By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
IN an extraordinary statement, the Office of the Prime Minister blasted the head of BTC’s parent company yesterday for “distasteful” and “insulting” comments mocking Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis and criticising BTC.
The comments of Balan Nair, president of Liberty Latin America (LiLAC), were made during an internal staff meeting in Jamaica last week and were captured on videos that have since gone viral.
In the clips, Mr Nair says the difference between BTC and its Jamaican counterpart, Flow, was “night and day” . He also joked that Dr Minnis could not look LiLAC officials in the eye while calling for more Bahamians to be employed at the company.
BTC has seen its profit margins decline since Aliv emerged as a competitor in November 2016.
Yesterday, Pakesia Parker-Edgecombe, parliamentary secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, called Mr Nair’s comments “unacceptable and extraordinarily inappropriate”.
“I am deeply disappointed by the distasteful and insulting comments,” she said in a statement. “The comments contained in video clips making the rounds on social media represent a troubling mindset and extraordinarily poor judgment. Mr Nair insulted the prime minister, Bahamian workers and the Bahamian people. No matter one’s political affiliation, it’s incumbent upon all Bahamians and the opposition to be of one accord in rejecting Mr Nair’s insulting comments toward The Bahamas. While the government welcomes partnership with international investors, it is unapologetic and steadfast in its efforts to ensure that Bahamian workers are treated fairly and with dignity, whether at BTC or any other entity.
“At every opportunity, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis works to secure opportunities for Bahamians at all levels of employment as well as the good name of the Bahamas. The Bahamas is an exceptional destination for international parties and investors, who are welcomed to invest in our country, which continues to lead the region in a number of areas. International partners should work with goodwill in the ongoing development of the Bahamas and should not pander to various regional audiences.”
In one of the viral clips, Mr Nair said Jamaica is LiLAC’s best performing country.
“There is one downside,” he added. “Everywhere I go I tell everybody else, ‘but Jamaica can do it.’ So if you go to any of our other operations like Bahamas or somewhere else, they’re not going to like you very much. That’s the only downside because everybody is going, ‘what are they drinking in Jamaica that they can do all these things that nobody else can?’ We were just in the Bahamas on Monday and Tuesday too. It’s like a night and day difference.
“My biggest wish is one day they will say ‘we can be like Jamaica, we can do what they’ve done in this country’ and Gary (Sinclair, BTC’s CEO), that’s one of the reasons we asked Gary to take over a larger (role) and be personally in the Bahamas to help them make this transition because he’s done it here and he can do it there and when he does it there, this company will be an even bigger rocket ship because the people in the Bahamas is no different from people in Jamaica. It’s all about attitude. If you feel like you can win, you will win and that’s how the feeling is here.”
In another clip, Mr Nair referred to Dr Minnis when responding to an employee questioning when Jamaicans will be given more senior posts at the company. While laughing, he said: “It is so funny. I’ll tell you a story. Gary and I and a few others was meeting with the prime minister of the Bahamas on Monday and you can see him standing there and his crown jewel, BTC, is run by a Jamaican who’s sitting right across from him and he’s like, he brought up more than once, we need more Bahamians, and he’s not trying to make eye contact with Gary…”
BTC’s CEO Garfield Sinclair said in a statement yesterday that Mr Nair’s comments were taken out of context. However, he did not elaborate on what the proper context was.
“To be clear, no fire has been started,” Mr Sinclair noted. “The statements were taken out of context and do not convey the full essence of the message that was delivered. BTC maintains a good working relationship with the government of the Bahamas and will continue to work together to drive economic growth. Furthermore, Liberty Latin America is extremely supportive of BTC, values its employees, and remains committed to building a culture of high performance where colleagues are able to thrive and deliver moments that matter to our customers.”
BTC employees reacted bitterly to Mr Nair’s comments, according to Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union officials who said they have received non-stop calls from angry staff.
Dion Rolle, BCPOU president, called Mr Nair’s comments disgusting and insulting.
The Progressive Liberal Party also offered criticism, with chairman Fred Mitchell saying the comments were “derogatory and derisory of Bahamians and Bahamian work ethic as well as disrespectful in the extreme to the Bahamian prime minister”.
“The Liberty executive’s comments come against the backdrop of bad service by BTC, the unreliability of its platforms both telephonic and data, and the absence of any indication of forward planning and investment in the Bahamas,” Mr Mitchell said in a statement. “In fact, this executive has a nerve to make fun of Bahamians and the prime minister when their company, Liberty, seems only interested in extracting profits, dismissing employees, stripping the company of its assets and moving jobs overseas.
“Mr Liberty executive, the laugh and joke are on you. You simply run a company poorly and it has nothing to do with Bahamians and their productivity.”
The FNM, in a statement, did not address Mr Nair’s comments directly but attacked the PLP’s response.
“Let us be clear,” the party said, “the PLP is attempting to pull the wool over the country’s eyes once again with a fake show of nationalism. What they should instead be doing is using the coming weeks to personally apologise to us all for their five years of corruption, mismanagement and failure.
“First and foremost, we as a country and a party must again thank Prime Minister Minnis for always standing up for us and our jobs. During the campaign and throughout his time in office, he has always made it a top priority to provide good jobs and put Bahamians in leadership positions in all companies. Once again, he’s proved that he always walks the walk and talks the talk.”