Liberty Latin America CEO Balan Nair’s “distasteful” comments about the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) and Bahamians are an “insult” to Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, the Bahamian people and are “unacceptable and extraordinarily inappropriate”, Parliamentary Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) Pakesia Parker-Edgecombe said yesterday.
“I am deeply disappointed and disturbed by the distasteful and insulting comments made by Mr. Balan Nair, chief executive officer of Liberty Latin America, the parent company of BTC,” said Parker-Edgecombe, who has responsibility for communications.
“The comments contained in video clips making the rounds on social media represent a troubling mindset and extraordinarily poor judgment.
“Mr. Nair insulted the prime minister, Bahamian workers and the Bahamian people.
“In any context, the comments are unacceptable and extraordinarily inappropriate.
“No matter one’s political affiliation, it is incumbent upon all Bahamians and the opposition to be of one accord in rejecting Mr. Nair’s insulting comments toward The Bahamas.
“While the government welcomes partnerships with international investors, it is unapologetic and steadfast in its efforts to ensure that Bahamian workers are treated fairly and with dignity, whether at BTC or any other entity.
“At every opportunity, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis works to secure opportunities for Bahamians at all levels of employment as well as the good name of The Bahamas.
“The Bahamas is an exceptional destination for international partners and investors, who are welcomed to invest in our country, which continues to lead the region in a number of areas.
“International partners should work with goodwill in the ongoing development of The Bahamas, and should not pander to various regional audiences.”
Parker-Edgecombe was responding to comments made by Nair during a meeting with Liberty’s Jamaican staff. Video clips of the meeting were widely shared on social media.
Nair said the performance between Liberty’s Jamaican subsidiary and BTC is like “night and day”.
Regarding The Bahamas, Nair said, “My biggest wish is that one day they would say, ‘We can be like Jamaica. We can do what they have done in this country.’
“…The people in The Bahamas are no different from the people in Jamaica; it’s all about attitude. If you feel like you can win, you will win.”
He added, “It’s so funny. I’ll tell you a story.
“Garry and I and a few others were meeting with the prime minister of The Bahamas on Monday, and you can see him standing there, his crown jewel BTC is ran by a Jamaican, who’s sitting right across from him, and he brought up more than once, ‘we need more Bahamians’, and he’s not trying to make eye contact with Garry.”
The story was met with light laughter from the crowd.
Nair also pointed out that during his visit to Jamaica he was impressed with their stores.
“I’ve got some pictures of a store when I was in The Bahamas, the premier store in The Bahamas,” Nair said.
“Garry and I talked about this on Monday and [when] you look at that store and you look at a small store [here] – I don’t know if it’s a small store but it’s a lot smaller than the one in Marathon Mall in Bahamas – and that smaller store here is just bustling with energy.
“But not just because of how many customers in there, but because there is an equivalent amount of floor employees helping them. Every floor employee is there, not standing around. They are like, ‘How can I help you?’
“That is the difference.”
Nair said Liberty had to send Garfield “Garry” Sinclair, a Jamaican, to BTC to turn things around.
In response to the video, Sinclair, BTC’s CEO, said the comments were taken out of context.
He said “no fire has been started” due to the comments.
“BTC maintains a good working relationship with the government of The Bahamas and will continue to work together to drive economic growth,” Sinclair said.
“Furthermore, Liberty Latin America is extremely supportive of BTC, values its employees, and remains committed to building a culture of high performance where colleagues are able to thrive and deliver moments that matter to our customers.”
But Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union (BCPOU) President Dino Rolle said yesterday he was “repulsed” by the comments.
“I’ve been getting calls left, right and center from all across the archipelago,” Rolle said.
“Persons were so upset about what they’ve seen [and] what they heard from the leader of this organization.”
Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Chairman Fred Mitchell yesterday called Nair’s comments “disrespectful and derogatory”.
BTC is a subsidiary of Liberty.
Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC) bought 51 percent of BTC’s shares in 2011.
After coming to office in 2012, then Prime Minister Perry Christie committed to take back two percent of the shares and regain majority shares in the company.
In 2014, CWC and the government reached a deal where CWC transferred $5,930,200 worth of shares to the government to be held in trust for the Bahamian people.
In 2016, Liberty Global acquired CWC for $7.4 billion.
Under the deal, CWC – including BTC – became part of Liberty’s Latin American and Caribbean group (the LiLAC Group).