New Offer For Bahamas Telecommunications Company

New Offer For BTC


06/02/2004



The final bidder pushed out of the race to purchase a minority ownership in the Bahamas Telecommunications Company is preparing a new offer to make to the government, the Journal has learnt.

 

But the Tenders Commission is not now open to any new proposals, as it has started another phase of privatisation, which would take on another form from the effort initiated more than five years ago.

 

Still, Blue Telecommunications plans to approach the government with a more fine-tuned and "more convincing" plan.

Company officials are hopeful that the government would at least be willing to entertain them.

 

The group's President Lindbergh Smith on Thursday was not prepared to speak to such reports. But he did hint that his company is still interested in having a stake in BTC.

"The Minister of State for Finance alluded to the fact that BTC still has to be privatised," Mr. Smith told the Journal. "As a Bahamian, I am encouraged by the fact that the government is still committed to privatisation."

 

Financial Secretary Ruth Millar, who chairs the Tenders Commission, has told the Journal that the government has given the Commission a new mandate to review other options for privatisation of the telephone company. But Mrs. Millar declined to say much else.

 

One source close to the Commission said Thursday that it is "utter nonsense" for Blue to still be working toward a plan for BTC.

 

"Their plan was rejected because it was not in the best interest of BTC or The Bahamas," he said. "The Commission has been instructed to end that entire phase."

 

In rejecting Blue, the Commission revealed that there were serious concerns regarding the company's financial structure.

 

Blue reportedly planned to help pay for its stake in BTC by using the phone company's assets to borrow.

 

But a Blue official has since denied this saying that was, "totally untrue. That was not so. It was totally speculation that was pushed by some of the members of the Commission who do not favour privatising BTC."

 

According to the official, it was Blue's original plan to borrow on the assets of the company.

 

"The government was not comfortable with that and wanted a clearer transaction," he explained.

 

He said that in its revised plan, Blue was prepared to do an all-cash transaction.

While Blue is reportedly preparing its comeback, BahamaTel Consortium, which was headed by Tom Bain, has given up on BTC altogether.

 

Shortly after the government rejected the BahamaTel offer due to what Mrs. Millar called a deficient business plan, Mr. Bain told the Journal that his group had come to the end of the line.

 

State Minister for Finance James Smith has said that the government is "shifting gears" as it relates to the privatisation of BTC.

 

In the meantime, he said BTC has to "continue to do things to develop and expand its managerial capabilities, develop its staff, while at the same time look for efficient ways of government having to divest its interests."

 

The plan of the former government was to privatise the then Batelco and give it time to prepare for competition before opening the market.

 

But with that process failed, the new government is looking more toward liberalization of the telecommunications sector with its Telecommunications Sector Policy reportedly being revamped.

 

The idea now is reportedly to prepare BTC for the onslaught of competition that is surely to come in the near future.

 

Speaking at the Bahamas Business Outlook seminar on January 20, Minister Smith said the privatisation process "ought not to be abandoned since a privatised BTC would not only provide additional funds to government for debt reduction in 2004, but should also provide increased capacity for expanding technology including high speed data transmission capabilities which are essential to the e-commerce development effort."





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