Sint Maarten Minister of Justice Dennis Richardson, in his capacity as the country’s shareholder representative in Curacao-based joint venture United Telecommunication Services (UTS), has reiterated the government’s desire to swap its minority stake in the UTS group for the company’s Eastern Caribbean assets, describing the move as a ‘win-win situation’ for both Sint Maarten and Curacao.
Going forward, Richardson is expected to table his offer at this month’s UTS shareholder meeting, and will suggest that independent experts be brought in to establish the value of the respective assets and establish a mutually agreeable settlement price. According to Richardson, in recent years investments have been made primarily in Curacao’s infrastructure, while a significant part of UTS’ cash flow comes from Sint Maarten. He told the Daily Herald: ‘After years of fruitless discussions, it is time to take the bull by the horns and Sint Maarten will take matters into its own hands.’
Since the October 2010 dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles, Sint Maarten has held a 12.5% stake in UTS, while Curacao holds the remaining 87.5%. Unwilling to cede control over TelEm, its chief telecoms asset, the Sint Maarten government has always maintained that a share swap would be in the best interests of both parties.
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, outside of its domestic market, Curacao-based UTS counts mobile subsidiaries in Sint Maarten (UTS Sint Maarten), Saint Martin & Saint Barthelemy (UTS Caraibe), Sint Eustatius (Chippie St Eustatius), Saba (Chippie Saba), Saint Kitts & Nevis (UTS Cariglobe) and Bonaire (Chippie Bonaire). The group’s loss-making Surinamese subsidiary UNIQA was sold in January this year, but in accordance with the non-disclosure agreement, the identity of the buyer will not be disclosed until certain conditions are fulfilled.
With a distance of around 900km separating Curacao (and nearby Bonaire) and Sint Maarten (and the other Eastern Caribbean assets) the move arguably makes strategic sense on a logistical level. However, any deal is likely to be complicated by regional heavyweights Digicel Group and Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC), both of which have expressed an interest in securing a strategic tie-up with UTS.