Oswald Brown Writes
Just how powerful a dictator Hubert “THE DICTATOR” Ingraham has already become will be determined over the next several days. Faced with significant opposition to his determination to have the House of Assembly approve the sale of the Bahamas Telecommunications Corporation to Cable & Wireless, Ingraham ordered his propaganda team to organize a major rally clearly aimed at intimidating those members of the Free National Movement’s parliamentary group who have indicated that their constituents have advised them not to vote in favour of the measure.
That rally took place Saturday night, and despite thousands and thousands of dollars spent promoting the event, by any yardstick it was a dismal failure, strongly indicating that the vast majority of Bahamians are opposed to this ill-advised sale of BTC to a company with a woefully dismal record in countries throughout the Caribbean. Ingraham and the hierarchy of the FNM clearly had hoped that the turnout for the rally would have been considerably greater than it was after having scores of volunteers or paid individuals handing out flyers promoting the rally and FNM supporters on the social network Facebook encouraging their “friends” to spread the word about the rally.
Despite the battering that his ego must have suffered by not being able to encourage a greater number of people to turn out to hear his highly promoted speech, Ingraham put on a performance worthy of an Academy Award as he made the case in support of his government’s decision to sell BTC to Cable and Wireless. He knew that first and foremost it was crucially important to convince the Bahamian people that selling BTC to Cable and Wireless was the best deal he could possibly get; however, before doing this, he had to first explain why he went back on his word to never sell more than 49 per cent of BTC to a foreign company. His explanation simply was that he changed his mind because there was no foreign company interested in purchasing only 49 per cent of BTC.
Let’s give Ingraham the benefit of the doubt and concede that he was speaking the truth, although there are many persons who have reasons not to believe anything he says, but wouldn’t it have made considerably more sense to reopen the “bidding” process with the hope of attracting a company with a more successful background in the telecommunications industry than Cable and Wireless? International telecommunications giants like Verizon and AT&T may quite possibly have not been interested in purchasing 49 per cent of BTC, but they would have readily agreed to buy 51 per cent, knowing that they would have full control of the management of the company. Certainly either Verizon or AT&T would have faced far less opposition from Bahamians, who are aware of their excellent records in the telecommunications industry, unlike Cable and Wireless, which has a spotty record in a number of countries in the Caribbean.
So why didn’t Ingraham open up the “bidding” process after he decided to sell 51 per cent of BTC? Could it be that to have done so would have meant that someone involved in negotiating the sale would not get a $3 million “finder’s fee,” as rumour making the rounds suggest someone will get once the sale is finalized? Only Hubert Ingraham could answer those questions, and he certainly made no attempt to do so in his speech on Saturday night.
Possibly the very best case as to why BTC should not be sold to Cable and Wireless was made by Nicki Kelly, the eminent columnist for The PUNCH newspaper. In her column in the March 3 edition of The PUNCH, Mrs. Kelly made this observation: “No matter from which direction you approach, a malodorous stench continues to surround the sale by the government of a 51 per cent interest in BTC to Cable & Wireless Communications. Under the circumstances one has to question why Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham is so motivated to pursue a deal that is so suspect, and the machinations of its participants so obvious, that they exhaust credulity.”
Mrs. Kelly went on to outline a number of reasons for the conclusions she had reached, among them:
1. “Cable & Wireless never participated in the bidding process for BTC. According to the minutes of the Advisory Committee named to oversee the sale process, it was Julian Francis, deputy chairman of the privatization committee and chairman of BTC, who informed the advisory committee of C&W’s interest in BTC after the other bidders were rejected.”
2. “According to newspaper reports based on insider information, the privatization committee had actually started talks with C&W May 2010, two months prior to rejection of the last two bidders.”
3. “Besides acting as one of the regulatory advisers to the privatization committee that screened potential buyers for BTC, the accounting firm of KPMG also serves as auditor of Cable & Wireless Communications, which got the green light to buy BTC. Since KPMG’s services include valuations, it very likely set the $210 million sale price to BTC.”
4. “Not only is the government prepared to sell C&W a controlling interest in BTC, it is also committed to paying C&W millions in management fees.”
5. “Although the BTC sale has still to be approved by parliament, C&W considered it enough of a done deal to advertise in the UK for an ‘interim head of communications’ to run BTC.”
6. “C&W Communications, which has a bad performance record in the Caribbean, was desperate to buy a profitable company like BTC to offset its operational losses in the region where it has been hit hard by the global recession.”
Mrs. Kelly went on to provide a raft of other evidence in support of her suggestion that a “malodorous stench continues to surround” the sale of BTC to Cable & Wireless.
Without question, Prime Minister Ingraham’s insistence on selling BTC to Cable & Wireless, in the face of all the available evidence that it is a terrible, terrible deal and not in the best interest of The Bahamas, qualifies him for the “Booboo Prize” that Mrs. Kelly occasionally hands out in her weekly column. His bullheadedness and stubbornness make him a prime candidate for the award.
But Hubert “THE DICTATOR” Ingraham has said over and repeatedly that once he has made up his mind about something, not even God can change it, and it is clear that he has made up his mind that the bill sanctioning this sale will be passed by the House on Thursday night of this week when members vote on it.
Now that his “rent-a-crowd” rally failed to have the intimidation impact that he had hoped it would have on members of his party who were thinking about voting against the bill, he will more likely than not seek to further intimidate these members by requesting that the “party whip” be absolutely enforced when the bill comes up for a vote. But there’s no such thing as a “party whip” in the FNM. This implies that there is democracy within the FNM. Every FNM with knowledge of the party’s internal affairs knows better. Hubert Ingraham is judge, jury and executioner; an absolute dictator.
And more likely than not those FNM members who are opposed to this sale will cower in fear of retribution from Ingraham’s wrath and vote in favour of BTC being sold to Cable & Wireless. If they do, history would certainly judge them harshly for having missed a golden opportunity to demonstrate to the Bahamian people that they are worthy of being called men or women of courage. I certainly hope that the three members of the Cabinet and two backbenchers who reportedly are absolutely opposed to the sale will muster up the courage to do what is right for this country that they no doubt love so much.
The PLP is on record as saying that its seventeen members of the House will unanimously vote against the bill. All that is required is for four FNM members to do the same and the bill will be defeated. Should this happen it would be tantamount to a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Ingraham and he would be forced to call for new election. In fact, Ingraham used this likelihood as another weapon of intimidation when he said at a press conference last week that if the bill is defeated he will not hesitate to call for a new general election, clearly gambling that those FNM members opposed to the bill would be afraid of losing their seats.
On Thursday, the country-at-large will find out how well Ingraham’s intimidation tactics worked and whether he is now indeed an absolute dictator. But even if the bill passes, this will not change the fact that the sale of BTC to Cable and Wireless may be a good deal for Ingraham and his cronies, but it is not by a long shot in the best interest of The Bahamas and the Bahamian people.
Oswald T. Brown
Freeport, Grand Bahama
March 21, 2011