BELIZE CITY, Wed. Aug. 25, 2021– Following a press conference held by Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) chairman Mark Lizarraga at which Lizarraga appeared to justify the switch to SMART services that has taken place within several GoB ministries, the UDP held a press conference of its own at which it called for the BTL chairman to resign. The UDP leader, Hon. Patrick Faber headed the conference and began his remarks by describing Lizarraga’s stance as “disturbing”:
“I want to point out that we find very disturbing the comments of the Chairman of the Board of Directors of BTL, Mr. Mark Lizarraga, who in his television appearances yesterday, basically said that competition is healthy, and it is because BTL is not up to the competition that they have been losing business to the competition, SMART Speednet. We find that to be unacceptable and we find that the Chairman is now not living up to what he on many occasions before professed he would live up to. Certainly, we make the call this afternoon for his resignation as chairman of the board of BTL, if that is his position that he has outlined indeed,” said Faber.
Faber went on to mention the various ways that BTL has benefited the public since its nationalization over ten years ago as well as the company’s growth from being one of the weakest telecom providers in the region to now being among the top three.
The UDP leader then rebutted Lizarraga’s assertion that the company was being run improperly by the previous management under the previous UDP government by citing all the developments that took place under that management:
“We remind you that BTL under the leadership of the UDPs Barrow administration and nationalization of course, brought 4G LTE and fiber to almost every nook and cranny in this country. BTL made the rates of internet under that regime more affordable for Belizeans and it brought down phone costs tremendously, especially to the government, but also the wider citizenry of Belize. One of the things that the government did, especially BTL did under the UDP’s administration, was that it saw an opportunity to reduce the cost of providing Microsoft Office 365 to Ministries by having BTL get an enterprise license,” he outlined.
Hon. Faber also went on to inform the public that the UDP was in direct receipt of an invoice, documents and other internal information which indicate that the process which resulted in the selection of a SMART bid was, possibly rigged. He said that the documents indicated that SMART was allowed to resubmit their contract bid at least twice in “order to be able to meet the needs of what was there.” In light of that revelation, he publicly questioned the validity of the value of the bid in the documents and has also called on the Minister of Finance to publicize the details of the contract with SMART.
Faber said that he received information that the contract had yet to be signed by officials of the GoB and that his party deems this an irregularity that the company has already been paid before the contract could be finalized. Further, he argued that SMART should not have even been considered in their bid to be a distributor of Microsoft Office 365, as BTL is the only licensed reseller in the country for that software package.
The UDP is thus calling on the Prime Minister to address these matters, given that the BTL chairman, by their account, is not doing what a BTL chairman is expected to do, which is to seek first the interests of the company of which he is the head.
“BTL should be jumping up and screaming bloody murder. But we’re not hearing anything from Lizarraga, and so it is another reason why we’re calling for his resignation. BTL bent over backwards to receive the necessary training, which is what allows them to provide the value-added benefits to this contract. All of which, for the duration of this term from June 25th 2021 to June 24th 2022, all of those additional services that BTL was giving to the tune of $80,000 will have to be paid for in addition to what has already been paid to Speednet. So, my friends, we find these things to be very disturbing. We call on the Prime Minister, who we note, only comes out on occasion to give an explanation to the nation when there are certain things that are directly related to him and his business interests. That is the only time he comes out and speaks to the nation, but for us this matter is very concerning,” said Hon. Faber.
Also, the UDP leader stated that this recent GoB decision in favor of SMART could lead to further disadvantages for the Belizean public, since $85.4 million worth of BTL shares is held by the Social Security Board. A decline in BTL’s financial standing could jeopardize future Social Security benefits and the finances of other public entities which also have shares in the company.