BTC Liberalization in the Lurch
For many years, BTC while under the government’s 51% majority control was a profitable entity which contributed millions to the local economy while providing thousands of secure jobs for Bahamians. In 2012, amid intense public outcry however, the government of the Bahamas then led by Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham sold the telecoms provider to Cable and Wireless Communications. A sale, which by all accounts, was meant to improve the quality of customer service and bring down the cost of telecommunications services around the country. Instead though, BTC under the management of Cable and Wireless Communications has offered what can only be described as lackluster service with a network that has been persistently plagued by interruptions and outright blackouts all while setting the stage for mass layoffs and staff redundancies.
As part of its 2012 campaign election promises, this Christie administration promised to regain controlling interest in BTC to the benefit of the Bahamian people. After months of protracted negotiations however, those efforts ended in failure with Cable and Wireless maintaining all of the voting shares and thereby all of the economic control over the company. . Rather than admit that failure though, PM Perry Christie announced the establishment of a BTC trust whereby 2% of the company’s shares were allocated to this trust; the 2% still under the ownership of Cable & Wireless. Therefore the government is still the owner of 49% and Cable &Wireless the owner of 51% of BTC.
For the past many months Mr. Christie has attempted to pass this trust off as a success story, unfortunately though, the recent commentary by other top ranking government officials prove that the entire process was nothing more than a sham and a smokescreen.
In the wake of the PM’s announcement regarding the future of the cellular mobile market, employees at BTC have again expressed concerns about their job security. In fact, leaders of the unions representing those workers have called for intervention on the part of the company’s “equal shareholder”. When questioned about the issue though, DPM Phillip Davis asserted that the government could have little or no say in the affairs of a BTC: a private company. Whether or not he meant to do so intentionally, the DPM in comments to the media finally reveal the duplicity and dishonesty of this administration.
Now, as the country prepares to engage a second mobile cellular provider, The Democratic National Alliance questions whether or not this administration can actually be trusted to ensure a seamless transition into a liberalized environment. Already, there seems to be some discrepancy over who will own the majority stake in the new entity. Mr. Christie has pledged that Bahamian investors will eventually become majority owners of the company, but how can the public be sure that that process will be transparent and open? How can we be sure that the government has not already secretly secured its own group of investors and if so, who are those individuals?
In the interim the government will act as the sole and primary majority stakeholder, however, this administration’s mismanagement of other key government ministries and departments does not inspire the greatest confidence.
The liberalization of the country’s cellular mobile network is indeed an idea whose time has come. The entrance of competition into the local market can only serve to improve the quality and affordability of service which Bahamian customers enjoy.
If this government is truly committed to liberalization then all the necessary steps must be taken to ensure that new entity is not only profitable but committed to developing and growing strong ties to the community and to the country. Unlike its handling of BTC the government must become transparent about its intentions and work to ensure that Bahamian workers and consumers benefit the most from any new arrangement.