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Opposition Leader: “White elephant” BTL must be investigated; will the new chairman have time before election?

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Posted: Sunday, September 20, 2020. 1:16 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: A new People’s United Party government will initiate a full forensic audit of Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) after it takes office, Opposition Leader John Briceño said. In making his presentation to the House of Representatives, Briceno referred to BTL as a “white elephant.

Former BTL Chairman Nestor Vasquez stepped down this week after records from the state-owned company were leaked, detailing thousands of dollars in credit card charges to Vasquez on the company credit card over a period of years.

Vasquez is also accused of masterminding advance payments in advertising contracts to his separately-run television station Tropical Vision Limited (Channel 7) and transferring a vehicle owned by BTL to a private individual.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow has insisted that if Vasquez is found liable, the man he knows would undertake to repay, and criminal charges may even be instituted if supported by the evidence of the investigation. Vasquez has also stood down from his posts on the Integrity Commission, Investment Committee of the Social Security Board and the Central Bank.

But Briceño expressed doubt that whoever is appointed as his successor will do the type of thorough investigation that he believes is needed. And he said that it is more than just looking at the credit card bills.

“You could get a clerk to look at the credit card bills and to itemize them, and to see what is for the company and what is personal. To me, it is more than that. As I said in my presentation in the House, what was disclosed with Mr Net [Vasquez], is just scratching the surface; that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Briceño explained.

The root of BTL’s issues, he pointed out, goes back to the first nationalization in 2009, when “the Prime Minister sold us a dream with BTL; he whipped up this fervour of nationalism, that we have to own BTL and we are going to take it away from “the white devil” or what names he has for the former owners, and Belizeans bought into it.”

Eleven (11) years later, the only people who have benefited from the takeover, he said, are the UDP insiders.

Belize paid $557 million after court action in 2016 for a company that was valued about a fifth of that six years earlier, Briceño said, yet the Prime Minister maintained that BTL would, within five to ten years, be worth a billion dollars.

The reality, he said, is that “BTL has become an expensive white elephant…on the verge of bankruptcy,” making a reported $10 million this year and $19 million last year.

Briceño pledged to go in and “rescue” the company, ensuring that if any alleged abuse is found it does not happen again.

 

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