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CWC eyes TSTT control

By CAROL MATROO Thursday, May 1 2014

THE Communications Workers’ Union (CWU) is warning of a sellout of the Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT) to British-owned Cable and Wireless Caribbean (CWC).

Secretary General John Julien yesterday disclosed a letter sent from newly appointed chief executive officer (CEO) of CWC Phil Bentley to Finance Minister Larry Howai, dated April 24. The union says that during the time of a news conference held at CWU headquarters, Henry Street, Port-of-Spain yesterday, Howai was meeting with Bentley in a bid to grant CWC majority shareholding of the Government-owned company.

The letter from Bentley suggested that TSTT was on its last legs and is simply not strong enough to “go it alone” against powerful vendors and to secure competitive roaming and carrier deals with global operators such as AT&T and Voldafone.

He said Digicel and Flow had the strength to compete against an isolated TSTT and without a change, TSTT would ultimately continue to lose ground and jobs.

Julien claimed the CWC was making a bid to influence the shift in balance of ownership to earn the majority share of Government’s 51 percent to CWC’s 49 percent.

The union feels the CWC is trying to negotiate for the two percent that would give them the majority.

He said CWC is trying to lure Government into an agreement via a bag of goodies to sweeten the deal. The letter also indicated Bentley made an offer on the value of the services that the CWC could bring to the Government’s Information Communication Technology (ICT).

The letter to Howai from Bentley stated that CWC has identified specific projects which they were confident could be substantially advanced. The letter noted that the Peoples Partnership identified 2018 as the year to “transition TT to the top 30 countries in the Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) from the current ranking of 92.”

It was on the PP’s “five pillar level” of the Government’s SmartTT Programme that CWC had approached the minister. One PWC proposal is to provide 75,000 laptops/tablets to students over a three-year period with free connectivity and also seek to facilitate an extension of the “Connect to Learn” project; access and digital inclusion; e-Business and ICT Sector Development; infrastructure development and e-Government.

Better known as Electronic Government services, Government has felt that this was the way of the future as the world became more and more digital. The letter said that all projects would provide additional foundation layers to assist the Government in delivering an “e-enabled society”.

“It seems apparent that the PP Government is seeing this as a means to engage in obscene politicking one year before a General Election is due, as CWC has indicated to the Government their intention to offer gifts in return for favourable consideration to acquire majority shareholding in the prized possession, TSTT,” Julien said.

He added that over the years, CWC has attempted to coerce successive governments to award them control of the state-controlled TSTT. “All these attempts were met with rational opposition by the CWU since it is the firm belief of the union that TSTT is considered a national treasure. We believe TSTT should always be owned and controlled by the people of TT, working for and on behalf of their best interests,” Julien said.

He said the union was opposed to any moves by the Government to openly engage in patronising politicking where they were being made promises by CWC.

“This is to us a slap in the face to us as an independent nation and to us as citizens. We are going to let CWC and the Government know that we are not in support of this move and Government must be careful that there is a political price to pay if they continue with respect to giving away TSTT on a platter to CWC,” union president Joseph Remy said.

Remy said he was going to write to Howai for an “urgent meeting” on the matter. Several calls yesterday to Howai went straight to voice mail and a text message went unanswered.

In response to the CWC’s allegations, Bentley said while he admires the role the CWU has played and the struggles it has engaged in, he challenged the union’s claim that financial earnings from the telecommunications industry was owed to the people. Bentley said there was zero financial distributions accrued from TSTT for the benefit of the people because business was uncompetitive. He said given the rate of decline it will soon be necessary for people to pay for the losses of TSTT.

He noted that while there were financial earnings in the telecommunications industry, these were accruing to private companies such as Flow and Digicel which did not employ a unionised workforce.

“As I see it, we are at a crossroads, president Remy. The CWU can block the involvement of CWC to make TSTT a success again; block the benefits of being part of a bigger group; block the investments we are proposing in education and technology; and block the support we plan to give our employees, Bentley said in a letter to Remy dated April 29.

“This road is guaranteed to lead to our competitors prospering at the expense of TSTT,” Bentley warned. Bentley said he hoped Remy would agree to meet with him, after leaving messages at his office, to discuss the future of TSTT.

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