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2005-08-18 15:38:56

Cutting The Losses

Tens of thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars have been consumed in pursuit of the dream that the Bahamian economy will be buttressed by an e-ways of doing things.

When it comes to talk, chat and grandiosity, few people in the world can match Bahamians. There are occasions in recent memory when a small number of tech-savvy Bahamians were to be heard chatting and talking-sometimes to the point of nausea- about the myriad of tool-sets and skill-sets needed to 'make it' in a technology-driven globalized economy.

Some of these people - as we are now learning- were in the vanguard of the movement to privatize Batelco. And they chatted on and on about change and what was needed to 'position' the Bahamas in the scheme of things in a new world order.

To date, tens of thousands of man-hours and tens of millions of dollars have been consumed in pursuit of the dream that one fine day the Bahamian economy will be buttressed e-ways of doing things. The e- here is short for electronic, as in the world of computers and information.

In this regard, note has been made to the effect that the most significant component of e-commerce is a viable and affordable telecommunications infrastructure. The Bahamas tackled this issue first by liberalizing the provision of Internet services in 1996, as a stimulus for competition in this area.

At the moment, there are eight (8) Internet Service Providers, servicing approximately 23,000 Internet subscribers.

It is also noted that in 1998 a consortium led by Deutsche Bank was engaged as consultants to move the privatization of Batelco, the state-owned telecoms incumbent, forward. By 1999, a new Telecommunications Act was passed which transferred the regulation of telecommunications service from Batelco to an independent Regulator, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

This process was completed in March 2000.

The Telecommunications Act also set the framework for the dissolution of Batelco and the establishment of a joint stock company into which the property, rights and liabilities of Batelco would be transferred or vested. After vesting the new company will continue providing the telecommunications services previously delivered by Batelco, pursuant to a license from the PUC.

This new company is to be privatized through the sale of 49% of its

shares and transfer of management control to a strategic partner. It is anticipated that this exercise will be completed during the first quarter of 2003.

In July 2001 the Government released its Telecommunications Sector Policy which, among other things, set out its strategy for full competition in the telecommunications sector, the privatization of Batelco, the functions and role of the PUC and the articulation of its universal service policy.

Four years later and with preparations for upcoming elections in gear-whether high or low- the Bahamian people are still waiting and hoping for something to happen as far as Batelco is concerned.

Having been disappointed before, and before that disappointed previously, the people are today getting restless as they anticipate more rhetoric and more empty promises about what is set to happen sometime in the indefinite future.

The Bahamian people must be some of the most long-suffering folk in the whole wide world. Like others who have already concluded that this is indeed the case, we are-day by day, and inch-by-inch being drawn in this direction.

Take for example all those brave words and the tens of millions of dollars and after that all of the talk about strategic partners, and then ask what the Bahamian people have to show for their time and money, the answer today is most assuredly precious little.

As if they are not to be deterred by a track record of strewn with windy rhetoric, false hopes and millions of hard-earned dollars, the current government seems determined to soldier on, regardless.

We are today constrained to note that much of what has not been achieved in this vitally important area has to do with plain old ignorance; and with the fact that some of those who did not know what they were about, nonetheless went forward.

This - regrettably -was due to the fact that they had money to spend, and did just that. Everyone involved in those fiascoes past, now lament what they did.

Alas, too sad, too late for them and their wisdom today after the fact. The money is gone; and Batelco is yet to be privatized.

And in the meantime, the inexorable march of technology continues.

Indeed the pace of change is today such that some insiders are saying that BaTelco is but a shadow of its old self; and is now worth much less today than it did yesterday.

Commonsense today demands - and in no uncertain terms - that The Government should move posthaste to cut its losses, and move on.

Editorial from The Bahama Journal

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