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The Nationalization Saga

The Nationalization Saga
July 07
12:53 2019

By: Neri O. Briceño

While it had become apparent for those of us looking on from the sidelines that BTL was in trouble, the proverbial fish has finally come from the river bottom and really explained to us the extent of the alligator’s belly pain. In just one short week, two monumental revelations have taken place; the company appears to have not been paying its fair share of taxes, unlike other Belizean companies, to the tune of $29 Million – and the foreign CEO announced his abrupt departure. The big question then becomes, if BTL was charging the public GST and also collecting it, where did that money go? By now it has become painfully obvious that nationalization of utilities and especially BTL has not worked and we are probably at that stage where we need to seriously consider the future of that company. Nothing will improve at BTL as long as it remains in GOB hands. Every now and again, when the tentacles of nationalization bites us in the rear, I like to remind the Belizean public of the saga and how much I was totally against it. Let’s look back…

June 10th, 2018
I will be the first to admit that I was never in favour of the nationalization of any of our utility companies because I could see down the road that it would put even greater power and influence in the hands of the state. Likewise, I will also be the first to admit that the direction that Belize Telemedia Ltd was taking would have guaranteed that the company and its owner were becoming too much of a powerful force in the tiny nation of Belize…While there is no doubt that BTL had become a financial behemoth in its own right, what was critical was that it controlled one of the most vital elements of any modern society and that of a nation, the ability to communicate. The nationalization was simply a political move which was conceived, planned and orchestrated at the highest levels of government. At the time, the Prime Minister skillfully painted Michael Ashcroft as the proverbial bogeyman, while simultaneously pulling at the people’s patriotic heartstrings. To disagree with the nationalization meant that you were pro-Ashcroft and anti-Belize, but I still held my ground and to this day still say that it was a bad idea and could have being handled completely differently.

November 8th, 2017
To tally our country’s nationalization experience – today, we have spent millions upon millions of dollars in litigation, travel and associated expenses in the BTL fiasco and are still in the hole for the company. BTL is bleeding at the seams. Revenues are down, service has deteriorated, the company is in need of a massive infusion of cash, while friends and family of the ruling party have benefited big time from the company and the ultimate insult is that we now have a foreigner running a state-owned company. Do we expect it to get any better? Chances are, not anytime soon. Has nationalization really worked for the ordinary man on the street? The answer to that is rather obvious. Essentially the debts that are being incurred by the nationalization of BTL, while being paid by the nation, are really BTL’s debts. Trust me I would be hard pressed to find any company in the World today that is making that kind of monies to pay off the monumental nationalization debt that BTL has incurred and that is even more difficult in a Third World economy like ours. But, every now and again when the nationalization Bukut hits us, like it did with the $87 million USD settlement from the CCJ, I like to remind the Belizean people that history has a strange way of repeating itself.

June 23rd, 2013
In June 2011, I wrote an article regarding the recent stint of nationalization the PM had just undertaken. It was promised that this would have been the only and final round of nationalization but here I am again almost two years later to the day essentially doing the same thing. I don’t believe that there is anyone within the Cabinet who can accurately tell me what their administration’s economic plan is because it appears to be a haphazard patchwork of varying economic decisions with taxation and nationalization as a key ingredient in it. No amount of explanation will convince me that in this recent case of nationalization was urgent, necessary or so strategic. This nationalization was a political move aimed at distracting the population from the real economic condition of the country and the recent series of scandal that seem to be plaguing this administration.

June 16th, 2011
What does Cable & Wireless, British Telecom, Amersham International (Pharmaceutical), Britoil (Petroleum), Rolls Royce, British Gas, British Telecom, Associated British Ports, Enterprise Oil, Jaguar/Land Rover, British Steel, British Rail, Regional Water Companies, Electric Distribution Companies and British Airways all have in common? These were all government owned companies which were privatized by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during her reign from May 1979 to November 1990. In her memoirs she described the sale of state assets as essential to “eroding the corrosive and corrupt effects of socialism.” I believe that the British PM, although a politician, understood that the state itself must curtail the limits of its involvement in a capitalist democracy. Globally, there are but a very few state owned/controlled companies that I can think of that are competitive, efficient, well managed and not corrupt. When a company is state run, it allows the government to extend its control far beyond its mandate because it now actively employs individuals. Employment of individuals is a crucial ingredient in the control of citizens since it has control over that person’s financial ability and by extension the means for them to put food on their table.

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