Hilly Bennett

Voice of the Common Man

By Hilly Bennett

”Corruption is a violation of trust by those who to whom responsibilities and power have been delegated” — Julia Kwang.
The most flagrant injustice inflicted by the United Democratic Party on Belizeans was the deceiving promise that the utility companies, especially, Belize Telecommunication Limited, was being nationalized in their interest. The unfolding Net Vasquez saga is a big piece of the political puzzle and holds the truth behind the “hostile takeover” of BTL. Cronyism, nepotism, middlemanism and parasitism have become rampant within the industry. Consequently, the public interest has been undermined and the telecommunications entity is on life support.

Although, the political propaganda has associated the People’s United Party with the privatization of the telecommunications industry its history will show that it was the United Democratic Party under the leadership of then Prime Minister, Manuel Esquivel that BTL as a body corporate was privatized. When the Belize Telecommunications Authority, a project reality of the People’s United Party, was privatized by the Esquivel Government it was a profitable corporate entity. Complaint was laid by the parliamentary leader Florencio Marin regarding Esquivel 1987/88 budget speech to the nation of Belize which was tainted with the illusory brush of success in respect of the state of affairs at the time. Regarding the sale of the BTA, the Honorable Florencio Marin asked: “If the Belize Telecommunications Authority is such a profitable service, why sell it?”

When the telecommunications industry was nationalized in 2009 onwards, it was dubbed as a hostile takeover, the trampling on the rule of law, and upending the Constitution, and utilizing the power of Belize security forces thereafter. It was followed by avalanche of law suits and a quagmire of costly litigation, all at the expense of the Belizean taxpayers, the common man and woman and to the great fortune of friends and family litigating for the government.

On August 25, 2009, Melvin Hulse, as Minister responsible for telecommunications(a Utility), issued the 2009 Acquisition Order considering that control over telecommunications should be acquired for public purpose. The rationale were stabilisation and improvement of the telecommunications industry and the provision of reliable telecommunications services to the public at affordable prices in a harmonious and non-contentious environment.

However, legal submissions reflected that the reasoning proffered by the government fell on its face because the 2009 BTL was stable, was being improved, was reliable and affordable and in a harmonious environment. Furthermore, there were stable ownership and management, steady growth, significant network investments, and expanded service. Additionally, this BTL was a good corporate citizen contributing to education and sports.

Clearly, the purpose of the Acquisition Act and Order was to target one man, Lord Ashcroft, as revealed by PM Barrow’s utterance “this is the people of Belize against the Ashcroft interest…”

The thwarting of the rule of law was deemed unconstitutional in certain respects with Section 17 of the Constitution. Once again echoing the Latin maxim nemo turpitudinem suam allegans auditor, nobody shall derive right from his own wrongful behaviour. This caveat was issued in the ruling against the Dean Barrow Government for the illegal takeover of the Companies Registry and IMARBE.

Aside from targeting Ashcroft it is evident that the hostile takeover of BTL, the fakery of a nationalization was solely for Barrow’s interest. In a paper written circa July 2009, Roberto Chang of Rutgers University and Constantino Hevia and Norman Loayza of the World Bank wrote that nationalization is more likely to occur when there is festering inequality in a country or when low human capital exists (measured by adult literacy), undiversified productive structure, and faulty public institutions. Nationalization is considered a trade-off for efficiency.

Such was the case with the acquisition of telecommunications industry, the Prince of Bel-Air took lead of the company that PM Barrow characterized as important to national development and his signature achievement. Notwithstanding the individual lacked both expertise in communication technology and managerial capability to be at the helm of a company of this magnitude. The “eyes and ears” of King Dean is responsible for some major blunders within the company. The investing in Blackberry technology resulted in a huge loss to BTL. Anwar Barrow, the Prince of Bel-Air, was given a hefty severance send-off. Now Barrow is faced with Net Vasquez, the “Lion in winter”, and the unfolding sleaze bag. Vazquez will quite possibly get a golden parachute on his parting. His actions are a clear indication that things have gone awry at BTL. The question is who else and for how long and to what extent has the gouging of the entity cost Belizeans. The need for a forensic audit to identify the culprits in the mess of the BTL is urgently necessary! These miscreants must not be allowed to strap on like barnacles leeching on the people’s interest.

Mehmet Murat ildan suggested that “only the honorable people resist the injustices! The rest – the honorless – are afraid of even their shadows!” The currency of trust given by the people to the United Democratic Party continues to be violated by the honorless Barrow administration. Only a change can restore the confidence of the electorate. This change will be people-centered and people-focused. Such change is to PUP Government under the Leadership of Honorable John Briceño building a Belize that works for everyone!!