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Congress, Governor General approves state takeover of BTL, new board arrives, BTL ‘strips assets’

27 Aug 2009

Belize’s Congress has approved a rushed telecoms amendment bill to renationalise 94% of incumbent Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) from private entities controlled by the UK’s Lord Michael Ashcroft. As reported in CommsUpdate on Tuesday 25 August, the surprise bill was presented to MPs on Monday, and in a statement on its website on Wednesday, the government confirmed the bill (Act no. 9) had been passed, amending the Belize Telecommunications Act, whilst stressing that the bill is specifically related to BTL and does not give the state rights to reacquire any other public utilities, as had been rumoured. The Governor General of Belize, Sir Colville Young, penned his signature to put the acquisition into law on Tuesday, and the same day the newly appointed board arrived in convoy at the telco’s headquarters. Regarding compensation for the Ashcroft companies and trusts, reports say that claims could range from USD300 million to USD600 million – way above the USD90 million BTL was sold for in 2003/04. ‘There has to be an audit and proper valuation of BTL, prime minster Dean Barrow told local press, and indicated that he believes the value is inflated by BTL’s ‘accommodation agreement’ struck with a former administration in 2006, which his government is fundamentally opposed to. Meanwhile, immediately prior to the takeover, BTL issued a release, advising that it was in the process of detaching media units Channel 5 and Great Belize Productions, owned by a subsidiary, from its group assets, whilst there were also reports of other hurried transactions being executed at the management level. ‘The new board will have to look at [the asset value] in terms of efforts to bleed the company,’ said Barrow, adding that ‘to an extent, we can’t prevent them from doing things of this nature.’

Belize, Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL, Digi)

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