FNM Wants Batelco Sold
Saying that it is concerned about the state of affairs at the Bahamas Telecommunications Company, the Free National Movement lashed out at the government Thursday for failing to privatize BTC by now.
Meanwhile, State Minister for Finance James Smith told the Bahama Journal that several companies have expressed an interest in acquiring the 49 percent shares of the company, even though no bids are being accepted at this time.
The FNM said in a statement that under an FNM government, the company would have been "sensibly privatized" already.
"The privatization exercise, under the indecisive and stubborn PLP, has not only slowed to a crawl, but continues to cause the stakeholders - the Bahamian people - headaches and frustration," the FNM said.
The initial attempt to privatize BTC started more than five years ago under the FNM government, but ended abruptly several months ago, when the final bidder in the race, Blue Telecommunications, was rejected.
The Government of The Bahamas reportedly spent around $160 million preparing the company for privatization.
"By this time, had the PLP government continued the privatization process they found in place, the matter would have been resolved and Bahamians and businesses would today have access to a modern system."
Speaking to the Bahama Journal earlier in the week, Minister Smith said privatization is "not off the table."
"The rules for privatization which led to the short listing of the bidders and then the rejection of all bids, I think that part of the chapter must be officially closed," he said.
"We now have to look at a new model which could be talking to any companies that are still interested. Several companies are saying that they are interested in purchasing BTC or becoming a partner in that process, but I think to be able to do so legally and effectively, we have to bring a formal end to the initial privatization process and I think we will be doing that and then we will continue to look around."
Blue is one of the companies pushing the government to sell, indicating that it is prepared to offer $350 million for minority ownership in the telephone company.
Asked if the government is taking this particular offer seriously, Minister Smith said, "We take all offers seriously and all serious offers seriously.
"The point is Blue was a part of the initial process and we have to bring that process to an end and then we are free to talk with Blue and any other company."
In the interim, he said, there is a need to continue to upgrade BTC in terms of its management structure and governance.
"There are a number of things that I think will be happening shortly with BTC," Minister Smith projected.
But the FNM insists that BTC is in a mess.
"Not only are BTC subscribers tired of poor basic services while the company claims it has enhanced modern technology, but local Bahamian business persons are increasingly angry over the fact that nobody in BTC - by extension in the government - seems to care about their welfare," the FNM statement said.
"These are Bahamians who, once BTC launched the quick cell programme in late 2001 and opened doors of business opportunity for the sale of cell phones, accessories, phone cards, etc, made arrangements to capitalize on those opportunities," it continued.
The FNM blasted BTC for setting up Cyber World shops in Nassau and Freeport "in direct competition with small Bahamian business persons, pushing mercilessly into the retail market, and effectively squeezing these people out."
The party also pointed to BTC's extensive advertising of the stores.
"That cannot be right," the statement said. "That cannot be fair. That cannot be just. That cannot be what the PLP on the campaign trail in 2002 promised would be help and hope for Bahamians."
The FNM said that the bottom line is that while BTC, steered by the PLP government, is going up and down the country promoting the introduction of GSM telephone service in The Bahamas, the fact is that the service is still currently unavailable for popular use."