Continue Fighting or Settle? The ongoing BTL Saga by: Aria Lightfoot


backroom-dealsThe Belize Telecommunications Limited now Belize Telemedia Limited has existed in Belize for decades and arguably one of the highest income/profit generators of any other business entity that currently exists in Belize. The profitability of the BTL has translated into financial and political manipulation resulting in one of the worst parasitic, unscrupulous and corruptive investment environment during the Musa years. The high level of questionable business and legal practices; the backroom wheeling and dealing by Belize’s elected officials; the historical fire sale of BTL’s assets escapes the memory of quite a few people and therefore the discussion has been reduced to sound bites, innuendos and further manipulation of the complex issues.

The previous caretakers had complete and wanton disregard for the people of Belize. A very powerful investor manipulated elected officials into creating an atmosphere of corruption unseen in Belize’s history. So bad was the level of corruption that the Caribbean Court of Justice, the highest court, used very strong language to describe the secret accommodation agreement. The CCJ described the ministers behavior as “repugnant”. The court further described our political leaders actions as “malignant tumors”, malignant tumors on our democracy potentially setting back Belize’s democracy by some three hundred years. With no shame as to how he acquired BTL, the very same investor represented by prominent politically tied attorneys of the previous adminstration, seemed hell bent at destroying Belize’s economic and investment climate after nationalization. Like a big bully who was put in his place, he had a lot of money, legal prowess and minions to accomplish just that.

The settlement agreement is a very complex issue. Mr. Barrow won a moral victory when he nationalized BTL. However his moral victory still does not satisfy local and international laws. The government would and has been bogged down in litigation for years. Dean Barrow’s choice was either -continue depleting the country’s resources in an unending fight or settle. Most international tribunals prefer settlement. From some indications BTL currently generates over 70 million dollars a year. The Belizean people love to talk and communicate, therefore BTL proves to be a profitable entity. The settlement of 162 million dollars may be a worthy investment for the people of Belize promising to remain for generations. Recall pre-nationalization – the secret accommodation agreement guaranteed a 15% return to the investor whether or not the company made money. So when the union members say that Mr. Barrow is just like Musa- I find their claim incredulously lacking accurate historical comparison. The union’s response is disingenuous, simplistic and political. The publicly worded reaction seemed like a knee jerk emotional tirade of egos and maybe political underpinnings. Election season must be on the horizon and feigned moral anger is brewing at every corner.

While I understand that the union wanted to be part of the negotiations, the reality is that Mr. Dean Barrow represents the citizens of Belize (everyone) and not the union of BTL. BTL does not belong to its employees; BTL belongs to the taxpayers of Belize. There are many people who depend on others to think for them, to explain the issues to them and to accept the information without further research. I implore my readers to research the history of BTL.


3 thoughts on “Continue Fighting or Settle? The ongoing BTL Saga by: Aria Lightfoot

  1. Whilst the union’s release did have some serious political undertones, it should not diminish the fact that the staff of BTL has legitimate gripes with their employer, board of directors and majority shareholder.
    Let’s start with the facts. Yes, the wording of the release could have been better. A significant number of staff was indeed upset about the wording as they saw it to be a bit more political than they were comfortable with. This was immediately relayed to the union heads by staff. It was made clear by staff while they were upset by the tone of the release, they were indeed united with the union in the fight to settle issues that are real and dear to them.
    Now to list the REAL issues.

    1. Disregard
    Staff is fed up of being used as pawns. Over the years, agreements have been signed and Trusts have been created all purporting to be in benefit of staff. These arrangements have never had the real participation or representation of the staff even though staff is supposed to be the ultimate beneficiary.
    GOB’s latest arrangement with Aschroft included once again agreements on the way forward for spending funds that supposedly were destined to staff and yet again staff and their union were left out of the conversation. If you don’t want or expect staff to get involved then stop using them when convenient in these bogus agreements.

    It seems all parties involved with BTL are happy to use the staff’s name when convenient and expect the staff to remain quiet and uninvolved. Naïve thinking.
    2. Health
    Over the years, several staff members have complained of becoming ill due to environmental issues in the office place. These issues have ranged from mold, dust, asbestos, to rodent infestation. At least one staff has already resigned citing health issues caused by the work environment. The company showed no concerned and instead seemed to be relieved that this issue would now be put to rest since that staff had resigned. Keep in mind that customer are also affected in some instances, since they also visit some of the affected locations. Lawsuit anyone? BTL is a multimillion dollar company after all. Surely they can find in the budget to address legitimate health concerns. Maybe a visit from the health department or labor is well over due as well.
    3. Money.
    While public servants have been benefiting from HUGE pay increases, BTL workers have not. Even though, unlike government departments, BTL generates millions in profit. BTL’s staff has been told over and over again that the company is not doing well. Now suddenly they are hearing the opposite now that a deal has been made with the former owners.

    So which is it? Is BTL rolling in the money or not? And if not, why are managers being rewarded with handsome bonuses of almost double of what they have received in previous years?
    Why also are staff being told that they will no longer receive years of service bonuses when management bonuses are on the rise? The company says that not all employees are hard workers therefore years of service bonuses may go to non-deserving staff. So does that mean the majority of staff is non-deserving since the good are being punished for the bad? 
    4. Abuse
    Staff have complained on multiple occasions about the verbal and emotional abuse dealt out by specific managers. No real actions have been taken and instead these managers seem to be rewarded instead.
    BTL’s management style has long been one of abusive and degrading treatment towards employees. Add to that now, SEXUAL harassment by senior managers and members of the board. Ask any staff which managers and members of the board should be avoided by female staff. Guaranteed two names will come up more times than none.

    5. Unfair promotions.
    The company seems engaged in a constant portfolio shift. Unfortunately newly vacant managerial posts are routinely filled by staff, sometimes junior staff with no supervisory experience, based on their sexual involvement with members of the executive management team. Maybe a list of these managers and their sponsoring Chief should be posted.

    On that note, who do we have to sleep with to get decent 4G and HSI?
    6. Downsizing – when convenient
    Departmental heads have been tasked to reduce staff in most departments. In short, most managers must fire or reduce their staff complement by at least one person. Interestingly the focus is on cutting personnel instead of making meaningful efforts to improve efficiency. But yet, the staff count continues to be padded by appointees.

    7. Greed (Anwar Barrow – Nestor Vasquez)
    These two’s approach is one of “what’s in it for me”. Vasquez has enjoyed the perks for quite a few years. It seems that it is now Anwar Barrow’s time to shine. (Which by the way has pissed of poor Net) Deals range from shady “Mek mi Rich” deals, to deals for his companies to provide shareholder services, to trivial bill collection contracts. You’d think $30,000 a month in salaries weren’t enough. Staff is now being asked to suggest ways for each department to cut $1,000,000.00 from their budgets. Here is how, cut Anwar’s salary and perks. Did someone say travelling expenses?

    And the list goes on. Look out for a Part 2 in the series.

    Way forward?
    Treat staff with respect.
    Recognize that the issues are real.
    Correct these issues as they arise.
    Female staff should not be seen as a prime hunting ground by board members or the execs. (Names will be called if this continues.)
    Rats are not pets. They are pests
    Asbestos is not pixie dust.
    Mold doesn’t belong in the office place.
    Invest in the PROPER technology. Only then you can expect staff to be able to sell the service.
    Reduce staff by improving efficiency. Once you are more efficient you do not have to replace staff as they leave the company.
    Stop forcing long time staff into early retirment
    Company money is company money. It’s not Anwar’s or Vasquez’s .
    If managers deserve healthy bonuses why don’t staff?
    Advice to the Union
    Keep the focus on the issues not on the personalities.
    Keep the politics out as much as possible. Granted, BTL is majority government owned therefore politics will always creep in.
    Continue to listen to your members. They want to support you.
    Fight!! You have been too quiet for too long given all the issues that exist.

    Good luck. God Bless.

    • You may have some legitimate grief, but your press release undermined the union’s credibility and now it looks extremely political. Additionally posting under a pseudonym affects your credibility. You could have chosen to post anonymously.

  2. Very good article exploring it from just a few vantage points. Quite short, I know you invite the readers to do some personal investigation on the issues.

    It ended up coming across like union bashing. However I agree with your positions about the union.

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