By Candia Dames
Nassau Guardian News Editor
NASSAU, Bahamas -- Prime Minister Perry Christie has appointed his negotiating team ahead of formal talks with Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC) aimed at getting a majority stake of the recently privatized Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) back in the hands of the government.
Christie said he expects talks to start by mid-August.
The prime minister also confirmed that his administration does not intend to follow through on a plan left in place by the Ingraham-led government to offer nine percent of the shares in BTC to the Bahamian public.
“Let it be clear that when I came to office there was on the table I believe a decision by the former government to sell nine percent of the shares. I have stopped that because it stands in the way of what my government has a mandate to do,” he said.
“And that is, as I’ve said to the Cable and Wireless representatives I have spoken to, that we are going to commence talks shortly.
“They have named their team and I have named my team. I have communicated to them my team, the names of my team, and we expect, therefore, to set the parameters for the discussions moving forward.”
Christie again referred to a meeting he had last month with CWC CEO Tony Rice, who he said attempted to convince him not to move ahead with the bid to take back shares.
“He said to me he’s going to make every effort to [persuade] me to adopt his position, and of course I said to him my difficulty is, it’s not what I think. It’s what the people who voted for me think and I can’t go back to them and tell them [maybe in] about the next four to five years,” the prime minister said.
“So, I think moving forward that we expect the Cable and Wireless group to continue to make progress in our country. I requested a report of everything they have done to date. They have now given me that report.
“I will share that report with my colleagues because again what we’re doing is, we’re not attempting to disrupt anything. And so therefore whatever we do must be done in the right way, allowing for the fact that we should do nothing to disturb the operations of the company.”
Cable and Wireless acquired 51 percent of the shares in BTC in April 2011.
While the previous Christie administration had planned to privatize BTC, it had said it would not sell a majority stake in the company.
Christie and the Progressive Liberal Party voiced strong opposition to the CWC deal, and voted against it in Parliament.
Christie warned CWC while in opposition that if re-elected his government would change the deal.
Speaking of efforts to take back a majority stake in BTC, Prime Minister Christie said, “It’s going to be with the best interest of the country in mind.”
At a recent press conference, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham called the government’s plan to get a majority of shares back “political fluff” and he advised the Christie administration to follow through with the plan to sell nine percent of the shares to the public.
But Christie said, “I was amused when Mr Ingraham said it’s fluff. It’s not fluff.
“Cable and Wireless is now the owner of 51 percent of the shares of the company. I’m not proposing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to buy shares back from them.
“What I’m proposing to do is what I said I would do, [and that] is to discuss with them a process that would lead both sides into agreeing on a different formulation, where the Government of The Bahamas would be a majority shareholder.”
Last week, BTC CEO Geoff Houston reported that the government is getting almost double the profits as a 49 percent owner in BTC than it received as a full owner.
Asked to respond to this revelation, the prime minister told The Nassau Guardian, “I’m very happy that they have announced making a profit. That’s the whole idea of that.
“BTC was making a profit but you know when I came to power it had $4 million in the bank. When I left it had $135 million in the bank, and so we expect it to make a profit because it has a monopoly position right now in the economy, but we are still very unhappy with the dropped calls and we’re hoping there will be significant improvement in some of the areas that are there.”
Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian