BELIZE CITY, Tues. Aug. 31, 2021– While being interviewed by local media yesterday, former Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow commented on the Government of Belize’s recent business deals with SMART which have stripped the national telecommunication company, Belize Telemedia Limited, of some key revenue sources. Barrow emphasized that the purchase and nationalization of BTL was and is a sound investment that he believes would pay for itself over time, and that despite the high price tag for the acquisition of the company, it was worth it to acquire such a national asset on behalf of the people of Belize.
Readers would recall that during a House of Representatives meeting some time ago, while he was prime minister and Hon. John Briceño was leader of the opposition, Rt. Hon. Barrow had predicted that the Briceño administration would “undercut” BTL in favor of SMART if they ever gained control of government .
During that past House meeting, Barrow had said, “What’s going to happen when he becomes Prime Minister? What is he going to do in respect to BTL and Speednet [parent company of SMART] at that juncture? What is he going to do with respect to the competition, to the conflict that must continue to prevail between Speednet Smart, which his family owns and I say he also owns, versus a BTL? What is he going to do if he ever gets into power?”
Over the past two weeks, we have seen a gradual transfer of the Government of Belize’s business to Smart, that has been classified by the company (SMART), GOB, and even the chairman of BTL, Mark Lizarraga, as fair play, despite an impassioned plea by the Belize Communications Workers Union for the government to reverse its decision, which that union referred to in a press release as “spit in the face of all Belizeans”.
Prime Minister Hon. John Briceño, in defending his government’s decision, said the move is just an effort to foster competition within the telecom industry, which he said had been dominated by public-owned BTL for much of the Barrow administration. He even called the national telecommunication enterprise a “shell company”.
“BTL is already a shell company, and this is what you all don’t want to understand — that the money that we have paid for BTL has been a rip-off,” he had said, without explaining how possibly gutting the revenue of a company for which Belizean people have paid such a high price (over half a billion dollars) would mitigate the effects of that “ripoff”.
For his part, former Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow explained, “I still think it was a good investment. It was an investment dearly bought, it was an investment that cost us a lot in terms of blood and treasure, but ultimately it’s an investment that would more than paid for itself. Over the long run, we enshrined public ownership in the Constitution. Of course, the current administration has the constitutional supermajority to change that, I hope they wouldn’t go that far, and I don’t think they would, but the public ownership over a long stretch of history would have paid for itself. “