha Mar, Mr Christie said: “I’m satisfied that we are moving rapidly on a path to the matter being settled.
“I happen to have to make my annual Budget communication next Wednesda,y and it’s going to be very interesting what I have to say. I sincerely hope that I’m able to give the country a great boost of confidence in what’s happening in the country today.”