”Maybe this is a wake-up call for BTL to get their act together because the government is not moving. We still have millions of dollars of business with BTL, ” said Prime Minister John Briceño as he spoke for the first time on the Ministry of Rural Transformation, Community Development, Labour, and Local Government’s switch from the Government-owned Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) to the privately owned Speednet Communications Limited (SMART).
But even as credible reports are suggesting that at least three other government departments are also making the switch to SMART services, PM Briceño insisted on Wednesday “there is no policy that government is moving from one company to the next company. The issue is simply a matter of economics. I can tell you that there’s not a single person in government or outside of government that can say that I have called any one of them to move their business from BTL to Smart.”
Briceño then went on to state that both companies were invited for a sit down with the CEO of the various ministries to do a pitch of services and prices that they offered. According to the PM, that meeting became necessary after various ministries had vented their dissatisfaction with the level of customer services that BTL was providing.
“The CEO from Rural Development is saying they had these $30 plans for the workers who are out in the field and they were complaining that their $30 go up quickly, and they met with BTL and they met with SMART. SMART gave them a better deal and that’s why they decided to go down that route,” explained the Briceño.
On SMART’s part
Amid the controversy, SMART, which is owned and operated by relatives of the Prime Minister, sent out a press release saying that they, like the general public, are only aware of a directive from GOB to the various ministries asking them to institute cost-saving measures. The company claimed that to this end GOB “has taken the approach of accepting the best offer for the provision of services, taking into consideration price, quality and range of services.”
SMART continued to defend their business by claiming that the company’s recent proposals have allowed the ministries for the first time in many years to compare alternative proposals that result in considerable savings on their telecom bills and helps the government to lower cost, avoid waste. These measues help to fund operational activities including personnel. The company claims that they are simply seeking a level playing field, something that they say has been grossly absent in the past when it comes to GOB business.
The Belize Communications Workers’ Union
Also chiming in on the issue was the Belize Communications Workers Union (BCWU), who said that they were joining the Public Service Union (PSU) of Belize and all other relevant entities in expressing their discontent with the recent decision that several government ministries have taken to switch telecommunication providers away from BTL, which has been recognized as the national telecom provider and an asset to our country.
Government of Belize owns over 90% of Belize Telemedia
BCWU said that they fail to identify any logical reasoning behind the changes by the appointed ministry personnel and are “forced to deduce that this act is a complete abuse of power with direct nepotistic validation to Speednet Communications Limited (SMART), an entity with which several major government elements has known ties. This act takes money directly out of the public purse and places it in the hands of private citizens whose direct link to the government cannot be overlooked.”
The BCWU went on to condemn The Ministry of Finance; The Ministry of Rural Transformation, Community Development, Labour, Local Development; and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who they say have suddenly and unjustifiably terminated phone lines, cellphone plans, and non-renewal of licenses, resulting in a loss of $3 million in company revenues at BTL.
BTL’s CEO’s Input
Last week as we had reported the CEO of BTL, Ivan Tesecum had told the Reporter that there was no proper consultation with the company who was prepared to sit down and listen to the concerns of the ministry and if possible could have even worked out a better package than the current one. While CEO Tesecum could not provide ballpark figures in losses he alluded to the fact that it would have a long-term effect on the company, their corporate responsibility, and most of all shareholders.
For context 49% of the company’s shares are owned by the Government of Belize, 34% by the Social Security Board, 8% by the Central Bank of Belize, and the remaining 8% is owned by fifteen hundred small-time shareholders.