Leader of the Opposition Andrew Fahie said the government and its Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) should formulate regulations and legislation to protect local companies, adding that a special incentive should be provided to the only telecom company that is fully owned by locals.
“As a government, we have to continue to massage our regulations – massage our laws so that we can help our companies to get to be able to compete. That’s how this territory was built, in making sure that our people get a little hand up – not a hand out,” Fahie told the House of Assembly yesterday, March 21.
Of the three telecom companies in the British Virgin Islands market – Digicel, CCT, and Flow – CCT is the only one that is 100 percent locally owned.
“I know that I am gonna get some lashing in the public as the Leader of the Opposition here battling for CCT. I am battling for my people, but not to give them an unfair advantage. But we have to find some incentive to help them. Flow could take up here now and go. Digicel could take up here now and go, but it’s not so easy for CCT to take up and go,” the Opposition leader further reasoned.
He claimed that he is not among local politicians who have tried to malign CCT, or to accuse its owners of being aligned to the National Democratic Party (NDP).
“I have heard in here many times – and I have never shared the argument that they are part of the Investment Club and the Investment Club is the NDP. I heard that all the time, but that’s not true. The Investment Club is made up of a lot of other persons who support the NDP; they are our people… I have never used that on any campaign trail and the record will show.”
Fahie claimed that local companies will be ‘eliminated’ if they don’t have ‘at least a good foothold’ in the local market, adding that CCT should be commended.
“You have to build some economic giants in your country. And when you look at it, out of all the companies that we have here, we must commend CCT for a few things. When I look at the staffing of them, they are the one and only one that have more than 90 percent of the staff that are locals. That’s commendable.”
“Now that they are fighting to keep business; that’s also commendable. I am not saying to let them do the wrong things or that they are doing wrong, [or] to just let them have a highway for everything. But at some time we have to make some bold legislation to protect our companies,” added Fahie.
In response to persons who may be concerned about international standards, he declared: “A lot of those international standards that have been put on us are from countries that are larger than us; they done build.”
Fahie stated that, to help chart a better way forward for CCT, he is willing to meet with TRC Chairman Michael Thomas, as well as the minister responsible for telecommunications Mark Vanterpool.
“I am speaking to the chairman [of the TRC] who happens to be a very good friend of mine, and the minister to find ways that we could sit down – I am willing to sit down, and let us go through this in an amicable manner. We must not be afraid to make that type of move. I can guarantee that the minister would have my support on it when we go through it,” added the Leader of the Opposition.
In response, Vanterpool said he too is willing to assist the local company if such assistance does not interfere with the regulatory duties of the TRC.
He however noted that the TRC is run by locals.
“As a government, we will look to make sure our local people are supported and are always able to play an important role – not just a tacit role, but an important role in the economy of the territory. I think that he (Fahie) is aware that we are very supportive of that, and whatever we can do to make sure it happens we will do outside of the regulatory part of it.”
“I want to assure him that the TRC is made up of all local persons – as far as I know, except one person who is being serving and who is being understudied presently with the expectation that by the end of the year – early next year – one of our local persons who is understudying and who my be going out on attachment is expected to take over that role,” Vanterpool further said yesterday while he wrapped up the debate on a successful motion to have the tenure of the TRC Board extended.
In addition to Vanterpool, other members of the National Democratic Party government previously underscored the importance of CCT being protected in the local market. They include Minister of Health and Social Development Ronnie Skelton, and Minister of Education and Culture Myron Walwyn.
BiWater wouldn’t be here at all
Fahie, in the meantime, yesterday told the House of Assembly that he always has been a champion for the protection of local companies.
He went as far as to name some companies that he said would not be operating locally if other politicians shared his philosophy.
“Had we kept the water company in the hands of the same [local] Investment Group; had kept the sewerage in the hands of the local company that was doing it – I am known for saying this all the time in this House [that] we would not be where we are now. I said it when I was on the government side; I said it when I am on the opposition side; and I mean it from the bottom of my heart. We would not be where we are.”
“First of all, BiWater wouldn’t be here at all. Second of all Global Water would not have been here at all… “ Fahie said. He also claimed that different administrations have not done enough to protect local businesses.
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