Reporter – Outrage at callous BTL! Call for Fonseca to resign

September 30, 2006

Oh BTL, just give up already… you technically aren’t “above the law”…

Original Story: 

Conflict between the Administration and the Judiciary over developments with Belize Communications Limited has triggered widespread condemnation among Belize’s non-profit organisations.

A Chamber of Commerce release states:

“The Chamber condemns in the strongest manner any attempt by any member of society, corporate or other, to unilaterally decide to undermine, ignore, disregard or disrespect any order of the courts.

“The Chamber further feels that it is unacceptable to obstruct the administration of justice by barring access of a functionary of the court then relying on the pretense of ignorance caused by that improper action as a technical defence.

“Because the judiciary is one of the branches of our constitutional democracy, the Chamber believes that any unconventional attempt to challenge that authority has serious implications for the rule of law and order of civilized society.

“The Chamber strongly supports the institutions and functions of the Judiciary, and looks forward to the restoration of respect for this very important institution. Further the Chamber feels that respect and obedience must be demonstrated in fact and in appearance.

“If technically no laws were broken, then the Chamber expects that the Government will expeditiously make the necessary legislative amendments to prevent occurrence of this very ugly situation.” Read the rest of this entry »


Channel 7 – ICC Will File Contempt Proceedings Against BTL Board

September 28, 2006

Original Story:

“By the end of the week” – that’s when Jeff Prosser’s attorney Lionel Welch says he’ll file contempt proceedings against BTL in the Supreme Court. This evening Welch told us he was still working on the court papers. Shortly after we spoke to him, at 5:40, we received by fax, the copy of a letter from BTL’s attorney, Rodwell Williams to Welch. The letter says that BTL was not given any notice of application, nor has it been correctly served with the order. The letter notes that the company did receive a faxed copy, which, it is implied, does not constitute proper service. This suggests that BTL’s position will be that it never got the injunction, and so, could not act on it.

It is a position that has raised the ire of observers, ranging from senior counsel Lois Young Barrow, to the UDP, and today, the National Trade Union Congress, which issued a statement calling BTL’s action disrespect, disregard and defiance of the order of the Chief Justice. And while the UDP has joined the chorus against it, what of its leader Dean Barrow, whose law firm is the attorney for BTL? Today, Barrow told us that despite the fact of his firm’s retainer, he has an obligation to publicly point out legal wrongdoings by whoever, even if his firm represents them.

Dean Barrow, Senior Counsel
“I condemn it. I think it is in extremely bad form. I think it has grave implications. I fully support the portion of the statement that we made in which we call on BTL to apologize publicly to the Chief Justice and to the country. As a lawyer I am just as concerned. I think it does just strike a blow to the rule of law. It does indicate disrespect for the judiciary and I would really hope that BTL would do the proper and decent thing now and apologize. I think if they do that, it can help to restore confidence in the judiciary in the sense of having people now accept that it doesn’t matter how big you are, you are not above the law and if you do something which makes appears as though you place yourself above the law, you will very quickly apologize and restate your commitment to supporting the rule of law and respecting the judiciary. So I think BTL can to some extent solve this issue before contempt proceedings are taken before their Board of directors.”

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Channel 5 – B.T.L. Officials Continue To Stonewall

September 28, 2006

Original Story:

We have little new to report on the controversy surrounding B.T.L. and its board’s decision to ignore a Supreme Court injunction prohibiting the holding of Monday night’s annual general meeting. Our request for comment from the Prime Minister was declined, the Minister of Public Utilities was unavailable and B.T.L. officials were as silent as a cell phone with no credit. That didn’t stop News Five’s Janelle Chanona from trying, however. She staked out Michael Ashcroft’s pointman at B.T.L., attorney Philip Osborne, as he left his office for lunch. Perhaps the busy corporate lawyer didn’t notice her presence as he appeared to be deep in electronic conversation. Never one to give up, Chanona pursued her quarry to the Radisson, where, despite her pertinent questions, Osborne preferred to leave the public in the dark.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
“Did you know about the injunction Mr. Osborne?”

Philip Osborne, Ashcroft’s Lawyer
“No comment.”

Janelle Chanona
“Are you sure?”

Philip Osborne
“No comment.”

Janelle Chanona
“Okay, thank you very much. Have a good afternoon.”

Philip Osborne
“Thank you.”

It is abundantly clear that B.T.L. officials, Osborne included, were well aware of the existence of the injunction well before they called the meeting to order around six Monday evening. Although they have refused to explain their actions to the public, B.T.L.’s legal advisors are claiming that since the injunction was never properly served, the directors were free to conduct the meeting. It remains to be seen how Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh will deal with the matter.

Channel 7 – BTL Board Ignored Injunction; Held AGM. The Repercussions?

September 27, 2006

Original Story: 

Last night BTL’s Board of Directors pushed through with the company’s annual general meeting at the Belize Biltmore Best Western. They did so even as Supreme Court Marshall Charles Humes was kept out of the meeting by security – not allowed to serve BTL’s officers with an injunction blocking the meeting. As we reported last night – the chief justice granted the injunction to Jeff Prosser’s attorney Lionel Welch at 3:55 pm. But Welch still had to perfect the format and language – and by the time he circulated it to BTL’s officers, it was after 5:00. Because BTL did not have an attorney at the hearing, and because it was not served at the company’s corporate headquarters during working hours, BTL’s board acted as if the injunction did not exist. But last night at the meeting, one shareholder and a senior officer of the court spoke out against that decision to ignore and avoid. Lois Young Barrow, Senior Counsel and former attorney for BTL told us why it was a bad decision, with grave and far reaching implications.

Jules Vasquez Reporting,
This is the injunction – taken out on behalf of Jeff Prosser and Bobby Lubana and it says, On the authority of the Chief Justice that “The respondent BTL is ordered to postpone its meeting.” And after that it warns that disobedience of this order is a contempt of court. But the order was not served on BTL’s corporate headquarters or its offices in the time or the manner specified under these rules of service. So BTL’s meeting continued. But should it have? Senior counsel Lois Young Barrow says definitely not, because the board was made aware of the injunction and it was made aware by her.

Lois Young-Barrow, Senior Counsel
“I went upstairs fully expecting Mr. Arnold, the Chairman, to make this announcement that he is not going to be having the meeting anymore. Lo’ and behold he decides that he is going to reverse the order of the agenda, which is he is going right into the business and he is going to leave the Chairman’s report and all the other stuff until the end. So I knew that something was up.

So he launches into the agenda and he starts off with this first item and then he asks for comments from the floor. There was this dead silence and then I got up and I said, ‘I think you should know Mister Chairman that there is an injunction against the holding of this meeting,’ and he said he didn’t know about any injunction. He said he hadn’t been served and he had been in meetings all day and no one had been served. When I looked back at that, I realize that those directors knew about the injunction and made up their minds that they will treat it as a document that required service at the corporate headquarters or service on one of them.

Eventually I got up and I told the Chairman. I said, ‘Mr. Chairman as an officer of the court I am telling you that the bailiff from the Supreme Court is downstairs with the injunction and the BTL security guard is stopping him from coming into the meeting.’ And I think the Chairman, Mr. Arnold, said, ‘Well thank you very much,’ and continued his meeting. And then at that time the formal business hadn’t been completed, the four items for decision, and I went downstairs myself and I found the bailiff there with the orders and I asked what’s going on. He said he had these orders and he can’t get upstairs and Lionel Welch was there as well. I asked to see the orders and he showed it to me and there was the blue seal of the court on the orders. I said to give me this copy and I will take it up for you. I took it up, told the Chairman again at the meeting, ‘There is an injunction.’ At this point they are going into the other items on the agenda, the agenda had several items. I said to the Chairman that I think he should know that there is an injunction stopping this meeting and I have a copy of it.

When I walked up to the podium and I put the order on his podium, he came back to the podium, ignored the order, and said let’s to continue with the meeting and he called on Mr. Boyce to deal with the next item on the agenda. That is when I said this is enough and I walked out of the meeting and I left at that point.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Techdirt – Put Down The VoIP Phone, And Come Out With Your Hands Up

September 26, 2006

Original Story: 

It’s well known that some countries (usually with government owned telcos) are not at all enthusiastic about VoIP system undercutting their telco monopolies. We’ve heard more than a few stories about VoIP bans in some countries. However, it still is fairly impressive to find out that, in Namibia, five men have now been arrested for selling VoIP services. This certainly isn’t a first. Two years ago, someone was arrested in Belarus for daring to provide the people with cheap phone calls via VoIP. What’s amazing here is that things like VoIP and cheap phone calls are exactly the sort of thing that can help these countries better stimulate their economies — so it’s unfortunate that they’re still seeing the best course of action to be to protect their own monopolies. Take, for example, the situation in Bangladesh, where a ban on VoIP helped slow the country’s ability to build a call center industry. It’s no surprise that government monopolies don’t like to be undermined, but those governments need to start recognizing the unintended consequences of what they’re doing. Cheap phone calls have the ability to impact a large part of a small country’s economy these days.

Channel 7 – Injunction Issued, But BTL’s AGM Proceeds

September 26, 2006

Original Story:

This afternoon at 3:55, the Chief Justice granted an injunction to block BTL’s Annual General Meeting – but at this hour, the AGM has commenced, regardless.

ICC’s attorney Lionel Welch filed the action late this morning and the Chief Justice granted hearing at 3:30 this afternoon. Elson Kaseke represented the Government of Belize, but no attorney for BTL turned up. Still, Welch and Kaseke went into the Chief Justice’s chambers.

According to Welch, the Chief Justice simply asked if the two Special Share Directors, Jeff Prosser and Bobby Lubana had been invited to the AGM. It was confirmed that they were not, and with that, the CJ granted the injunction.

But as we said, BTL’s attorney did not attend the hearing and when we called Senior Manager Karen Bevans at 4:15 – she said our call was the first she had heard of it. 30 minutes later, she said that her company had still not received anything officially and the meeting, to her knowledge, was going ahead as planned.

We have confirmed that the meeting started at 6:10 pm at the Biltmore – which will, no doubt, open the way to another legal challenge from Prosser’s side. Today Kaseke said that it would be ill advised to proceed with the meeting once the injunction had been declared.

But regardless of all that, the meeting has proceeded, and with much on the agenda, from dividend declaration to scripp dividend issues, and undoing it all, would be something else altogether.

And if you’re not quite clear on why all this is happening, it goes back to the Chief Justice’s judgement of a week ago – which found that utilities Minister Ralph Fonseca had acted unlawfully when he signed a statutory instrument declaring the Special share invalid and thus removing its two directors from BTL’s board.

Conteh also ruled that convening last year’s meeting without inviting them was unlawful.

In related news, Kaseke said that he today filed an action – on government’s behalf – to have that judgement stayed until an appeal can be heard.

Channel 7 – Prosser To Challenge BTL’s General Meeting

September 22, 2006

 Original Story 

And, if all that’s not enough to leave your head spinning, tonight, we are informed that Jeffrey Prosser will be trying to block BTL’s Annual General Meeting, the Chief Justice ruled that last year’s annual general meeting, held without inviting Special Share directors Prosser and Bobby Lubana, was unlawful. We take that to mean that if the board does the same this year, the same logic would apply. Well things may come to a head rather quickly because this year’s AGM is set for next week Monday.

And while a Prosser challenge is rumored, Prosser’s histrionics and threats have been heard many, many times before, so with just 2 working days to go before the AGM, we’ll wait and see where this one will go.

By the ruling of the Chief Justice, Prosser’s Belize Telecom should have two directors on the board, and a previous Court of Appeal ruling established that Prosser should retain the two directors that he appointed and the chairmanship. Those two directors were appointed by virtue of his then 37% holding – and the court held that they were never properly removed.

That Appeals Court judgement has not been overturned – and Fonseca’s SI 109 was a response to that decision – to accomplish by legislation – what could not be achieved through litigation. In fact in August of 2005, the Prime Minister told us as much. [August 3, 2005]

Jules Vasquez,
Will the PUC move decisively to de-authorize the golden share that was, by the pronouncement of the Chief Justice, wrongly sold to Jeff Prosser for a $1, a dollar which he has not paid as well?

Rt. Hon. Said Musa, Prime Minister
“That is so. He has not paid for it and since we could not, it seems we cannot get it back through the judicial process, then it will require the legislative action that we took today to deal with that.”