PM attacks Guardian owners
Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham yesterday hit out at owners ofThe Nassau Guardianin an off-the-cuff statement that caught many attendees at the Bahamas Business Outlook conference off guard and created a great deal of chatter on the sidelines of the event.
It came after his formal speech on the state of the economy as he fielded questions from members of the audience.
Speaking about the government’s plans to sell a majority stake of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company(BTC)to Cable&Wireless Communications(CWC), Ingraham said,”We are absolutely satisfied that we will reduce cost to people, that we will provide opportunities for more Bahamians to own shares in BTC, not like the two owners ofThe Guardianwho[are]beating the drum every day saying that they want to buy it.
“They want to buy every damn thing. The reality is we want broad-based ownership by the Bahamian public, and the Government of the Bahamas, a strategic partner with international muscle and capability, that’s what we seek to do.”
Business leaders attending the conference weren’t the only ones who took note of the prime minister’s comments.
A spokesperson for the Bahamian group that includesThe Guardiansaid last night,”We were of the view that this conference was established to promote business and investment in the country, so we find it surprising and, frankly, ironic, that the prime minister would use this platform to denigrate in one fell swoop both the concepts of a free market and freedom of the press characteristics which successive
governments have touted as decisive advantages to The Bahamas as an investor-friendly jurisdiction.
“Yet the prime minister scoffs at the wide and diverse ownership of the Bahamian shareholders of the publicly-heldNassau Guardianand its cadre of professional journalists, preferring to single out, as he put it,’the two who beat the drum’.
“On the contrary, the newspaper is the oldest not only in The Bahamas but the Caribbean. It owes this longevity to its journalistic independence and integrity. The paper’s editorial board sets overall policy guidelines consistent with its motto since 1844 to’be at peace with all mankind but at war with their vices.’
“The Guardianreports the news. The matter of the sale of BTC to Cable&Wireless is of significant interest to all Bahamians. It is incredible that the prime minister would attackThe Guardian’sshareholders and summarily attribute the paper’s investigation of the transaction and its publication of the questions of the Bahamian people as part of some plot by the shareholders to seal their own deal.”
To set the record straight, the spokesman noted thatThe Guardian is part of a group of Bahamian-owned companies that employ more than 700 people, benefits more than 2,800 shareholders and contributes millions of dollars to the Bahamian economy.
Shareholders in the newspaper hold interests in a diverse group of financial services institutions, including a local investment firm which advised a consortium of New York Stock Exchange-listed telecommunications companies, including the world’s largest, in a bid for BTC, it was noted.
“Is Mr. Ingraham suggesting that Bahamians be narrow in their ambition?Or that Bahamian involvement in such a transaction and partnership with global telecommunications players is beyond the reach of the local businessman?We were not aware of any limits on success for any Bahamian either in business or politics,”the spokesman said.
“Many would believe that the ability for Bahamians to sit at the table with global players and to be heads of companies themselves is a realization of what is possible in The Bahamas. The country should celebrate this ambition. Mr. Ingraham, however, dismisses it as uppity Bahamians who just want to’buy every damn thing’.
“What is painfully obvious is that there is no clear policy or philosophy directing the divesture of large-scale Bahamian assets. The shareholders of the paper cannot make the issue go away just because it has become an irritation to the prime minister.
“Belittling the Bahamian success story in the press and crying foul when newspapers apply their democratic freedoms are attempts at diversion and misdirection tactics upon which magicians, and now it seems politicians, must rely.”
The prime minister’s attack onThe Guardianis the latest turn in the privatization saga that has grown increasingly controversial in recent weeks.
It is expected that the issue will be debated in Parliament as early as next week.
The prime minister has said he hopes to close the deal with Cable&Wireless by February 15.