Editorial

Editorial

The history of BTL, Belize’s premier telecommunication utility, is a tortuous and painful one.
The idea of putting Belize Telecommunications on a firm and secure footing was conceived in 1972 under the Esquivel Government “to operate, maintain and administer the national telecommunication services and to regulate, control and plan all other internal and external communications services”.

In the years of 1987/88 the corporation took form and the Belize Telecommunication Authority became Belize Telecommunications Limited, a corporation with an exclusive license to operate in Belize. The Government of the day clearly intended that BTL should remain a national asset and provided in the company’s Articles of Association that no one person or entity should own or possess more than 20 percent of the shares of the company.

But when the government changed hands and Mr. Said Musa came to power, he allowed Carlysle Holdings, an Ashcroft company, to buy up 52 percent of BTL shares. This amounted to an illegal take-over of the company. In return Carlysle pledged to invest and did invest, some $50 million in infrastructure improvements.
But Carlysle Holdings was never a good match for Belize. It refused to provide even a rudimentary internet service for the private sector and charged egregiously high prices for overseas telephone calls. It resolutely refused to provide voice-over-internet protocol.

Relations also soured with the Musa government. As general elections drew near in 2004 the Finance Minister, Mr. Ralph Fonseca became estranged from the Ashcroft group and on April 1, 2005 the government took over the shares of Carlysle Holdings.

The Musa government sold the shares to an American maverick named Jeffery Prosser who owned a Caribbean company called Innovative Communications Limited. The Prime Minister turned over the company, including its prized Golden Share to Prosser in return for a promissory note, which soon proved to be worthless.

Musa told the nation that he had received no money in return, but few people in Belize believed him.
In 2005 the Musa Government re-sold the shares of BTL to the Ashcroft group at a greatly reduced price. The Ashcroft group insisted on predatory and humiliating conditions including an Accommodation Agreement which was kept secret from the general public. Only three members of the Musa Cabinet knew about this agreement: the Prime Minister, his Minister of Finance, Mr. Ralph Fonseca and his Attorney General, Mr. Francis Fonseca.

In that notorious arrangement Prime Minister Musa agreed to underwrite a 15 percent net annual guaranteed profit for the new owners of BTL. He illegally authorized BTL to make up the 15 percent profit from money due to the government of Belize by deducting it from the General Sales Tax, and he further agreed that any dispute or disagreement over the Accommodation Agreement should be referred to a British arbitration tribunal, separate and distinct from the jurisdiction of the Belize Court.

Mr. Ashcroft furthermore demanded and got a commitment from Prime Minister Musa that any outstanding profits owed to BTL should bear interest at the rate of 17 percent, calculated monthly.
This is how Belize became indebted to Mr. Ashcroft to the tune of $100 million in principal and interest – through a rigged, illegal and machiavellian scheme which the Caribbean Court of Appeal has described as a “malignant tumour… repugnant to public policy”.

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