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Sep 28, 2006

Attorney General chides B.T.L., defends G.O.B.

Story PictureFollowing three days of public ire against the board of Belize Telecommunications Limited for ignoring a Supreme Court injunction against Monday night’s annual meeting, this afternoon Attorney General Francis Fonseca weighed in with his opinion.

Francis Fonseca, Attorney General of Belize
?Any individual or corporation who knowingly or deliberately refuses to acknowledge or respect an order of the court is obviously a matter that should be dealt by the courts, that is unacceptable. So I don?t know the facts of what took place with respect to B.T.L. and I think we have all have to wait until those facts are established and if the court so desires, the court can obviously order an investigation into that matter.?

?Based on what I have heard, and it has been based just on press reports, B.T.L. was advised by its lawyers that unless they had effective service, meaning that they had been served either at their corporate headquarters or that the order had been served on the board of directors, that they could legally proceed with their A.G.M. And it appears that is what they did. So while that may excuse them from legal contempt, I certainly feel that it does not excuse them from ethical contempt. There?s a lot of hysteria about the rule of law under question and in jeopardy. And truth is the rule of law is strong and vibrant in Belize, and that is the reason we are having this discussion. The Chief Justice made a ruling against the Government of Belize and there is no greater evidence of the rule of law than that when you have an independent judiciary and the government at odds over a particular issue, that is the way it should be in a democratic country.?

The possibility of contempt charges against the B.T.L. board may dominate the headlines but the real story regarding the telecommunications company is that following the Supreme Court ruling of September fifteenth voiding the statutory instruments signed into law by Public Utilities Minister Ralph Fonseca, American businessman Jeffrey Prosser is very much back in the Belizean telecommunications picture. Today, the attorney general reminded us that the government has petitioned for a stay against that decision.

Francis Fonseca, Attorney General
?Keep in mind that the entire matter, the decision of the Chief Justice made last week is under appeal. That has to be reviewed and there is an application for a stay of that order. Now that does not resolve anything but that has been done. But we continue as a government, I have to say, to try to reach some agreement with respect to B.T.L. It has to be done between the Prosser group and the Ashcroft group and until they are able to have a meeting of the minds as to the value of the shareholdings and what one or the other is prepared to pay for those shareholdings, we will have this situation of uncertainty. The action taken by the government last year, I have to say this was done because of that very issue, that uncertainty. We knew at the time that that action was taken that there was some risk of this matter being reviewed by the court and possibly being struck down by the court. But at that time if people remember, and sometimes people have short memories, but if people can recall more than one year ago, we could have even have a meeting of the board of directors of B.T.L. The parties were simply unwilling to sit even around the same table and what we had was great uncertainty amongst the employees of B.T.L., the shareholders of B.T.L. and the finances of the company were in jeopardy. So government took a calculated risk, but a deliberate step to try and correct that and that led to the amendment of the P.U.C. act, section twenty-two as well as SI 109 being passed into law. Of course those have been struck down by the court and we respect that. What that means as far as the operations of B.T.L. is that the, we now have a board of directors who were two members who were formerly on the board have been reinstated and so we have to try to move forward. It means that those shareholders, those directors will have to come together to work for the benefit of the company.?

?But keep in mind as well that there is another case before the courts that has to do specifically with the special share that is what we call the rescission case. And the ownership of the special share, which the Government is challenging because Mr. Prosser has in fact, has not paid for that special share and the directors that he now has on the board are there by virtue of his holding of the special share. So that is a matter yet to be resolved by the courts.?

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
?Does the government regret that it ever formally handed over the special share as an agent when as far as I understand the Articles of Association, that was designed specifically only to be held by the government. Is that, in hindsight, are you regretting that??

Francis Fonseca
?Well I think obviously our position today is that the Special Share should be held by the Government of Belize. I was not the Attorney General at the time, certainly that is my position today. But hindsight and regrets are good, but they don?t resolve problems.?

A decision granting a stay of the order of the Chief Justice against the Government of Belize has yet to be handed down. In condemning the B.T.L. board’s behaviour, Attorney General Fonseca joins senior members of the legal profession, the leader of the Opposition, Chamber of Commerce and a host of other civic organisations.

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