Channel 5 – Court Puts B.T.L. Control In Doubt; Fonseca Defends Actions

Channel 5 and 7 both covered this story.  Channel 5 printed the full transcript from both reporters speaking with Fonseca.
Original Story: 

Many of the headlines in 2004 and 2005 centred on the public soap opera that consumed Belize Telecommunications Limited as we traced the saga of its sale from Michael Ashcroft to the Government of Belize … and the subsequent purchase of the company by American investor Jeffrey Prosser. And even though Prosser lost his majority shareholding when he failed to produce the cash, the legal arguments he initiated are alive and … doing surprisingly well in the local judiciary. On Monday, Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh delivered his decision in a matter brought to the court by Prosser in March. That motion accused Belmopan– specifically Minister of Public Utilities Ralph Fonseca and Attorney General Francis Fonseca–of acting contrary to the Belize Constitution and its concept of separation of powers by engineering and signing into law a statutory instrument that took away his rights to the so called special or golden share in Belize Telecommunications Limited, along with the ability to appoint a majority of directors to the board. The special share was sold to Prosser as part of his failed takeover of B.T.L. but it is believed to form an important part of the collateral mortgaged to Trinidadian Bank R.B.T.T. for approximately thirty million U.S. dollars in loans. Those submissions have been in the hands of C.J. Conteh since March, but this week the C.J. sided with Prosser’s attorneys and in a sixty-nine page document, asserted that the S.I.s signed by the Musa administration are unlawful, unconstitutional and violated the principles of separation of powers between the Government and the courts. The practical effects of the ruling are still not clear but this morning, Ralph Fonseca made no apologies for what he did.

Ralph Fonseca, Minister of Home Affairs and Public Utilities
“The Chief Justice has his job to do. I have my job to do. I have to respect his judgment. He is the learned Chief Justice. If he says that’s the way it is, then that’s the way it is, at this time. Of course I have our attorneys looking at it and we may challenge his decision. But we are not at that point yet. What’s important though is we have to make up our minds in Belize you know, if we want politicians that are going to act, cause things to happen, tell you what you want to here and be wishy washy or tell you about dreams. I’m one of those politicians that tries to get things done. Over a year ago, we had chaos in Belize. We could not operate B.T.L. It was impossible to operate the board of B.T.L. Some action had to be taken. I took the action, I took the chance. BTL has been operational. There is no talk, regardless of what decision was made in court yesterday about bringing Mr. Prosser back to the board of B.T.L tomorrow. Mr. Prosser is a bankrupt and a bankrupt cannot be a director on the board of B.T.L. That’s the bottom-line.”

Janelle Chanona, Reporting, News 5
“So you stand by the legality of your decision last year?”

Ralph Fonseca
“I stand by the fact that I got legal opinions that said that was the only way that I could get B.T.L. moving. But I’m not going to fight with the Chief Justice to say that he was wrong. Of course not. I’m not a lawyer to begin with. But what I did at that time I thought was the right thing.”

Alfonso Noble, Channel 7 News
“There are now legal implications with regards the makeup of the board, and in fact the composition of it, the last year’s A.G.M. was declared null and void, the up coming one will obviously not be able to happen because of the structuring of the board. Your comment on that?”

Ralph Fonseca
“Well first of all I think that your television station needs to get a lawyer to get some opinions before they put notices on like you did yesterday. Because if the one that I got a transcript of off the internet this morning is correct, then you made several mistakes according to legal opinions that I have gotten. The Chief Justice did do many of the things that she just referred to as it related to the S.I.s that I had signed. But certainly it does not throw B.T.L. into disarray as I said. You remember that at that time, we were talking about the special share. There was no special pronouncement about the special share.”

Alfonso Noble
“There was a pronouncement that you had exported it, took it out of somebody’s control without authority.”

Ralph Fonseca
“Yes, you heard what I said. There was no special pronouncement about the special share as it relates to what is the status of the special share today and if in fact it even exists. But apart from that, I don’t want to get into legalities. Like yourself I’m not a lawyer either. The difference between you and I is that I speak to lawyers before I talk. But secondly and most importantly, we were talking about a six two board if you could recall, and the special share thing was causing a deadlock, so you couldn’t call a meeting, you couldn’t manage B.T.L. With what was done, rightly or wrongly, that has proceeded. B.T.L. has proceeded. We all know what the situation is with Prosser. And like I said, Prosser was one of the directors of the two, one of the two and it is very very clear, according to the B.T.L. Articles, that a bankrupt cannot be a director on the B.T.L. Board. So Mr. Prosser can’t be director on the B.T.L. board anyway, so I don’t see how that affects anything.”

Alfonso Noble
“But he wasn’t a bankrupt at that time?”

Ralph Fonseca
“Well, but the meeting has also occurred and we’re where we at with B.T.L. today.”

Janelle Chanona
“Minister, what would be your message to B.T.L. shareholders, regarding these missing millions dollars, to the tune of some seven point four million dollars that has been lost somewhere and nobody has been held accountable?”

Ralph Fonseca
“Well I won’t say no one has been held accountable. An investigation has been going on. The problem is that the way that it occurred, the judge in fact upheld what I did as it related to the special investigation, except that he insisted on expanding the period of the investigation. So that goes on. And we have to get an answer for that as quickly as possible. And that investigation has been underway.”

Janelle Chanona
“So that’s still ongoing. I’m just not sure … you have three people, and millions of dollars and nobody gone to jail, nobody appeared before a judge, I mean we have somebody stealing a bicycle and going to jail for five years. I’m a little confused.”

Ralph Fonseca
“Yeah but this is not a bicycle. This has to do with foreign exchange, it has to do with changing monies, it has to do with procedures that were approved or not approved by the board.”

Janelle Chanona
“It was millions of dollars right?”

Ralph Fonseca
“It’s a lot more complex than that. It was millions of dollars.”

Alfonso Noble
“Are you all contemplating the fact that Mr. Prosser may be able to launch another, a counteroffensive, a legal counteroffensive based on the Chief Justice’s action and in fact the government may have to compensate him?”

Ralph Fonseca
“I am contemplating that anything can happen. But like I said, I will speak with my lawyers and check with them and see what they think. Mr. Prosser, believe me, is extremely occupied in other parts of the world.”

Alfonso Noble
“As it is, you are going to be launching a legal challenge to the Chief Justice’s ruling?”

Ralph Fonseca
“No, I didn’t say that. Again you have to listen.”

Alfonso Noble

Ralph Fonseca
“I said I’m going to check with the lawyers and they will direct us as to whether we decide to appeal the judge’s ruling or not. For right now, as the Minister of Public Utilities, I respect the judge’s ruling.”

B.T.L.’s Annual General Meeting was due to be held on September twenty-fifth but today we were unable to confirm with B.T.L.’s management what effect, if any, the decision will have on that event. This afternoon, when we contacted Prosser’s local attorney Lionel Welch, he said his clients are “very happy” with the ruling and are now carefully reviewing the document to determine their next step.


One Response to Channel 5 – Court Puts B.T.L. Control In Doubt; Fonseca Defends Actions

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