Government’s 2% BTC Buy-Back Is A Farce

One of the biggest threats to the growth of the consciousness of the Bahamian people is the media houses in our country. Day after day, year after year, media houses get on television, radio and in print and push erroneous information, “stories” void of balance, research and investigation, and in more untenable instances they push propaganda, lies and reports driven by personal interests and/or relationships, be it financial or otherwise, with power players and persons of influence in our country.

Stories about BTC are one of the biggest examples of this. The media repeatedly reports on the government’s attempt to “buy back 2% of BTC” and has recently reported that according to the Prime Minister, the country cannot afford to buy that 2% at this time.

But there is no current option to “buy back 2%” of BTC’s shares and hence gain majority ownership and there never has been that option. The Shareholders Agreement between BTC and Cable and Wireless explicitly states that if Cable and Wireless is no longer the majority shareholder, they are out of the business completely – they do not suddenly switch to becoming a “minority” shareholder to the government by giving up 2% of its shares to the government.

Furthermore and this is key – the Agreement also states that neither Cable and Wireless nor the government can sell its shares at all for a period of five years from the date of the completion of the agreement, with one exception – the government being able to list its shares on BISX and hence make its shares available to the Bahamian people.

So even if Cable and Wireless wanted to transfer its shares right now, it contractually cannot do so. The option for share transfer on their part does not even begin to kick in until 2016.

And according to the Agreement – prior to that five-year period, the government can only buy back Cable & Wireless’ shares (and that would be all of the shares, not just a couple of them, like 2%) if the company becomes insolvent (bankrupt) or if the company materially breaches its obligations laid out in the deal.

This information was read in Parliament and tabled in Parliament by former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham on February 8, 2011. This means this information was both made public on live television and radio, and made accessible to anyone and everyone in the public by its tabling in Parliament.

So this “2% buy-back process” is propaganda and a lie. It has always been propaganda and a lie. And the media has been faithfully pushing propaganda and lies to the Bahamian people for years now on this matter.

The media has absolutely no excuse, short of laziness, incompetence or personal or professional agenda to keep reporting erroneous information and to refuse to balance the comments of the government with the actual facts of the Shareholders Agreement between BTC and Cable and Wireless.

As a previous member of the Fourth Estate in our country, I am personally grieved and deeply disappointed to see the state of the media in this country, and the manner in which reporters and trained, degreed journalists conduct themselves in this critical pillar of our democracy.

I don’t know what reporters and journalists believe their responsibilities to the Bahamian people are, but what they need to understand is that politicians and public officials are not the only people who ought to be held accountable for their actions to and toward the public.

The media should be held accountable too by the public – and the media has much to answer for with the product it gives to The Bahamian people, and indeed to the world about The Bahamas and its people.

As for the FNM members of Parliament who were a part of the previous administration – and I mean every single one of them – they should be fully ashamed of themselves because they were the government and knew (or absolutely ought to know) the details of the Shareholders Agreement and have sat right there and continued to allow the Bahamian people to be lied to and mislead. This is wholly unacceptable on the part of FNMs elected and appointed to serve.

For persons interested in the facts and details about the deal between BTC and Cable & Wireless, here is the Communication to Parliament on the deal, tabled on February 8, 2011 – click here.

Sharon Turner