Posted: Tuesday, February 23, 2021. 10:55 am CST.
By Aaron Humes: The newly-appointed board of directors of Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) did not have good news for shareholders at its annual general meeting, held virtually this past Saturday.
The company’s profits for 2019-20 slumped 77 percent, from 17 million to 2.5 million dollars.
Put simply by chairman Mark Lizarraga, the company had an outstanding liability of $19 million in unpaid dividends to Government, and greatly overestimated expense provisioning for bad debts, focusing more on earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, rather than the unsustainable growth in expenses.
Lizarraga explained, “If we had continued to perform at the average rate of performance of the company, we would have, the people of Belize would have seen their investment returned to them in sixty-five years. That is unacceptable. So, we’ve set targets and goals as mandated by the government now for us to turn the company around to become more efficient and to start paying back the people of Belize for this humongous investment that they’ve made in this company.”
Company CEO, Ivan Tesecum, reported that BTL has invested $468 million in infrastructure over the last decade, but twice as much – $311 million – in the last five years as opposed to $157 million in the previous five. Those investments include the 4G LTE advanced mobile network, a fiber to home DigiNet network covering most of the country, and submarine fiber cable linking San Pedro Town and Ambergris Caye to the national grid.
Tesecum added that these investments carry large cash requirements of a total of $186 million among the projects listed, financed by loans from Atlantic Bank, the Taiwan ICDF, the Government, and St. John’s Credit Union among others – the latter for the Digilearn Project with the Ministry of Education.
If, as Tesecum states, the goal of the infrastructural investment is to increase revenue, BTL has not enjoyed such a benefit, with fluctuating growth and decline in gross revenue between 2015 and 2019. It faces fierce competition from rival Smart/Speednet as well as other internet service providers and cable operators, with prices on services decreasing to benefit consumers but hurting BTL’s bottom line.
But BTL trods on, planning nеw initiatives related to digitization in commerce and residential properties and a mobile financial services platform known as DigiWallet, which basically makes your cell phone a new wallet.
Lizarraga added, “We know the road ahead will not be easy, and we’re operating in a considerably different environment, with additional economic head-winds that did not exist last year. Despite these circumstances, we remain optimistic about BTL’s future. BTL has been and is a resilient company with a stronghold in Belize’s marketplace.”
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