Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) Ivan Tesecum has said it is unfortunate that the Ministry of Rural Development Labour and Local Government has opted to switch cellphone providers from BTL to SMART, saying that the recent move is depriving the National Telecommunications provider of income and, thereby, is threatening their corporate responsibility in other areas.
Speaking to the Reporter on Wednesday, Tesecum confirmed to the Reporter that the switch from the nationalized and government majority-owned BTL to privately owned Speednet Communications (SMART)—which is owned and operated by relatives of Prime Minister John Briceño—has already been approved.
Tesecum confirmed that the company has also been made aware of rumors that other government departments and ministries will likewise be making the switch. He said that to prevent that from happening BTL has since dispatched its sales team to meet with the various ministries to discuss their needs and to address their concerns in an effort to maintain their support. While Tesecum says that the feedback has been mixed, some of the departments have agreed that they will be sticking with BTL while others have confirmed that they will be parting ways with the company.
Tesecum also noted that while the company is aware of the economic strain that the pandemic has caused on the Government causing them to implement cost-saving measures, he believes that there should have been a proper dialogue between the company and the government so that an amicable solution could be worked out that would benefit both parties. Tesecum said that he is now encouraging the finance officers within the various ministries to engage with them, so that they could have an open discussion to address their needs and wants and to give the company an opportunity to work alongside them, instead of just snatching business from underneath them without any proper dialogue.
BTL recently rebranded under a National Telecommunication Brand. Forty-nine (49) percent of the company’s shares are owned by the Government of Belize, while 34% is owned by the Social Security Board, 8% is owned by the Central Bank of Belize, and the other 8% is owned by fifteen hundred small-time shareholders who are 95-99% Belizean.
“When these services are migrated, who does it benefit when those revenues would have been given back as net income? Whatever the profitability of the organization, it would have been given back by way of dividends to these shareholders. In fact, our Article of Association states that 45 percent of all profits are to be declared as dividends each year. So by moving away from certain revenues the question really is who does it benefit? Does it benefit the shareholders who are all Belizeans or otherwise?” asked Tesecum.
Readers might recall that in March of this year, 24 employees were terminated from BTL, while several others were given the option of early retirement. Tesecum explained that it was one of the company’s six cost-saving measures that they had implemented at the time to stay afloat. But despite that Tesecum told the Reporter that the company was able to turn over a profit. While he cannot say how much income the company will lose with the latest switch over, he claims that it will definitely have an impact on other areas of the company’s operations including their corporate services.
Over the Weekend CEO of the Ministry of Rural Transformation, Labour, and Local Government, Valentino Shal had defended his ministry’s switch in telecommunication providers from a prepaid to a post-paid plan. He claimed that he and his team had analyzed their options and together they had decided that the SMART package was the best offer for its field officers in that it provided better features at the lowest prices.
Responding to that defense from the ministry’s CEO, Tesecum replied, “It is not for a lack of quality of service, so it’s not that. Maybe it has to do with price. We also encourage folks not to have a short-sighted view.”
Tesecum added, “While, yes, they are getting something, we are not saying that we could not have provided that if we had an open dialogue. It doesn’t mean that you ask for a quotation and you get it and do not come back to us. So there has to be that opportunity where we get to look at what it is that they are looking for and we get the opportunity to dialogue.”
This week, the Public Service Union (PSU) had similarly criticized the Briceño Administration for the change in providers, labeling it as politically nepotistic, unpatriotic, and a direct attack on the national investment of the workers of this country.