From left are CWC CEO Phil Bentley, Prime Minister Perry Christie and BTC CEO Geoff Houston in conversation following the press conference on Wednesday night
By Taneka Thompson
Nassau Guardian Senior Reporter
NASSAU, Bahamas -- Prime Minister Perry Christie has stressed that his government negotiated a deal with Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) to give up two percent of its shares in the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) at no cost to the government or the Bahamian people.
Christie and CWC CEO Phil Bentley signed off on what the prime minister called an “historic” agreement between the government and CWC at the Cabinet Office on Wednesday night.
“Let me say right from the outset that this regaining of the majority economic interest in BTC will not cost the government or the Bahamian people one single cent, not one,” said Christie, flanked by his Cabinet and representatives of CWC and BTC.
“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.”
Under the terms of the deal, CWC will transfer $5,930,200 worth of shares to the government to be held in a trust for the Bahamian people, Christie said.
This trust will be managed by the BTC Foundation, which will be created as part of the deal.
The shares represent just under two percent of CWC’s total share equity in BTC, he said. The foundation will also hold all of the dividends and income from the shares.
Annual dividends from the recovered shares will be in the low seven figure range based on BTC’s past performance, Christie said.
The prime minister said the shares will be non-voting shares and the share transfer will not involve any change in BTC’s existing arrangement.
The deal will not change BTC’s management structure, he said, adding that BTC’s executive control will remain in the hands of CWC.
Christie said the deal is a “win, win” for the government and the country and hit out at critics.
“I say what I said up front so that all of the naysayers who were saying that we were wasting our time and that we were going to have to pay huge sums and/or crippling penalties, well I don’t know what they are going to say now,” Christie said.
“They have all been proved wrong, let me say dead wrong.”
BTC’s monopoly on mobile services will not be extended as part of the deal, he said.
Christie also revealed that BTC will collaborate with the Bahamas Broadcasting Corporation (BCB) to assist with the integration of technologies and other collaborative strategies to enhance the BCB’s performance.
“Indeed, I am advised that such collaboration is well underway and if I am to say so, it also represents a very significant saving for the [BCB],” he said.
Money accrued in the foundation will be earmarked specifically for sports development, civic activities and aiding the crime fight through expanding CCTV networks, Christie said.
The foundation will also expand Bahamians’ access to telecommunications technology.
Bentley said he plans to meet with Christie twice a year to discuss BTC’s progress.
He added that he plans to appoint a Bahamian senior policy advisor to ensure that The Bahamas’ best interests are kept in mind through BTC’s management.
Bentley said CWC has invested $140 million in BTC in the last three years and plans to pour another $150 million into the company’s infrastructure over the next three years.
The Ingraham administration sold 51 percent of BTC to CWC in April 2011. While in opposition, Christie promised to return the majority shares to the Bahamian people if re-elected.
Christie said the new deal between the government and CWC will be tabled in Parliament, but he did not say when.
Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian