At a press conference in Belize City last Monday Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced that the government of Belize had reached a settlement with Fortis of Canada over compensation for Belize Electricity Limited (BEL).
The Government of Belize moved to nationalize BEL in 2011, after the company revealed that it had run out of operational funds. Perhaps Fortis was looking forward to some kind of bail-out loan, but instead Prime Minister Barrow nationalized the company.
BEL has been running flawlessly ever since, and under its new CEO, Mr. Jeffrey Locke, the company has prospered and become strong.
The settlement of 33.3 percent ownership for Fortis and US $35 million in compensation is a tribute to the negotiating skill of Prime Minister Barrow and his team and reflects well also on the Fortis leadership, which has accepted the settlement and is willing to work hand in hand with Belize.
The money will be transferred by our Central Bank to Fortis as soon as the Senate gives its approval, and that will put an end to the dispute.
The dispute with the Ashcroft Group over ownership of Belize Telemedia Limited is a horse of a different colour. But now that negotiations with Fortis have gone so smoothly, it is hoped that common sense will prevail and the Ashcroft Group will be able to approach the negotiation table without rancour.
The Ashcroft Group has called on the Caribbean Court of Justice to intervene on the grounds that the Government of Belize acted illegally in nationalizing BEL.
This is the first thing that has to change.
The Group must first recognize that Belize, as a sovereign nation, has the right and the authority to nationalize any essential industry if such nationalization is in Belize’s national interest.
BTL, under Mr. Ashcroft, claimed it could not make 15 percent a year profit on its operations, and was allowed, by a special secret arrangement with the Musa Government, to complement its earnings with drawings from government revenue through the General Sales Tax.
Under the management of CEO Nestor Vasquez Sr., BTL since nationalization has bloomed. It paid off all the old taxes and continues to pay its way every year, not only in meeting its Sales Tax and Business Tax obligations, but in paying attractive yearly dividends to share-holders and putting aside substantial reserves.
It should be remembered here that the original Belize Telecommunications Company had by-laws which barred any individual or corporation from owning more than 20 percent of the shares of the company. In 2001 Carlisle Holdings Limited, part of the Ashcroft Group, was able through political influence to acquire 52 percent of the company shares with the quiet approval of the PUP Government.
We believe that an agreement structured roughly along the lines of the Fortis Settlement would be good for both sides, and Belize would be able to welcome back Mr. Achcroft as a good corporate citizen.