By Harry Lawrence – Publisher
Belize Telecommunications Limited started out as a public company with strict guidelines. No one person or organisation was allowed to own more than 25% of the company.
Then the Prime Minister George Price did something he had no authority to do. He gave permission to Michael Ashcroft, to own more than 25% of the shares.
Since then Ashcroft has waged an unrelenting campaign to dominate the company and to use it for his personal enrichment.
Under Ashcroft B.T.L. dominated the Internet, and was actively opposed to any competition from antennae.
He also opposed any competition from rival telephone companies.When Glen Godfrey with Government backing sought to confront him on the monopoly question, Ashcroft refused to provide inter-connection and forced Godfrey out of business and into receivership.
After Godfrey’s Intelco company was dead, Ashcroft made an alliance with politician John Brice?o and allowed him to set up a subsidiary telephone company named Smart.
Smart competes actively with B.T.L. for the country’s cellular business, but B.T.L. still owns the core business of standard telephone service and still dominated the Internet.
B.T.L.’s domination of the internet allows it to control Voice over Internet Protocol or VOIP, which is the route to cheaper international telephone calls.
B.T.L. is opposed to VOIP, not because it cannot find a way to introduce it profitably, but because it would prevent Ashcroft from maximising his profits.
Ashcroft chooses instead to keep on making huge profits at the expense of all Belizeans by charging unrealistically high rates for international telephone calls. The company itself uses VOIP to make more money, but in its view VOIP is much too good a thing to pass on to those simple-minded Belizeans.
In his benchmark address last week to the B.T.I.A., Investment Minister Mark Espat pointed out that VOIP is not illegal in Belize. “What is illegal is B.T.L.’s blocking of VOIP,” he points out.
VOIP is an important tool for the business community. Its value for easy and cheap access to the world outside is incalculable. Yet Ashcroft has been successful in blocking this access. And the Musa Government and the PUC have been willing to stand aside and have him do it.
To Musa and his minions the millions of dollars which Ashcroft provides in campaign contribution outweigh the greater good of the country.
Twenty-four years after independence our Belizean democracy has morphed into a cheap and disgraceful stratagem of catering to the highest bidder.