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BCCI, NTUCB and the Belizean People should demand BTL inquiry

Posted: Sunday, July 17, 2016. 1:25 pm CST.

Posted: Sunday, July 17th 2016, 1:22 p.m. CST

BTL Corporate headquarters

BTL Corporate headquarters

By BBN Staff: The Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) and the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), and all Belizeans, in fact, should demand an inquiry of Belize Telemedia Ltd.

This past week the government made the first half of its payment for the settlement of the BTL nationalization to the Ashcroft Alliance. That settlement, as is well known by now, comes at a half-a-billion dollar price tag. That is not money to be paid from the pockets of parliamentarians; that is money to be paid from tax payers’ pockets.

For half-a-billion dollars there is nothing about BTL that Belizeans should not know. For half-a-billion dollars Belizeans should know every detail of how that company is run, what their expenses are, total revenue, profits, how rates are determined, and why those rates are still more expensive than any other country in the region as it relates to Internet pricing.

For half-a-billion dollars Belizeans should be able to walk into BTL, sit at a computer and use the Internet for free. Ok, maybe not but at that price BTL should now become the most transparent of all government owned utilities. Someone needs to explain why the Prime Minister’s son is the Chairman of BTL’s executive committee. For half-a-billion dollars we’ll also need a good look at all his qualifications and credentials. What qualifies Nestor Vasquez to be the Chairman of BTL? These are half-a-billion dollar type questions.

The fact is that many Belizeans are upset over the cost of the settlement. There are some who believe the insane price tag could have been avoided. Since the announcement of the settlement BBN’s inbox has been filled with messages from Belizeans who are angry about the settlement.

Belizeans should also be angry that none of the relevant officials made themselves available this week to share the details of the first payment. There were varying reports of how much Belize actually paid. Neither the Financial Secretary or Central Bank Governor responded to any request for details on the payment. The Prime Minister responded only to say “yes” that payment had been made. Why do we allow these men to conduct public affairs in such a secretive manner?

And where is the opposition in all this? What have they done apart from issuing a single forgotten statement the day after the announcement? Belizeans should also never forget the role the previous People’s United Party (PUP) government played in establishing this massive burden Belize now has to pay. The secret Accommodation Agreement signed by former Prime Minister Said Musa and former PUP leader Francis Fonseca is responsible for 60 percent of the total payment. That should then make them at least 60 percent responsible. Should it not?

According to media reports, the first payment was at least $190 million. Of this, 60 percent (the portion owed due to the Accommodation Agreement) is to be paid in Belize dollars and the other 40 percent is to be paid in US dollars from the Central Bank’s reserve. It was also reported that the Ashcroft Alliance had been fighting to have the 60 percent Accommodation Agreement portion paid in US as well. GOB will not budge from that position, however, because if the entire sum were to paid in US it would most likely wipe out Belize’s US reserves.

The country is already in a feeble economic position. International agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World bank have warned about Belize’s grim economic fate for months as GOB has continuously dismissed those expert opinions. And now as the “de-risking” crisis has the country’s knees buckling under increased pressure, US currency is becoming harder to come by. It is not feasible for GOB to make the full payment in US dollars. That would almost certainly cripple the country’s economy.

Belizeans must now rally behind the BCCI and the NTUCB and any other organization that can influence the government to make BTL a transparent utility that works for the people as the people must now work to pay the huge debt caused by reckless political behavior.


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