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BTC purchase a ‘great opportunity’, says C&W

Cable and Wireless Communications(C&W)said yesterday that it plans to deliver significant operational improvements to the Bahamas Telecommunications Company(BTC).

According to a press release on its website, C&W deemed the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding(MOU)with the Government of The Bahamas as an”important step to invest in The Bahamas, a dynamic economy and market with good potential.”

The MOU allows for C&W to acquire a 51 percent shareholding in BTC at a cost of$210 million.

The UK-based C&W and the government will finalize contractual terms in the first quarter of 2011.

“BTC represents a great opportunity to expand our business in a region where we have competitive strength and management capability,”said C&W Chief Executive Tony Rice.

“This opportunity would fit with our strategy to develop the C&W business through market leading and cash generative business. In partnering with the Government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas we believe that we can deliver a world-class telecoms capability to the people and businesses of The Bahamas, and deliver significant operational improvements to BTC,”Rice said.

He added that C&W’s immediate focus is on finalizing terms and completing the transaction.

The signing however, has met with strong disapproval from leaders of the two trade unions that represent both the line staff and middle managers at BTC.

Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union(BCPOU)President Bernard Evans labeled the move a”bad deal”for The Bahamas.

“It is just disheartening. It is very disappointing and it is a bad Christmas present,”he said following a near two-hour long meeting with Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham at the Cabinet Office.

“This has transcended us now as BCPOU members. This is now a national issue. BTC is a national treasure and I can’t see why we can’t learn from the lessons of countries like Belize who have just nationalized their telephone company to make sure that their residents are the majority stakeholders in that company. 

“I don’t see why we can’t do the same thing here. If you are going to sell you will want to sell the minority to a foreigner and not the majority.

“We are disappointed because we thought that C&W is not deserving of The Bahamas’jewel like BTC. But nevertheless we still are going to go full steam ahead in that we do not support C&W. We can’t wait for an opportunity to meet with them to find out what the government sees in them, to see whether they have changed and what their plans are,”Evans said.

The signing of the MOU comes 13 years after the discussion to privatize the company began.

Under the terms of the MOU, the restructurng of BTC’s workforce will be on a voluntary basis.

“It is intended that the voluntary workforce restructuring will be concluded by the first anniversary of completion,”the government said in a release issued on the matter Wednesday.”A detailed plan is in the process of being developed.”

C&W had earlier proposed that 30 percent of the staff, over 300 employees, be axed from the company.

Last month Ingraham disclosed that the government had hit a roadblock in its negotiations with Cable and Wireless regarding the sale of the telecommunications company.

“Cable and Wireless does want to fire 30 percent of the staff of BTC and the government is not prepared to do that,”he said at the time.

“We have told Cable and Wireless that we are prepared to have voluntary disengagement packages, so that persons who want to retire early and who accept a package can of their own free will and accord do so. But we are not prepared to fire 30 percent of the staff of BTC.”

The government also ensured, within the terms of the MOU, that Bahamians will have the ability to engage in”meaningful”employment opportunities within C&W’s regional operations and that there remains a significant managerial presence in BTC following the completion of the sale.

“It is expected that being part of a telecoms group such as C&W will create a variety of opportunities for Bahamians to succeed in a global organization,”the release said.

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