Friday, December 31, 2010

Sarkis Izmirlian, Man of the Year

Sarkis Izmirlian JCN Man of the Year
The Bahama Journal


As we here at JCN have done for the past ten years; so do we continue this year: we have decided to recognize certain deserving men and women for the contribution they have made [and continue to make] to the ongoing development of the Bahamas.

We do so not only because we can; but because we must –as a responsible media organization – continue to do all that we can to help build up our nation; and so by the same token, we must always give credit where and when credit is due others.

We note also that, right-thinking Bahamians throughout the length and breadth of the Bahamas are today excited at the vistas of opportunity they see as they contemplate the initiation of the Baha Mar project, slated for the Cable Beach strip.

As in the case of these highly expectant Bahamians, we too look forward to the start-up and completion of this mega-project.

In this regard, it should not take the genius that comes with rocket-science to understand and appreciate the import of a project that promises to employ thousands of Bahamians.

Such a venture would also bring with it a multiplier effect that promises to buoy other aspects of the Bahamian economy, its society and its competitiveness in that wider world where in the struggle for economic pre-eminence and consumer satisfaction, it is excellence that matters most of all.

Izmirlian is this Journal’s Man of the Year because he has been able to match word with deed in support of his stated conclusion to the effect that the Baha Mar project – in its guise as a world-class resort - will significantly benefit The Bahamas and all Bahamians.

We believe him when he says that, “… Baha Mar will make The Bahamas one of the premier tourist locations in the world…"

And so, distilled to its essence, the word we are getting is to the effect that, Baha Mar will draw millions of vacationers and business travelers every year to the resort's six hotels, with almost 3,500 rooms and condos, the largest casino in the Caribbean, the largest convention center in The Bahamas, a world-class golf course, retail village and much more.

In addition, it is to be noted that, Baha Mar –once fully operational- will boast having a staff that is fully operational, with some 98 per cent of the staff being Bahamian.

This is excellent-good news.

It is this new information that supports and under girds the decision we have made to name this entrepreneur par excellence – Sarkis Izmirlian- as our man of the year.

He is this year’s choice not only because of his tenacity and vision; but also for being that kind of investor who clearly has a phenomenal depth of confidence in the Bahamas and in its people.

In addition, he is clearly that kind of man who is driven to get things up and going; here we would also venture that this man has a depth of confidence in himself and in his capacity to get up from under any number of disappointments and challenges.

To put the matter concerning Izmirlian in its proper perspective; this investor makes things happen; in this, he is to be distinguished from all those others who wait patiently for things to line up this or that way.

This is not to say that, he does not recognize the need for perseverance; indeed, he surely had his share of this as he plotted his way through what might have – on first glance- seemed to be seemed so very many high hurdles.

As the record shows; this man persevered; stuck to his guns; sought out and found a worthy strategic partner in the guise of the Chinese Export-Import Bank and has thereafter gone on to victory.

As we now know, “The proposed Cable Beach development would be financed by the Export-Import Bank of China and constructed by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation…”

And clearly, while we reference victory on the part of this man –Sarkis Izmirlian – we are also minded to take note of the fact that, the Bahama Mar project signals good news not only for those who govern, but also for the nation’s Loyal Opposition.

As the record would show, the initial conversations and tentative agreements concerning Baha Mar and the revitalization of the Cable Beach Strip came up for consideration in that time when, the Free National Movement was then in opposition.

In toto, then, the vast majority of our people are also winners in that saga that now involves Sarkis Izmirlian, Baha Mar and the transformation of the tourism product in the Bahamas.

This believer in the Bahamas deserves not only our recognition; but also that of all right-thinking Bahamians.

And so, we salute Sarkis Izmirlian as JCN’s Man of the Year.

December 31, 2010

The Bahama Journal

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Brensil Rolle: ...the government will crackdown on shantytowns, which have sprung up in New Providence over the years

Squatters face govt action
By KEVA LIGHTBOURNE
Guardian Senior Reporter
kdl@nasguard.com



Housing official vows crackdown following fire


While describing a fire that destroyed more than 100 houses in a Haitian village on Sunday as tragic, Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Housing Brensil Rolle said yesterday the government will crackdown on shantytowns, which have sprung up in New Providence over the years.

Rolle said that on one piece of government property in the Carmichael Road area, there are more than 1,000 squatters, including at least 250 Bahamians.

That land is located near the Haitian village destroyed in the weekend blaze.

Rolle noted that these communities pose health and safety risks to neighboring communities.

He said Bahamians have been instrumental in the proliferation of these shantytowns.

“We are very fortunate that lives were not lost and major injury did not occur. But a greater problem is whether or not communities like this should exist in pockets of New Providence at this stage, and perhaps that is why the government is engaged in the new sub-division law, which will outline how communities are to be developed,” Rolle told The Nassau Guardian.

“It cannot be acceptable in The Bahamas for communities to continue to exist in this fashion.

“I am not commenting on whether the community is a community of illegals or not. It is just that we cannot have in The Bahamas in 2010 communities of this nature.”

Rolle pointed to the unsanitary and unhealthy conditions the squatters impacted by the recent fire were living under with no running water and electricity.

The Nassau Guardian understands that more than 200 Haitians were living in the Alan Drive community.

The blaze took 25 fire fighters six hours to extinguish. Many of the residents were left with only the clothes on their backs.

The Nassau Guardian also understands that some of the residents now sleep in derelict vehicles, while others have been lucky enough to find lodging with family members.

Rolle said he has already written and spoken with some of his colleagues to see how best to move forward in dealing with this vexing problem.

“I suspect what is going to take place is that the Ministry of Public Works and the Ministry of Health and other relevant government agencies will go in and cause some investigations to take place to see what caused the fire and what happened and thereafter the government will make some decisions on what will take place on the land,” he said.

Rolle claimed that there are three flourishing Haitian shantytowns in the area.

Regarding the government land where more than 1,000 squatters reside, he said, “We tried to the best of our ability to make contact with everyone in the village. We identified the Bahamians and residents in the village who have applied for residency so a decision can be made on their applications so that when the Ministry of Housing moves in to redesign the property they could be considered.”

He said there are some squatters who can afford to pay rent and will most likely have to do so when the time comes.

“We just want to make sure in our communities standards are maintained, and the government building code is not violated,” Rolle said.

One Bahamian resident who lives near the shantytown that burnt down claimed that she has had to put up with loud music and feared illegal activity was taking place.

She said despite the great loss that the squatters have had to endure they should not be allowed to rebuild.

12/30/2010

thenassauguardian

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

This Nation’s Bevy of Challenges

The Bahama Journal Editorial



With this nostrum as opening gambit, we take note of the fact that, for what now seems a fairly long season, the Bahamas seemed to conclusively demonstrate that development in a small island developing country could be successfully driven by foreign direct investment.

And for sure, Bahamians could and did exult in their good fortune by assuring themselves that, these salutary changes had come about due to their own initiatives.

Indeed, there was every indication that, the Bahamas had somehow or the other managed to escape its long history of boom and bust at the economic level.

And so it arose that, they decided to praise the late Sir Stafford L. Sands for being the financial genius behind the so-called miracle of year-round tourism to the Bahamas.

We now know that this was an illusion.

As the same record would attest and confirm: while Sir Stafford was –in truth and in fact – a major player in the development of the tourism industry, other forces – most of them external to the Bahamas- played crucially important roles in this transformative process.

Highest on the list of external forces would be the on-set of the Cuban Revolution and Cuba’s isolation from trade with the United States of America.

It was this external factor that has driven the Bahamian economy over the course of the past fifty years or so.

With this development came that transformation of the Bahamas which allowed the bulk of its people a first opportunity to turn its collective back on a development model predicated on seasonal tourism, niche banking, fishing, farming and other allied occupations.

This development brought with it ancillary political changes – some of which promised Majority Rule and some economic empowerment for those who were heretofore socially excluded and economically marginalized.

While some successes have been scored; there is every indication that some of these now run the real risk of being lost as a consequence of the hard times that now prevail.

In addition, there is every indication that things are set to be difficult for at least the next decade or so.

This situation stands in direct contrast to those days when money was in abundance and when practically everybody who was anybody could make a fairly decent living.

Things are now trending downwards; and so, as things go and grow from bad to worse – Bahamians on either side of the political divide have taken to blaming each other for this nation’s bevy of distresses.

While this ‘game’ might provide entertainment galore for those who are tuned in; we daresay that, this does the nation itself no real good.

For our part, then, we would sincerely suggest that, having grown accustomed to one version of the so-called good life [that is to say, a life driven by easy money] very many Bahamians are today panicking; this coming packaged in with the prospect that hard times might be here to stay.

While we are optimistic as regards our prospects for the long-term; we are today pessimistic for the short-term; this due to the fact that, the Bahamian people are yet to determine what they want and would have as regards real leadership.

In the interim, things threaten to disintegrate into a state akin to chaos.

And of course, this can lead to its own sad denouement in even more social distress.

Here take note that on occasion, we have bemoaned the fact that, the Bahamian people are being routinely failed by their leaders.

Evidence for this failure can be seen in practically every major institution; whether reference is to those who would lead in the field of faith and belief; education; government; the home or at the work place.

In addition, there is no gainsaying the fact that, there are very many Bahamians who are today mired in distress; with some of them teetering on the edge of despair.

And yet there is more bad news; this time around the reference we make has to do with what seems a Bahamian penchant towards dependency and lack of confidence in their own innate ability.

This neatly explains how it arises in case after case that Bahamians are loath to respect their own when they are put in positions of authority and power – thus the pre-eminence they give to foreigners and to most things foreign.

For a season, this way of things surely worked its magic.

But since nothing lasts forever, these balmy days are now receding. As they become history, a new order beckons; this being one where Bahamians will be obliged to work harder, produce more so as to become more self-reliant.

In this regard, we envisage the coming of that day when, the Bahamian people will have a national economy that walks – so to speak- on two legs; with one being foreign and the other Bahamian.

December 29, 2010

The Bahama Journal Editorial

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

...the National Congress of Trade Unions (NCTU) plans a major national strike that could possibly have devastating effects on the Bahamian economy

The new year could begin with a national strike
thenassauguardian editorial


Is it possible that while Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham was busy preparing notes for his annual Christmas Address to the nation, members of the National Congress of Trade Unions (NCTU) were busy planning a major national strike that could possibly have devastating effects on the Bahamian economy.

It seems possible.

In fact, on Christmas Eve, executives of the NCTU held a press conference where they not only dismissed the prime minister’s warning about their union’s actions, but they also took the time to point out that a national strike could occur soon.

It’s not the kind of action the prime minister wants, or need at this time.

With the light of hope of an economic recovery on the horizon, the prime minister is looking ahead with optimism for the Bahamian people.

Needless to say, that in spite of all the setbacks which the country and the government have experienced during 2010, for the most part Prime Minister Ingraham and his government appear to be finishing off the year strong.

Of course, the plight of a high crime rate and a record breaking murder rate for 2010 will haunt the prime minister’s 2010 performance. However, some feel that the prime minister has navigated the storms of adversity well.

As 2011 approaches, talks of a national strike by the major unions in the country is not what the prime minister had in mind when he reflected on what lies ahead for his government in the new year.

However, it is something that has to be factored in, because apparently, the NCTU and the BCPOU have no plans of backing down any time soon. As the prime minister is adamant about selling BTC to Cable and Wireless, the unions are just as persistent in their stand to fight against it.

There is a chance that the new year could begin on the rough path for the government of The Bahamas. The stand by both sides could lead a major battle in 2011.

The year 2011 is unofficially the year for campaigning, as both the Free National Movement and the Progressive Liberal Party shift into full gear and prepare for a general election in 2012.

The prime minister would prefer to spend the start and the entire year of 2011 doing the things that needs to be done to ensure his party’s re-election. Having a fight with the country’s major unions is not a part of that agenda.

With just a few days left before 2010 ends and 2011 begins, will the prime minister, the NCTU and BCPOU find some solution to the BTC dilemma and avoid a national strike at the beginning of the year?

As the clock ticks away on the closing of an old year, as far as the NCTU is concerned, it signals only the beginning of what can be expected in 2011 if an amicable solution is not reached.

As far as end of the year and New Year’s resolutions go, one can only wonder what tops the list of resolutions for Prime Minister Ingraham for 2011.

12/28/2010

thenassauguardian editorial

Sunday, December 26, 2010

...the Christie government made a secret deal to sell 49 per cent of BTC on credit to an unknown foreign entity called Bluewater Ventures

The secret deal to steal BTC
By LARRY SMITH


JUST before the 2007 general election, the Christie government made a secret deal to sell 49 per cent of BTC on credit to an unknown foreign entity called Bluewater Ventures. The electorate wasn't aware a deal had been struck and didn't know the terms, although official talks had been ongoing for two years.

Bluewater described itself as "a private equity firm specializing in turnarounds and investments in the media and telecommunications sectors." It was set up in 2003 by John Gregg, an American who worked for a couple of European cable companies. Based in the Channel Islands, an offshore financial centre, its actual shareholders have never been identified.

Soon after the election, ex-finance minister James Smith urged the new FNM government to close the Bluewater deal, arguing that there would never be a better one. According to a confidential Bluewater document relating to the sale, BTC's own business plan for 2007-2009 valued the company at $333 million, meaning that a 49 per cent stake should have been worth about $163 million.

But as has since been revealed, the net cash to government from the secret PLP deal would have been only $150 million. Bluewater would have paid another $40 million (interest-free) years after the sale, but this money would have come from BTC's own revenues. The deferred payments were a significant and hidden discount on the price to this unknown foreign entity.

It is common knowledge that BTC's value as a mobile monopoly has been heavily eroded by poor management and new technologies. For example, it took just a few years for voice over internet services like Vonage to turn BTCs long-distance calling into a losing business.

Other providers now control most of the local VoIP market - despite the face-saving introduction in 2006 of BTC's competing Vibe service. And experts have long predicted that WiFi phones connected to a computer with Internet access will disrupt BTC's still-lucrative mobile business over time.

According to the confidential 2007 Bluewater document, other factors that affect BTC's value include exorbitant rates that would be impossible to maintain in a competitive market; the high risk of hurricanes crippling the network; and capital spending that is far greater than earnings.

"A true valuation analysis of BTC must assume that rates, and hence (earnings) will have to be lowered in the near term," the document said. "And just two years ago BTC saw its cash flow for the year virtually wiped out and submitted insurance claims close to $50 million. It is our understanding that insurers refused to honour many of these claims.

"BTC's capital expenditures have historically been higher than comparable companies. In fact the BTC business plan for 2007-2009 puts capex at a rate significantly higher than (earnings). From an investor's perspective, the need for such high spending to maintain the network is a red flag."

Several years ago, former BTC president Leon Williams boasted that the corporation had spent $353 million on capital development over a five-year period, and Bluewater reported that BTC's business plan called for another half-billion-dollar spend over the ensuing three years, compared to $429 million in projected earnings.

In spelling out the rationale for the proposed acquisition, the 2007 Bluewater document painted a dismal picture of BTC, calling the corporation's business plan inconsistent, contradictory, lacking in detail and offering nothing for its three main stakeholders - consumers, the government and employees.

Bluewater pointed out that BTC doesn't even consider improving its lousy service or cutting its outrageously high prices, and fails to justify in any way the introduction of costly new products and services. In fact, BTC's plans assumed no dividends at all for the government - just a never-emptying cookie jar for management, union leaders and staff.

Why would Bluewater pay for a minority stake in such a poorly-run state operation? Well, principally because the PLP deal would have extended BTC's profitable cellular monopoly for up to six years - while letting it offer equally profitable extra services like video. In other words, BTC would have continued as a government-owned monopoly for a very long time. And the Bluewater sale was a smoke-screen trying to hide that fact.

The deal was that a 49 per cent stake in BTC would be priced at $260 million, but Bluewater would pay only $220 million up front while keeping all of BTC's cash in the bank (about $70 million at the time). At the end of the five-year cellular monopoly, Bluewater would have paid a further $35 million, and a final $5 million in the sixth year after the sale. This was what Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham referred to shortly after taking office as "selling BTC on credit."

Even a horse's ass can see there is absolutely no comparison between a secretive instalment plan concocted with an unknown buyer with no financial or operating history, and the $210 million (plus taxes) up front purchase price agreed with Cable & Wireless - a long-established telecoms firm with revenues of over $1 billion and a long-standing operating record in several countries. So the astonishing propaganda emanating from PLP leaders on this issue should be taken with a large bicarbonate of soda. Their strategy is simply to repeat enough rubbish frequently enough so that the rubbish starts to seem believable. That, unfortunately, is the standard of political discourse in this country.

There is no other difference between the PLP and the FNM record on this issue. Both parties while in government have said they wanted to sell BTC to a foreign entity as a matter of policy to help pay down the national debt, and to modernise the Bahamian telecoms sector. The only difference has been the architecture of the deal.

You be the judge.

What do you think?

Send comments to: larry@tribunemedia.net

Or visit www.bahamapundit.com

December 22, 2010


Friday, December 24, 2010

All Hands on Deck

The Bahama Journal Editorial


Certain high-ranking International Monetary Fund officials are today convinced that, “Although the outlook [for the Bahamas] is fraught with uncertainties and risks, the mission is confident that the resolute adherence to fiscal consolidation and an enabling investment climate will foster a stable macroeconomic environment and support sustained economic growth.”

We concur.

But even as we express our overall agreement with the IMF’s analysis; we are constrained to note that, we should – as a matter of both principle and policy – do all we can as to further empower our people; and to see to it that, growth and development is powered from both the inside and outside.

Such an addition of an endogenous dimension of development to the current policy mix would go a long way to helping Bahamians help each other.

Such a double-barreled approach to national development would – of necessity- push leadership in the direction of seeing to it that our most precious resources- here namely our youth are put to the most productive use possible.

Here our churches, unions, businesses, other civil society agencies – and the government are called to pull together in the interest not only of their membership; but in the interest of all to put the Bahamas on a path to sustainability.

And so, whether the reference made is to tourism, banking or the industrial sector, each and every one of these clearly has a stake in a vibrant, healthy, development-oriented Bahamas.

But just as clearly, we must break with business as usual.

Were we to do so, we would wake to find that, while things are tough; and for sure, while moving forward, things might get even tougher; we are ever optimistic.

We are buoyant not only because we know that, this period of austerity is one where those who stick it out will reap their fair share of rewards; but also because it is precisely in times like these –that is to say, days of creative destruction – when you either sink or swim.

For our part, then, while these are days of tremendous struggle, we are convinced that, the worst is over; and that, in the fullness of time – better days will come.

But even as we note that these so-called better days are ahead; we know it for a fact that, we must –like others in the mix- do our level-best to help make some of these things happen.

And for sure, we are also absolutely convinced that, the time is nigh for all of this nation’s right-thinking Bahamian sons and daughters to cease from their time-tested habit of sweating the small stuff; that is to say, their socially pernicious habit of making too much of the already too-little that divides them.

Happily, while this habit does persist – and might yet continue – we are happy to report that, this country that is ours continues to get kudos for the conservative manner given by all who govern to the economic affairs of this land that is ours.

Some of these kudos routinely come from world agencies such as the International Monetary Fund. In this regard, we now note some of what the IMF has had to say about the management of things in this period when austerity is the word that apparently matters most.

The team met with senior government officials and representatives of the private sector. At the end of the visit, Mr. Gene Leon, head of the IMF mission to the Bahamas, issued the following statement: “The global crisis of 2008-09 had a profound impact on the Bahamian economy. Tourist arrivals declined by 10 percent and foreign direct investment fell by over 30 percent, leading to a sharp contraction in domestic activity and a large rise in unemployment.

“However, lower import prices helped narrow the external current account deficit to about 12.5 percent of GDP; this together with external borrowing and the one-off allocation of Special Drawing Rights helped raise gross international reserves to about 2.5 months of imports, boosting support for the exchange rate peg…”

There was even more. Here we are led to believe that, “… Gross international reserves are projected to increase despite the higher oil prices owing to strong private capital inflows, including from Foreign Direct Investment…”

While this is not to be ranked at the optimal level, we do have some modest reason to be happy that ventures like Baha Mar are on stream.

And as Gene Leon aptly notes, “…Going forward, the authorities have indicated a commitment to maintain prudent macroeconomic policies, including fiscal measures to reduce the rising debt-to-GDP ratio and a monetary policy geared to supporting price stability and the US dollar peg… They also plan to continue with reforms to improve tax administration, increase fiscal responsibility, and transparency.”

Evidently, then, even if things were to turn out as suggested by the IMF; there would still be work [at the endogenous level] that could and should be done by Bahamians.

December 23, 2010

The Bahama Journal Editorial

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Shane Gibson: a “puppet of the privileged”

Gibson named in secret U.S. files
By BRENT DEAN
Deputy News Editor
thenassauguardian
brentldean@nasguard.com


Former immigration minister described as ‘puppet of the privileged’


Former Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Immigration Minister Shane Gibson was described as a “puppet of the privileged” by the United States Embassy in The Bahamas in a diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks regarding the Anna Nicole Smith scandal.

“The Anna Nicole scandal has recast Gibson as puppet of the privileged rather than defender of the common people of The Bahamas,” said the cable called ‘Hurricane Anna Nicole Wreaks Havoc in The Bahamas’.

The document was dated November 15, 2006 and it was classified by then Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Nassau Dr. Brent Hardt. The British newspaper The Guardian published two cables on the scandal yesterday.

The embassy’s characterization of Gibson as a “puppet of the privileged” results from his decision to fast track the permanent residency permit of Smith, who resided in The Bahamas before her death on February 8, 2007 in Florida.

Gibson resigned a few weeks later after pictures were published in The Tribune of him and Smith in an intimate embrace on Smith’s bed at the Eastern Road home she resided in.

The publishing of those pictures is believed to have contributed to the PLP’s loss at the May 2, 2007 general election. Referring to the PLP, the embassy said the party was “wounded” by the incident.

“Several months into her Bahamian residency, American B-list celebrity and regular entertainment television fixture Anna Nicole Smith has changed the face of Bahamian politics. Not since Category 4 Hurricane Betsy made landfall in 1965 has one woman done as much damage in Nassau,” said the cable.

The embassy noted that Gibson’s political career had been wrecked as a result of the scandal.

“The sordid details of Anna Nicole's private life inspire readers to pick up a paper, and when they do they read about a government bending the rules for personal benefit and the privileged elite. The Anna Nicole affair has severely damaged Shane Gibson's political career, tarnishing one of the PLP's brighter stars,” said the cable.

The Free National Movement (FNM) was reportedly gleeful as a result of the scandal engulfing the PLP. The cable said that during a meeting with an unnamed FNM cental committee member, the member reported that polling in Gibson's constituency foretold “a clear FNM victory in coming elections”.

In a second cable from the embassy dated March 6, 2007, called ‘Cabinet Minister Resigned Over Photos with Anna’, the embassy again refers to information it received from an FNM contact. The cable was also listed as classified by Dr. Hardt.

“According to a source in the FNM's leadership, even before the photographs of Gibson in bed with Smith, the FNM would have focused its campaign in part on transparency and corruption in the ruling party,” said the cable.

“The FNM had alleged irregular visa issuances, lack of transparency in financial accounts, and possible corruption in a government housing development. Some observers feel that the PLP's delay in calling elections was intended to diffuse concerns over these allegations, and that the renewed focus on Gibson and Smith ensured further delay before elections are called.”

The embassy was of the view that the scandal would provide the FNM with critical ammunition against the PLP during the campaign.

“The Gibson-Anna Nicole scandal gives the FNM just the focus it hoped for in a campaign already designed to question the PLP's integrity. Whether such a strategy can overcome a relatively strong economy, job growth and an increase in social programs under the PLP is uncertain,” said the cable.

After Gibson’s resignation there were questions about his political future, considering that the scandal was harming the PLP. The embassy noted Gibson was well protected by his affiliation with Mt. Tabor Bishop Neil Ellis. Gibson is a member of Mt Tabor.

“Regardless, it must be frustrating to the PLP that Gibson continued his relationship with Smith against party advice after the scandal first broke in the fall. Regardless of party grumbling about Gibson, his strong constituency support ­– he won his seat by a landslide in 2002 and he enjoys the patronage of political heavyweight Bishop Neil Ellis – will ensure that Gibson stays in the PLP's plans,” said the cable.

The cables also reveal that the embassy does not think highly of Bahamian journalists.

“While easy to discount the tabloid journalism surrounding these issues, it is encouraging that the local press – too often cautious with government and lacking strong in investigative journalism – has been able to help hold a powerful member of the government accountable...,” said the cable.

12/22/2010

thenassauguardian

Monday, December 20, 2010

Justice K. Neville Adderley Has Spoken

Justice Adderley Has Spoken
The Bahama Journal Editorial

A number of citizens decided that they would take the Minister of Works to court; they did and today we know that rest of the story – these citizens won.

As one citizen notes of the matter to which we refer: "This case is historic, (it) has proven that the small man can stand up and fight City Hall. There is no reason to be scared.

This citizen is Arnold Heastie, owner of Heastie's Service Station on Baillou Road.

Another citizen, Etheric Bowe, the owner of Advanced Technical Enterprises Ltd, said the ruling gave him faith in the justice system.

In addition, there is also Rupert Roberts, himself another leading citizen who also exulted in the decision to which we shall presently refer.

And for sure, we can also advise that, you should –at least for now- forget that old saw which suggests that, while sticks and stones might break your bones, words can never harm you.

While this might be advice that is good enough for na├»ve children, the fact remains that, in the very real world that we inhabit, words – particularly those uttered by magistrates, Supreme Court Justices and others such – can and do resonate.

Here we can and will illustrate the point we make by noting some of those poignant words as they were uttered this past weekend by one Supreme Court Justice, K. Neville Adderley.

In a matter that came to his attention, we note some of what this esteemed justice had to says as he expatiated on the bone that had been the nub of contention between the Minister of Works and some of this nation’s leading citizens; concluding [as he did] on this salutary note: "I find that once the Minister (of Works) had embarked on the consultative process by carrying out the road works in the affected area without proper consultation, he thereby did not follow the requirements of the law…”

This broadside was followed by another volley of words that struck their mark. Here Justice Adderley concluded on this note: “…I also find that the road works in substance constitute a public nuisance which has directly contributed to losses, including goodwill, to the businesses of the applicants…"

This is surely some powerful stuff.

And as if this was not enough for the Minister of Works, the learned justice reverted to that question concerning damages.

Here Justice Adderley opined that, "The damages shall relate to their businesses only and to loss cause by the road works. The works on the Baillou Hill Road and Market Street corridors are continuing and there may be time for the minister to mitigate his damages by engaging in proper consultation with the applicants to the extent, if any, is still possible…"

Yet again, we are witness to the power inherent in words when they are words that can and will make a difference as regards the rights of the citizen versus the power of the state.

Such is the stuff of which joyous celebration is both birthed and fashioned; and so it came to be that, Justice Adderley’s ruling was met with jubilation from the Coconut Grove Business League.

But for sure, there is more to this than that it surely does provides a perfect pretext for celebration and jubilation.

Here the truth inherent in the matter at hand has to do with lessons that must be learned. In this regard, then, the current administration, its Official Opposition and [perhaps] most of those men and women who would aspire to leadership in our land must – if for the sake of their own sanity – should take close note of the fact that, there are three branches of government.

They would also be well advised to know and appreciate the importance of the fact that, each branch has its own unique role to play in keeping things on an even keel; and that, when the chips are down, the executive branch of government can and should be over-ruled.

This is precisely what now stands revealed on the morrow of a landmark decision made by Supreme Court Justice K. Neville Adderley, who opined that, the Minister of Works "did not follow the requirements of the law when he effected road works along Baillou Hill Road and Market Street.”

This he said as he ruled in favour of the Coconut Grove Business League yesterday.

We can also note that, Justice K. Neville Adderley also awarded the group unspecified damages for loss of business due to the ongoing road works - damages that will be assessed by the court at a later date if the parties involved cannot come to an agreed amount.

Evidently jubilant, The Coconut Grove Business League –as reported – described Justice Adderley’s ruling as an historic one.

It surely is.

And so, today we give thanks for the fact that, we still live in a land where the Rule of Law yet prevails.

December 20, 2010

The Bahama Journal Editorial

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bluewater versus Cable & Wireless - and the Privatisation of Bahamas Telecommunications Company Limited (BTC)

When did the unions purchase BTC?
tribune242 editorial


TODAY MANY Bahamians are confused. They would like to know when the unions purchased the public's telecommunications company, which would give them the right to say whether the company can be sold and to whom.

As far as the public is aware those making the noise in the public square are employees of a publicly owned company with a contract of service that can be terminated by either side to that contract. In other words a union's only argument should be about the employment of its members and the terms of that employment, certainly not about the ownership of the company. However, if unionists believe they have an entitlement -- over an above their contract of service -- then they should bring their papers and publicly prove their point. Otherwise, it is the government -- not the unions-- that was elected to represent the Bahamian people. And it is the people, represented by their MPs in parliament, who will have the final say on the sale of BTC.

Bernard Evans, president of the Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union, who has taken the union's fight to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), has claimed the government was in violation of an ILO convention which calls for the government to engage workers in a "transparent manner to discuss issues of life-changing effect."

How can the union leader support this complaint when he was on the BTC privatisation committee where the matter was discussed and recommendations made to government, and when the Prime Minister himself met with union executives and invited them to meet for discussions with the proposed new owner's chief executive officer? It is understood that at the meeting with the Prime Minister, although the union leaders expressed their displeasure at Cable and Wireless as the new owners, they at least agreed to meet with the company's CEO for a discussion.

David Shaw, CEO of Cable and Wireless, flew in specially for that discussion. The union sent its regrets.

They complain that no one will talk with them, that they do not know what is going on, that what is being done to them is "wicked and intentional" because government never truly wanted them to be "a participant in that discussion." How can there be a discussion if one side to that discussion refuses to come to the table? How can doubts and fears be discussed and removed if a reasonable discussion cannot take place? Bullying tactics will not succeed. The louder they shout in the public square, the more support they lose by a large segment of the population, already dissatisfied with BTC's service.

Mr Evans has accused the government of trying to "muddy" the waters by comparing the PLP's terms of agreement to sell BTC to Bluewater with the terms offered to Cable & Wireless. He claims it is a "non-issue" for the unions and hardly worthy of comment.

Unfortunately, it is not a non-issue and is most worthy of comment, because with the Christie government, it was the union that also agreed to the Bluewater deal. Apparently, the union had no problem with this untried and untested foreigner named Bluewater, nor did it protest the terms of that agreement. Whenever it is referred to by Mr Christie he is careful to make it clear that the union was on board, and until now the union has not protested.

The main dispute is that the PLP offered Bluewater 49 per cent of the company, while the FNM offered Cable and Wireless 51 per cent. Now let's examine the meaning of the two offers in practical terms.

In the Bluewater agreement, management and control of BTC was to be given to Bluewater without it having paid for the majority interest. Bluewater was also given control of the board because it had a greater number of directors on it. It also had complete control of the day-to-day management because it had sole authority to select the company's Chief Executive Officer (CEO). In other words Bluewater with its 49 per cent would have effectively secured majority control of BTC without having paid for it.

On the other hand Cable and Wireless (CWC) paid for its 51 per cent majority. On closing the net cash benefit to the government from the CWC deal will be at least $202 million, whereas the net value of the Bluewater transaction on closing would have been $150 million, and not the $260 million as claimed by the politicians.

Bluewater was granted an exclusivity period of six years for both mobile and fixed line services while CWC's exclusivity period for mobile service is three years, and the fixed line no longer applies as it has already been liberalised.

And so when the facts are examined, not only is government financially better off selling to CWC, but CWC has had to pay for its control of the company, whereas the Bluewater deal -- agreed by the Christie government, and one can assume by the union because of its silence at the time -- received exactly the same control of the company for which it would have paid no extra -- and for which it would have been paying in instalments over a six-year period, instead of cash. The bottom line was that Bluewater with its 49 per cent got complete control of the company without paying any extra, while CWC with its 51 per cent also got complete control of the company, but at a price.

December 17, 2010

tribune242 editorial

Friday, December 17, 2010

Say, Sway and Raw Power

The Bahama Journal Editorial



Available evidence suggests that, the Progressive Liberal Party and a number of unions are apparently finding themselves united as regards certain aspects of that deal that would –if approved- provide Cable and Wireless a fifty one per cent stake in BTC.

On the other hand, the governing party seems to be suggesting that they have been blind-sided by union leadership and that, in addition, they are adamant that, the Bahamian people are getting a good deal, moving forward.

These are the bones of contention between the governing party, its Opposition and the unions.

Evidently, politics matters.

And here, as we revert to some of what the Opposition is saying, we note where they say that, “…The PLP holds fast to the belief that the sale of BTC to C&W is a ‘national issue’ and not a political issue as there is a general concurrence on the Privatization of BTC.

“To this end the primary spokespersons outside the Halls of Parliament have been primarily the Party’s Chairman, the Leader and Deputy Leader. This position by the PLP has been clearly demonstrated with the ongoing Senate Debates, as opposition members, despite attempts to be censored, continue to hammer the Government for not making public the details of the Memorandum of Understanding on the BTC / C&W Deal…”

The PLP concludes on this note of warning, explaining that, “…the government continues to stubbornly proceed with this bad deal despite mounting national opposition by the People of the Bahamas. Considering the above factors, the PLP again call on the Prime Minister to make public the details of the sale by releasing the Memorandum of Understanding on the BTC / C&W Deal without further delay. More importantly, we call on the government to listen to the majority of the People and cancel the Government’s plans to sell BTC to Cable & Wireless…”

And so, the battle lines have been drawn.

Evidently, these battle lines recapitulate parameters that have proven decisive in times past – with workers and others ranged in alliance with one party or the other.

Only time will tell how this struggle will eventuate.

But even as we wait for time’s verdict, we can say with some high degree of confidence that, the struggle is on; and that, those who oppose the BTC deal are seemingly on the offensive; with their quarry – the governing Free National Movement now pulling out the stops in order to better sell the deal they thought they had in the bag.

But notwithstanding those aspects of this matter that turn on the use of raw power by some in the halls of parliament, we are today somewhat discomfited by some of the tactics used by the Speaker in the Assembly; particularly where it seems as if he ignored the right of Her Majesty’s Opposition to speak, once notice of adjournment was announced.

While –like others- we have no way of divining what could have motivated him to act as he did; suffice it to say that he left us and quite a number of other right-thinking persons with the sense that he was acting in the immediate political interests of the ruling party in the Assembly.

While we would like to think otherwise, the evidence directs us the clear conclusion that, Mr. Speaker erred when he acted as he did this Wednesday past.

But be that as it may, we hope that –in time- Mr. Speaker would have the good grace to explain himself to each and every member of that august assembly; this in order to convince them that he was not biased in his recent decision making.

Now while we are quite aware of some of those other aspects of this matter that now provide the Opposition with so much political fodder; we are still adamant that, they should have been given an opportunity to speak.

In addition, we would have much preferred that things had gone in such a way so that, those who lead and those who would lead might have had an opportunity to say Merry Christmas to each other and to send similar greetings to their constituents.

And clearly, we do believe that, the Opposition should have been given an opportunity – on the notice of adjournment to speak.

This is a time honored tradition in any number of countries that would hew to the democratic way of doing things; where while governments might have their sway, those in Opposition should have their say.

Evidently, while this nostrum might be heeded in other jurisdictions, there seems to be some difficulty with it as parliamentarians dicker and debate the matter concerning the proposed ‘sale’ of BTC to Cable and Wireless.

And so today, we regret the way things have happened in the Assembly; and as they might have done, we wish them all a Merry Christmas.

December 17, 2010

The Bahama Journal Editorial

...the Christie government's secret negotiations with Bluewater...

Bahamians being offered better deal
tribune242 editoial



WE ARE baffled by Opposition Leader Perry Christie's harping on the "secrecy" surrounding government's memorandum of understanding with Cable & Wireless (LIME). Surprised because on the desk in front of us is a file of the Christie government's secret negotiations with Bluewater that were then too sensitive to be shared with the public and of which no one knew the details until the Ingraham government came to office and opened the books. The union, by its own and Mr Christie's admission, was a part of the negotiations and approved the sale.

A week before the election, which resulted in the Christie government's removal from office, it was discovered that the privatisation committee for the Bluewater sale had submitted its report, which was approved by cabinet, but not signed by Mr Christie.

Today the public knows more about the Cable and Wireless proposal than it ever did about the Bluewater deal -- and even now information is coming out about Bluewater that the public is hearing for the first time.

Prime Minister Ingraham has promised that all information on the BTC sale with all documents attached will be made public two weeks before being presented to the House for a vote.

This full disclosure, we can assure our readers -- judging from the PLP's track record, especially recalling the "secret" land-giveaway in the Baha Mar Cable Beach deal -- would have never happened under the Christie government.

And so why does Mr Christie continue to harp on a deal being "clandestinely" dealt with "deep in secret" when there is nothing secret about it?

He believes government, avoided parliament yesterday morning, because it is afraid of the issue.

"They know that they are riding a tiger and you know old Confucius' saying: 'He who ride rides tiger dare not fall off,'" said Mr Christie.

We know that Confucius was a wise man, but this particular saying cannot be attributed to him. It is an ancient Chinese proverb, which says: "He who rides a tiger can never get off or the tiger will devour him."

Is this why Mr Christie cannot give up the secrecy myth? Maybe, he and the union representatives, who admit they were a part of the whole Bluewater negotiations, should come clean and tell the public why they were so secret when they were trying to hand over the Bahamian people's "jewel" to a group that had not been tested and had no track record in communications? No, Mr Christie, this is one tiger you will have to keep riding because if you fall off the people will indeed see that the Emperor has no clothes.

In yesterday's demonstration when a union member broke through the restraining barriers on Bay Street and was confronted by police, he taunted his colleagues, who remained behind the barricades: "They have y'all corralled like a bunch of animals. That is how they have you. Y'all look like a bunch of animals!"

Not only did they look like a bunch of corralled animals, but they were behaving as such without an independent brain in their heads. Imagine mounting a demonstration on the emotional hot air of politicians and union leaders without accepting the invitation to sit down with Cable and Wireless to discover for themselves what the negotiations are all about and the important role Bahamians are to play in it.

Today they now have a chance to sit down in the quiet of their homes and read the Cabinet's statement on page 7 of today's edition and see the bill of goods that the PLP was trying to sell them -- and if it were not for the election would have got away with -- and what they are being offered today.

This week a union leader accused government of giving away the country's cash cow. Indeed it is a cash cow that consumers are paying for dearly and unionists are milking without shame.

The backwardness of BTC has retarded the growth of this country's financial industry as well as local businesses that have been forced -- thanks to the computer -- to try to avoid the BTC monopoly as far as possible.

All we have heard so far is what the unionists want of BTC. It is now time for the consumers to be heard. Consumers want lower prices, better service and an ability to enter the world market without being hemmed in by suffocating monopolies.

Read the Cabinet statement and understand how Bahamians are being hoodwinked by politicians -- there is indeed no comparison with the Christie-backed Bluewater deal to what is being offered today by Cable and Wireless Communications.

December 16, 2010

tribune242 editoial

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Consumer Voices Bahamas (CVB) defends Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) acquisition of Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC)

New consumer advocacy group defends BTC acquisition
By Stewart Miller
Guardian Business Reporter
stewart@nasguard.com



A new voice is crystallizing to ensure that consumers do not go unheard beneath the roar of politicians, employees and unions over the sale of 51 percent of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) to Cable & Wireless Communications.

Officials of the new consumer advocacy group Consumer Voices Bahamas (CVB) chose historic Fox Hill Park to present themselves and their case to The Bahamas yesterday, defending CWC’s acquisition of BTC as being best for Bahamian consumers.

“We believe... that as the employees are important to this, the consumers are equally important to the sale of BTC,” Marlene Minus, chairperson of CVB said. She added that it is the consumers “who are paying the high prices for cellular services, who are experiencing the inconsistencies in their service, and in some cases experiencing disruptions in both their cellular and their Internet service.”

CVB is prepared to use the Internet, other forms of media, public meetings and demonstrations to tout the consumer benefits related to BTC having an international strategic partner, according to Minus. She also said that CVB would not be intimidated from their declared purpose to promote and advance the interests of the Bahamian consumer.

“Should this initiative be met with conflict, slander or disdain from union members or union leaders, we understand that, we respect that and in some cases we expect that,” the chairperson said. “But we are not afraid. We are consumers, we are Bahamians, and we believe we have a voice. So we are here to say that from a consumer perspective we believe this is good.”

Minus said that its managerial and technical expertise, along with Cable & Wireless’ international connections, would ensure better and more reliable services and would result in cheaper rates for cellular service, land lines and overseas calls.

Treasurer for CVB David Jordine told Guardian Business that the organization has no political ties or association, but was born out of the need to protect the interests of Bahamians.

“Based on the information that has been made public thus far it seems as if the consumer is being left out of the debate,” Jordine said. He added that a lot of politics and personalities are in the fray, but households, consumers and businesses that are affected should not be forgotten.

“When we mention consumers we also have to realize that a large base of our consumers is the business community,” said Jordine. “The Bahamas strives on tourism and the financial industry and the demand for communications in those sectors is vital to the bottom line, so it’s highly important that they take them into consideration because they represent the lifeblood of this country’s economy.

“We recognize that BTC and the employees of BTC have been doing a wonderful job and we want to express our appreciation to them, however for the customer, it’s cheeper, quicker, better -- that’s the initiative.”

The advocacy group reports membership of about 30 to 40 people presently. Minus said that a research and investigations team has already been formed to go into business houses and report findings back to the organization.

Although the BTC privatization was the genesis of CVB’s formation, Jordine said that the organization will not be limited to that issue.

“This group wishes to speak on behalf of consumers about any industry where we think that the consumer could get a more efficient service, a better price to meet thier needs,” Jordine said. Bahamians who support their position, or have any other ideas or comments are invited to contact the CVB by e-mail at cvb@hotmail.com.

CVB reported that it’s already at work investigating claims that some car repair businesses are gouging customers who are attempting to make sure their seat belts are functioning because of the enforcement of seat belt laws.

12/15/2010

thenassauguardian

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Many Bahamians are expressing a lack of confidence in the justice system

Bahamians must feel the law is on their side
thenassauguardian editorial


With an increase in housebreaking taking place throughout the country in various communities, residents are appealing for justice to be served on the perpetrators.

Many Bahamians are expressing a lack of confidence in the justice system, claiming that the law does not protect their rights as citizens. In the cases of housebreaking and stealing, these cries are heard even louder.

The expression “justice denied” has become common place.

While housebreaking and stealing is on the rise, the number of people being placed in jail for these crimes has not increased. What has increased are the number of people being let go on bail for these crimes.

It is this perception of injustice that seems to irate Bahamians, perhaps because the crime of housebreaking is more of an invasive act. People feel as if they have been violated when their home has been the target of a housebreaking.

The idea that someone has been digging through drawers, jewelry boxes, cupboards and personal items, leaves the feeling of an invasion of privacy. That in itself stirs up a lot of emotions among the victims of this crime.

To make matters worse, those who are caught and charged with these crimes are then given a slap on the wrist, given a record and let go on bail, pending a hearing.

Then, to add insult to injury, if the criminal is not in possession of the items stolen, the victims cannot get any compensation for those items stolen. They are told that once the person has gotten rid of the items, there is nothing the law can do.

That criminal is not demanded to make restitution in no shape or form.

If your items have been sold or pawned before the criminal is caught, that is the end of it.

So, not only has a person’s home been broken into, their privacy invaded, their items stolen, the criminal set out on bail, but there is no way of getting any kind of compensation.

It has left residents with a sense of being left alone, with no justice served.

There has to be more convictions, at least there has to be an appearance of justice being served.

It’s not enough for those convicted of these crimes just to get a criminal record and that’s it. Letting these criminals out on bail only leaves them with an opportunity to continue their rampage on other homes and other families.

More has to be done to make Bahamians feel as if the law is on their side and that crime does not pay. As it stands now, they feel as if this is not the case.

12/14/2010

thenassauguardian editorial

Monday, December 13, 2010

Voices Killarney poll shows that many support the proposed BTC sale

Constituency poll shows many support proposed BTC sale
tribune242



A recent poll taken in the Killarney constituency shows that there are many Bahamians who support the government’s intention to sell a 51 per cent stake in The Bahamas Telecommunications Company to the British telecommunication company Cable and Wireless Communications (C&WC).

A recent poll conducted on “Voices Killarney,” an online news letter from the constituency office of Dr Hubert Minnis revealed that 67 people who participated in the poll supported the BTC deal while 50 persons opposed the deal. The poll, which was conducted on December 10 and 11, also revealed that six persons who participated in the poll were undecided.

Among those who supported the sale one person commented, “I think the sale is an excellent idea. C&W are in the Caribbean Islands. Although we are considered ahead of them economically their telephone technology is far ahead of us.” Another posted, “The union just needs to get over it. It is ludicrous that a union dictates who the government sells any corporation to. The government is elected by the people to conduct work on behalf of the people so I believe that every government would make decisions that are in the best interest of the country. Those people at Batelco are lazy and are afraid of privatization.”

Another person in support of the sale commented, “The sale of Batelco is long overdue. We are paying far too much for out dated systems and service that is not customer-oriented. I have been trying to find out for over one year how my land line was turned over in the name of my tenant and they were allowed to transfer my phone line when they gave up the lease on my property. They have also not been able to satisfy me with what has happened to my security deposit. The prices are too high, the service is poor and I think we need to up grade.”

Among those who opposed the decision one person commented, “I agree that staff numbers need to be reduced and employees simply more efficient to cut operation costs. However, if it must be sold, it should be sold to Bahamians with the capital and vision to further advance the company with the latest technologies available in phone and Internet services.”

Another stated, “Batelco belongs to the people of the Bahamas and should not be sold. Bahamians should own and run Batelco.” “I feel that it was a very bad decision because they sold such a great portion of the company for such little money. BTC makes a lot of money just in one year. In two years time BTC would have already made over that amount, so it really made no sense selling for so little,” another person commented.

Among those who were undecided, one stated, “Notwithstanding that the sale is inevitable and probably necessary. I'm curious to know what criteria was laid out to qualify as a purchaser. Does C&W meet the criteria, if they do and other companies also did, what were the track records of the other companies when compared to C&W? Why must we sell 51 per cent as opposed to 49 per cent. Why not consider a group of Bahamians as opposed to foreigners?”

December 13, 2010

tribune242

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP)... the newest trade union in The Bahamas?

Unions must separate politics from protest
thenassauguardian editorial


The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) must be the newest trade union in the country. Numerous PLP members of Parliament and senior party officers attended the mass union rally at the Bahamas Communications and Public Officers (BCPOU) Hall on Wednesday night.

Having the PLP present at the rally does not help the unions’ cause. The unions argue that they want BTC sold to Bahamians. The PLP wanted to sell 49 percent of BTC to a nebulous network of foreigners before it lost the government in 2007.

The PLP was at the rally because the unions are causing trouble for the government. A PLP that spent much of its time in opposition factionalized is now seeking to capitalize on the missteps of the Free National Movement (FNM). The PLP was not there to support workers.

The unions are advocating for a policy we support. Bahamian assets should be sold to Bahamians. They are also attempting to preserve jobs at the company.

Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC) wants to terminate 30 percent of the employees at the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC). The unions oppose this move.

We think the public service is overstaffed and inefficient. However, the unions have a right to fight for the members they represent.

In doing so, the unions must ensure they do not allow politicians to latch on to their cause for political gain. When voters look at pictures in newspapers and see the opposition at the rally, the protest could appear politically motivated rather than being based on a dispute between government and labor.

The opposition is hoping the BTC dispute becomes as nasty as it did at the end of the FNM’s second term in office, when angry union members confronted Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham in front of the Cabinet Office.

Current PLP Golden Gates MP Shane Gibson was the BCPOU president at the time. He became a PLP candidate shortly after his union embarrassed the government.

We hope the current leaders of the BTC unions are not on the offensive against the government because they are auditioning for political office. The presence of the PLP at the rally could give that impression.

If the unions are operating independent of the PLP, they should make it known that the opposition is not a part of their camp.

The PLP has no message on the BTC issue that is different from the FNM. The unions should not allow the opposition to appear to be their champion when they share the same policies as the FNM.

12/10/2010

thenassauguardian editorial

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) secret attempt to sell BTC to Blue Water Ventures before the 2007 election

The PLP and their Blue Water 'secrets'
tribune242 editorial


THE PLP seems to be a party always anxious to distance itself from its own unimpressive past --unless, of course, it has deliberately cultivated a memory that takes a convenient leave of absence when a situation gets too hot to handle.

Whichever way one looks at it, PLP leaders are being disingenuous to suggest that government is failing to disclose information on its negotiations with Cable & Wireless for the 51 per cent purchase of BTC for $210 million.

They have forgotten their own secrecy in their attempt to sell BTC to Blue Water Ventures before the 2007 election when they were defeated at the polls.

At the time --2006-2007 -- much was written and speculated about this secrecy. It was only after the FNM came to power that the public eventually knew what had gone on behind those closed doors.

Today Bahamians know more at this early stage in the negotiations about what is proposed with Cable & Wireless than anyone ever knew from the PLP about their negotiations with Blue Water.

The Tribune reported in January, 2007, after all other bidders were locked out so that the PLP government could continue to woo Blue Water, that "the secrecy and lack of transparency ... has caused some frustrations, not only among other potential leaders such as C&W, but members of the Bahamian financial community and some BTC staff."

It was suggested that the Christie government was unlikely to conclude BTC's privatisation before the 2007 election, which was closing in on it. The reason given was concern for the considerable number of votes tied up in BTC's estimated 1,200 workers and their relatives. "A privatisation, especially one that resulted in redundancies, could be unpopular at election time," The Tribune was told. And so today, although the party probably won't admit it, even they recognised that to succeed, redundancies were necessary. It was probably another reason for the secrecy.

And, as we said, in this column yesterday, no matter who takes over BTC -- even an astute Bahamian business group -- staff has to be trimmed for the sake of good business.

BTC has been on the auction block for the past 11 years. In 2007 The Tribune reported that the best offer that was received in 2003 was when BahamasTel consortium, backed by Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase, bid $130 million for a 49 per cent stake. At the time it valued the company at just over $260 million.

However, by 2007, it was clear that BTC had dropped even further in value, faced with competition from IndiGo Networks' fixed line, Voice over IP and Cable Bahamas on Internet. Once it loses its cellular monopoly, it will be difficult to even give it away.

BTC has stood like a colossus astride this country, stifling its economic growth.

James Smith, in those years minister of state for finance, could only tell us week after week that the government-appointed committee had completed its work for privatisation and had submitted its recommendations to Cabinet. This was the highest that the veil, which concealed their "secret," was ever lifted. From then on there was silence.

Mr Smith said that "a world class, efficient telecommunications sector" was required for both the tourism and the financial services industry.

And in a tone of resigned desperation, he admitted that "all the time spent looking at other (privatisation) players has basically allowed this existing dinosaur to entrench itself."

And it is into this "entrenched dinosaur" that the government is trying to breath new life to give it a chance to be of benefit to the country.

So much time and energy is being taken up with the wishes of the unions and the politicians that little thought is being given to the Bahamian people, who for years have had to pay high prices for inferior service.

The "dinosaur" has suffocated this country for much too long, Bahamians now need some breathing space to grow and prosper. They deserve better service, lower prices and more choices and a telecommunications company that will not only do them proud but will be a profitable investment.

A unionist has suggested that Bahamian consumers should be included in the debate as to whether Cable and Wireless should be the lead partner in a new BTC that will give them better service, and lower prices.

It is a good idea. The unionists might not like what they hear.

December 10, 2010

tribune242 editorial

Friday, December 10, 2010

BTC employees' battle with the government over 51 percent stake in Bahamas Telecommunications Company to Cable & Wireless

Are BTC employees in a losing battle with the government
thenassauguardian editorial


Employees of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) went on the offensive on Tuesday, as a sign of their disagreement with government’s move to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Cable & Wireless in relation to the sale of a 51 percent stake in BTC. The protest action on Tuesday, in which BTC employees paraded around the company’s head office on JFK Drive, brought flashbacks of what happened when ZNS workers tried to fight government’s downsizing of the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas.

Also familiar is BCPOU President Bernard Evans, who was unsuccessful in his fight for ZNS employees against the government. It seems strange that after losing that battle not so long ago, union members are still confident that Evans can get them the kind of results they seek.

Evans is the same and his fight is against the same foe to which he lost, the Government of The Bahamas. We saw how the ZNS fiasco turned out. Will this BTC fight be any different?

It should be noted though, that a significant difference in this fight is that President of the Bahamas Christian Council Rev. Patrick Paul, and newly-elected President of the National Congress of Trade Unions of The Bahamas Jennifer Isaacs-Dotson, have jumped on board with BTC from the get go.

This battle could turn out to be a much bigger fight for the government than ZNS was.

When it comes to BTC who knows what to expect? Reports suggest that Tuesday’s action was just the beginning of what could end up being a massive national strike involving various unions. Yesterday the BTC employees were at it again, this time with a motorcade through the streets of New Providence, and a mass rally at the Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union Hall, at which representatives of various unions were on hand to give their support.

The prime minister stared down Bernard Evans, called his bluff and won a battle without even unholstering his gun during the ZNS fiasco. With Evans at the helm of the battle with BTC, Prime Minister Ingraham may be looking for history to repeat itself.

12/9/2010

thenassauguardian editorial

Thursday, December 9, 2010

As Labor Flexes its Muscles

The Bahama Journal Editorial


Today by way of this commentary, we wish to put in clearer perspective what we perceive as the political import of what seems to be an increased degree of restiveness on the part of so very many public sector workers.

On occasion, their main gripe seems to concern money. At other times, workers and their representatives seem to be preoccupied with matters germane to respect.

But no matter the reason or the season, the fact remains that, politicians always pay some kind of price whenever public sector workers become roiled and riled to that point where they say that, they are sick and tired of things as they are.

This is so because, unlike their counter-parts in the private sector, ministers cannot ignore the fact that when they step forward to bargain with workers, there is always some political element somewhere in the details.

That is why it is always so very instructive to understand the import of some of history's lessons.

We make this reference to the importance of history as we reflect on what is currently taking place on the industrial scene.

In a sense, what we are currently witness is a kind of macabre footnote to some of the demonstrations that took place in the late 90’s as the then governing Free National Movement faced the ire of a powerful cadre of workers.

It is to be noted that, today’s emerging labor situation seems eerily reminiscent of the situation and circumstances that existed in 1999, when the Free National Movement and its leadership found themselves challenged and openly disrespected by angry workers.

And so, with general elections on the horizon, it is anybody’s guess as to how things will pan out for either the governing Free National Movement or its political nemeses in the guise of the Progressive Liberal Party.

And for sure, even as we focus on the two major parties, we are acutely aware of the fact that, there are other forces – some of them allegedly and reputedly with deep pockets – who might yet have a decisively important impact on how things turn out.

In addition, there are other forces that seem poised to have some effect on the outcome of those contests whenever they take place. Here we reference, the role that might yet be played by workers in their guise as voters; and [yet again] as we have previously suggested, we have a background context where, for want of a more comprehensive understanding of what national development should be about; the Bahamian people and their leaders now wallow in a mire of despond.

And as they wallow, we have a situation on the ground where the hard men and women with guns in hand and murder in their hearts, are doing their thing.

We also know it for a fact that, history itself teaches that, workers can seat or unseat those in power.

Here we are quite certain that the power in this truism is not lost on either the governing Progressive Liberal Party or on its nemeses on the opposition side of the political street in The Bahamas.

As such, it should come as no surprise to any one that Bahamian workers are restive at this precise moment. This is surely due -in part at least- to the fact that workers are voters.

Evidently, too, with Christmas on its way; with a national economy that is in a parlous state; with utility bills as high as ever and with money as scarce as hen’s teeth; some of this nation’s workers are today as mad as hell.

Evidently, there is no telling how things will turn out for those who are governing and for those men and women who wish to take hold of the reins of power.

While general elections are still some ways off, the fact remains that workers know that – when the chips are down- they have a tremendous amount of power at their command.

Here we would advise all who would hear and all who would know that, they had better listen to the voice of the worker.

And while, we advise that those who lead and those who would lead should listen to the cries of the people; this is not to say that we are demanding anyone to yield to this or that insistent demand.

At the minimum, therefore, those who would take one position as opposed to another should explain themselves to the people.

Once this tack is taken, they can then let the chips fall where they may.
In the ultimate analysis, then, what makes this situation so very important is the fact that workers are voters. This means that whenever they wish, they can bring a government to grief and despair.

December 9th. 2010

The Bahama Journal Editorial

...the Free National Movement (FNM) must be careful that it does not make a rudderless and reactionary opposition Progressive Liberal Party seem attractive to voters based on its decisions

Angering electorate at election time
thenassauguardian editorial


We were surprised at a notice in the newspapers on Tuesday. The government has decided to inform the public that police, beginning on Monday, will strictly enforce the seatbelt laws enacted in March 2002.

We support the enforcement of the seatbelt laws. The laws protect drivers and passengers. They also help reduce health care costs by preventing more serious injuries.

However, the government must understand the culture it is a part of. Bahamians are not accustomed to wearing seatbelts in The Bahamas. Consequently, a more reasonable notice period is needed in order for motorists to become aware and more comfortable with the change in enforcement policy.

That notice period could have been a month to two months, including a robust public relations campaign focused on ensuring the seatbelt message is widely disseminated throughout the country.

If on Monday police start handing out $300 fines to motorists for not wearing seatbelts, the electorate will not be pleased.

Even if a member of the government mentioned that this would happen in some obscure speech, few Bahamians thus far are aware that this significant change is to take place.

The Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) sale is also leading to growing unease in the country.

The government is about to sell 51 percent of BTC to the British firm Cable and Wireless Communications.

This paper has gone on record stating that Bahamian assets should be sold to Bahamians – this includes joint ventures between Bahamians and strategic partners.

Having a Bahamian owner, or a joint venture ownership structure between Bahamians and a strategic partner, would ensure more profits from the company stay in the country. Those profits that stay here would help create more jobs and prosperity in The Bahamas.

Both unions that represent workers at BTC have said they support Bahamians being owners of a privatized BTC.

Christian Council President Rev. Patrick Paul made comments yesterday that should concern the government.

“And so we stand with you this morning in agreement that (BTC) should belong to the Bahamians,” said Paul to those assembled during the union protest at BTC.

Paul assured the hundreds of BTC workers that the Christian church in The Bahamas supports their cause – that is, standing in opposition to the BTC sale to foreigners.

Earlier this year, the Free National Movement administration considered legalizing gambling for Bahamians and legal residents. The opposition, led by the church, stopped the government from making the bold move. That same church movement the government backed down from is now standing in opposition to the BTC sale.

Governing parties must pursue policies considered right for the country. They have an electoral mandate to do so. This authority, however, must be exercised in conjunction with the current moods and sentiments of the people.

When a political party pursues a policy it thinks is right, but that policy angers the people, this decision by the party usually leads it to opposition.

For its sake, the FNM must be careful that it does not make a rudderless and reactionary opposition Progressive Liberal Party seem attractive to voters based on its decisions.

12/8/2010

thenassauguardian editorial

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

In Opposition to the BTC Deal

The Bahama Journal Editorial


That we live in perilous times is no longer a matter that incurs debate; it is simply taken as a given that, these are surely times when practically everything that was once stable seems hell-bent on being ripped from its moorings.

In this we would surely include certain givens as they related to how the Bahamas could and should orient itself to the region and to the world market.

In this regard, we would place all of what we once took for granted as it pertains to the supremacy and desirability of relying on foreign direct investment; and here sometimes to the exclusion of Bahamian investment.

For a fairly long season, this idea worked its magic; and here it had the salutary result of creating a fairly self-confident middle class [albeit one that lived heavily off borrowed money]. But as some of our people would attest and confirm, for a fairly long while, it sure did seem as if this kind of scenario would persist for a while longer.

And then, there was that other emerging trend where and when there arose such a high respect for the magic that was said to be inherent in market forces. As a consequence, very many governments around the world soon came to find themselves dragooned into becoming true believers in the new mantra.

This slew of new and true believers in the so-called magic of the market place included some of our leaders and their myriad of followers.

Indeed, such was the magnetic force of the new idea that some who should have known better were soon enough found to be dancing and sometimes even prancing to the same tune.

As we recall, this was the context wherein there emerged that consensus behind ideas to privatize this or that public owned entity.

Early on the Bahamas Telecommunications Corporation was identified for the privatization experience and treatment.

While the times have obviously changed and while practically no-one with an iota of sense continues that blather about the so-called magic inherent in so-called market-forces, BTC is set to be divested of majority control on the Bahamian side; with that control going to Cable and Wireless.

And yet again, we are learning that, there is currently a Memorandum of Understanding [MOU] that the government signed with the regional communications giant (which is known as LIME throughout the Caribbean) provides for the sale of a 51 percent stake in BTC for $210 million.

We are also told that an additional $21 million will be collected by the government from the 10 percent stamp tax associated with the sale.

Note also that the said MOU also provides that the government will leave $15 million of BTC's cash in the bank to provide operating capital for LIME.

As reported, BTC had just under $66 million in cash at the end of September, according to financial records obtained by our Journal.

Evidently, this implies that if the sale is concluded in the next several months and BTC's cash reserves are significantly impacted, at least $51 million of that cash would go to the public treasury.

At this juncture, then, the word we get is to the effect that, if BTC maintains the cash it now has until the targeted sale date of February 15, 2011, the money generated by the sale of BTC would amount to more than $282 million.

While this is good as far as it goes, we are loath to support this move.

In this regard, [and as everyone would know], the potential buyer is Cable and Wireless.

In addition, we are now being told that, the proposed sale of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) to Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC) could net the government nearly $300 million by the time the deal is done.

While this is apparently a done deal, we are adamant in our conclusion that, more effort should have been put into seeing to it that this entity stayed in Bahamian hands.

This is our view not only because of our enduring concern for the well-being of our country and its people; but because we are absolutely convinced [as in the case of Cable Bahamas] BTC could and should be owned by Bahamians.

And clearly, we continue to be impressed by arguments that tell us that, there are some utilities such as those relating to water, electricity and communications that should – in the interests of national security- remain in the hands of Bahamian nationals.

Furthermore, we are absolutely convinced that, there remains a crying need for the Bahamian economy to stand –as it were - on two feet; with one firmly planted in the Bahamas by Bahamians and with the other just as firmly planted by foreigners.

Such a move would put this country of ours on a much firmer footing.
And for sure, this is precisely why –in principle- still opposed to this proposed link-up by BTC with Cable and Wireless.

December 8th, 2010

The Bahama Journal Editorial

Unions object to the sale of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company Limited (BTC) to Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC)

Unions' distaste with proposed BTC sale grows
By CHESTER ROBARDS
Guardian Staff Reporter
chester@nasguard.com


The government’s decision to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC) for the sale of a majority share of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) continues to be met with strong reaction from some union leaders.

The Nassau Guardian understands that the unions representing workers at BTC may be contemplating action intended to voice a stronger objection to the move.

Representatives from the Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Unions (BCPOU) and the Bahamas Communications and Public Managers Union (BCPMU) are also attempting to build support outside the trade union movement.

Union leaders met with members of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Sunday night to officially offer their disapproval of the sale of BTC to CWC.

Member of Parliament for West End and Bimini Obie Wilchcombe, who is leader of opposition business in the House of Assembly, confirmed that he and his colleagues met with members of the union and listened to their concerns.

He said the PLP is waiting to look over the MOU signed between the government and CWC before it offers an official position on the deal.

“We are looking at their issues and are hoping to get a sight of the Memorandum of Understanding,” said Wilchcombe.

BCPMU President William Carroll suggested that the unions would go around to every major civic organization in the country to garner support for their campaign against the sale of BTC to CWC.

The unions’ opposition to the sale to CWC has not changed since months before the MOU was signed.

The unions’ primary concern over the deal is job security for BTC workers.

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham revealed during a press conference not long before the MOU was signed that CWC had asked for a 30 percent decrease in the staff complement at BTC.

However, Ingraham said the government would only support a deal with voluntary separation packages.

A press release on the MOU signing revealed that the government and CWC agreed to the voluntary packages.

“There will be a restructuring of the workforce of BTC following completion of the transaction, which will be carried out on an entirely voluntary basis,” the release said. “A detailed plan is in the process of being developed.”

BCPOU President Bernard Evans contended many of the individuals who would receive packages are at an age where they may not be able to find gainful employment when their packages dry up.

“We aren’t advocating packages,” said Evans. “With the ages of some of these people, finding meaningful employment is dismal.”

12/7/2010

thenassauguardian

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Shopping at Home Matters

The Bahama Journal Editorial


We wish we could – at the evocation of the word – get Bahamians to shop at home. From at least one perspective, shopping at home might and could be equated and totted up as if it was akin to a genuine civic virtue.

While we here at JCN are obliged to comment on what is happening in the economy; we too are obliged to note that, there are things we – as Bahamians – can and should do in order to keep this country’s economy afloat.

Each Bahamian and each resident can and should do their utmost to shop at home; remembering as they do that a dollar spent at home by each and every one of them translates into jobs retained or new jobs created.

Things –as they say – are still tight in the United States as that great nation struggles to get up from the direst of ravages caused by what some pundits have described as the Great Recession.

One indicator of just how tight things are can be gleaned from statistics showing that, tens of millions of Americans who are out of work will remain so for at least the next five years.

But for sure, the greatest indicator of all are those statistics that suggest that a Bahamian economy that is tethered to do that of the United States is in need of some new boost.

Here we can and will cite, some of what Mr. Khaalis Rolle has had to say on the matter at hand; this with many Bahamian companies in the private sector "on the brink" of failure, and many others holding on in the hope of a Christmas boost.

With sales down as regards consumer demand in some instances between 20-30 percent; Rolle asks rhetorically and plaintively: "From a sales standpoint, if you take 30 per cent of gross revenues away, this 20-30 per cent from off the top line, and calculate the average net return of around 12-15 per cent, it's extremely difficult to see where companies can remain profitable.

And for sure, here debt servicing becomes a very difficult proposition; it becomes very difficult to service debt.

In addition and as we understand some of what he had to say, the record suggests that, [Mr. Rolle - without mentioning the $2.6 billion Baha Mar project by name] again questioned whether MPs and policymakers "fully understand" the urgent need for a "catalyst" to revive the economy.

Here we go a step further, and note that, things are bad and now we hear say that they may go from bad to worse.

In this regard, it is quite interesting to note and take to heart some of what Rolle as president of the Chamber of Commerce suggests as he indicates that, “The consumer demand slump has made it "extremely difficult" for most Bahamian companies, whose net returns on investment average 12-15 per cent per annum, to remain profitable…”

We also hear what the Chamber president has to say when he notes that, this nation might be "five years away from beginning to see meaningful economic recovery".

In addition, Rolle describes this recession as "infinitely worse" that the post-September 11, 2001, 'short, sharp shock' to the Bahamian economy…” And yet again, we note that the same Khaalis Rolle recently told one major paper that, “…that using the 36-48 months that it took this nation to completely recover from those events as a benchmark, it seemed that the rebound from current events might take up to five years…]

This is an inordinately long time.

And for sure, with Christmas in the air –as the old saying puts it – Bahamians are doing whatever they can in order to enjoy themselves in the days and weeks ahead.

And as some of them are wont to do, some of the time they have will be spent in sprucing up their homes, buying presents and otherwise, making themselves ready for the arrival [so to speak] of a long-awaited king.

Indeed, such is the largeness of the upcoming season - in terms of what it means not only in the realm of our shared Christian faith; but for the men and women who happen to be businessmen and women.

These business types are the ones who can be expected to hire more labor in festive times like these; and for sure, they can be relied upon to help stimulate allied areas of the economy.

It is this aspect of the matter as it relates to consumer spending and what such expenditure means for the rest of the society.

In short, as money is circulated, it stimulates demand in other areas; with the result that a dollar spent in one area can and does spark results elsewhere in the system.

In the ultimate analysis, then, shopping at home makes good economic and social sense for all Bahamians; that is why today, we encourage it to the maximum degree possible.

December 7th, 2010

The Bahama Journal Editorial