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Union official questions whether CWC will inject new capital in BTC

The trade union movement yesterday continued its attack on the government for its intent to sell a 51 percent stake of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company to Cable and Wireless Communications(CWC), claiming plans presented so far fail to make demands on CWC to invest into BTC.

“The only investment that Cable and Wireless proposes to make is$210 million into BTC as a going concern. What that means is that Cable and Wireless must be fairly impressed with the existing infrastructure that BTC has already deployed and has already in effect-meaning offering products and services-so that any further capital injection into BTC will come from the earnings that BTC itself makes,”said Vice-president of the Bahamas Communications and Public Managers Union Talbot Collie.

“Twelve years ago BTC did not have the modern infrastructure that it has today. Over the last 10 years BTC has invested half a billion dollars in upgrading its network infrastructure, and what that means is Cable and Wireless does not have any need to inject capital into BTC for the purposes of providing new technologies,”he claimed.

While addressing a press conference held at the BCPOU headquarters where the National Congress of Trade Unions(NCTU)officially launched its”Bahamas for Bahamians Campaign”, Collie reported that the brand of privatization being considered is outdated and not applicable to the Bahamian landscape today.

The government signed a Memorandum of Understanding(MOU)with CWC last month for the purchase of a 51 percent stake in BTC for$210 million, plus stamp tax.

The unions argue that this is a bad deal for the country because the government will have to change the sector policy legislation to extend the period of exclusivity from two years to five years.

“In recent times the Government of The Bahamas has engaged foreign concerns to help us with the airport, when it recognized that there may have been skill sets that will be required to do the work that will not necessarily be resident in the Bahamas. The government did not privatize the airport, the government secured a foreign entity to assist us in the development of the airport so that at the end of the day it is Bahamian owned. A similar model could be adopted for BTC,”Collie said.

“Let’s allow BTC to have the same three-year exclusivity that is proposed to be given to Cable and Wireless. Offer shares to the Bahamian public, offer shares to employees of BTC and other stakeholders and then let’s look at the management of BTC. If it is determined that there are skill set deficiencies let’s source those skills from around the world. Let’s bring them in for a finite period, three years, five years, and let us also at the same time identify Bahamians to understudy those skill sets, so that at the end of that period we could transition Bahamians into those substantive positions. I think this model will not only empower Bahamians but it will also send a clear message to Bahamians around the world, that opportunities exist in The Bahamas for Bahamians and The Bahamas is for Bahamians first and foremost,”he added.

As it stands now, Collie insisted that with this proposed deal the government will receive less from the sale than it spent on preparing BTC for privatization.

“In technology BTC is much more advanced than CWC in the Caribbean. When those people sat with our employees they were shocked by the level of technology we have here. When I had a chance to talk to one of the members of the Working Committee, he told us that BTC has all the expertise to run all the operations, but what BTC is lacking is the expertise against competition like the likes of Digicel. CWC doesn’t have that experience either because down in the Caribbean Digicel is eating them for lunch. They can’t offer us expertise against competition,”he claimed.

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