By SANCHESKA DORSETT
Tribune Staff Reporter
FREE National Movement Leader Dr Hubert Minnis said yesterday that the government’s probe into the sale of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) to Cable and Wireless (CWC) is nothing more than “distraction” from the country’s real issues.
In an interview with The Tribune, Dr Minnis said the government is using this probe to divert the public’s attention away from a proposed $2.1 billion agri-fisheries venture with Chinese investors.
On Monday, the government moved a resolution in Parliament to establish a select committee to probe the controversial sale to CWC.
Suggesting the 2011 sale was essentially a “give away”, Minister of Labour Shane Gibson called the decision to privatise the telecommunications provider “damaging,” as he pointed to BTC’s revenue generation abilities.
The Golden Gates MP was also adamant that some inconsistency might exist between the cost at which the then FNM government sold BTC and what CWC actually paid for it. BTC was sold to CWC for $210m, but Mr Gibson highlighted that in CWC’s audited financial statement, the company said it purchased the company at a cost of $204m.
“This select committee is just another chapter in the prime minister’s playbook of sideshow distractions,” Dr Minnis said. “They have had five years to investigate but wait until right before the election to convene the committee when they are in the worst place politically.
“This is not at the top of the list of concerns of Bahamians especially when the government is negotiating to give away our farm and fishing rights and people are dying in the streets daily. The prime minister has lost touch with the Bahamian people if he is now a proponent of transparency after four and a half years of secret deals.”
Dr Minnis said if the government were really serious about transparency, officials would unseal the “secret” Baha Mar deal.
“Table that agreement if they want to probe something,” Dr Minnis said.
“Table the agreement of buying back the two per cent of BTC because we still don’t know the details of that yet. I am confident that the Bahamian people will see right through his smoke and mirrors and the PLP. A FNM government led by Hubert Minnis will bring accountability and transparency back to this government.”
The Progressive Liberal Party, then in opposition, was seriously opposed to the sale of BTC. It vowed to take back the 51 per cent majority share stake from CWC if it was elected to office.
When the party defeated the FNM in the 2012 general election, a committee, tasked with this effort was formed.
Later, in 2013, lead negotiator in the take back negotiations Franklyn Wilson said due to “shocking revelations” that pointed to an “horrendously bad deal” it was recommended to Prime Minister Perry Christie that a select committee be appointed to probe BTC’s sale. He also suggested that the deal benefited the company and not the Bahamian people.
After a lengthy negotiation steeped in controversy, the prime minister in early 2014 announced that his government was successful in wrangling two per cent of the BTC shares from CWC’s hold. These shares were to be placed into the newly created BTC Foundation.
However, CWC retained board and management control of BTC and the foundation owned the two per cent equity stake that CWC relinquished.
This left both CWC and the government with matching 49 per cent equity stakes in BTC. It was perceived to be a “face saving deal.”