|Bahamas faces CWC ‘Goliath’ in talks|
Guardian Business Editor
Published: Jul 30, 2012
A key negotiator in the upcoming talks with Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC) says The Bahamas is going into the arena as "David against Goliath", but sometimes, "David comes out okay".
Prominent Bahamian businessman Franklyn Wilson said he understands CWC's obligations to shareholders. The London-based multinational, which purchased a majority stake in Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) under the previous administration, is unmistakably in the driver's seat.
"In a large way the ball is in their court, in terms of how cooperative they will be," he told Guardian Business. "We have some ideas. You don't go into negotiations without ideas."
Those ideas will be channelled through three other members of Prime Minister Perry Christie's hand-picked team, including Wilson, former attorney general Sean McWeeney, attorney Rowena Bethel and former BTC CEO Leon Williams.
While the re-nationalization campaign has been dismissed by many in the Free National Movement (FNM), the announcement of formal negotiations, to begin next month, brings to fruition a key election promise by the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).
Last week, the prime minister announced at an international forum in Miami, with more than 30 countries present, of his intention to seize majority control of BTC.
CWC purchased 51 percent of the country's sole mobile services provider in April 2011 for $204 million.
Since then, it has poured tens of millions into infrastructure, bringing a 4G network across the country and launching a variety of new programs and customer-focused packages. CEO of BTC Geoff Houston announced last week that the company has seen a 400 percent spike in the use of data on the network since the advent of 4G.
The mobile services provided views data, and by extension, post-paid packages, as a significant area of growth down the line.
Wilson, who is also the chairman of Arawak Homes and Sunshine Holdings Limited, said the substantial investment by CWC in recent months should not make the re-nationalization any more difficult.
"The fact is, they are making a major return on their money. But they are not donating anything to The Bahamas," he explained. "This is not charity."
Adding that negotiations must not be "played out on the media", the top businessman, however, did note to Guardian Business that the process be conducted in a respectful manner. He said that CWC is indeed a large company with many "high-priced" negotiations in their arsenal.
Nevertheless, Wilson expressed optimism for the process going forward.
"It is not our intention to go in and try to reinvent the wheel," he said. "We are trying to achieve a narrow objective, for majority control to be with the citizens of The Bahamas. CWC could fight that, resist that, or use the public relationships campaign to convince others it is the wrong policy. We are not oblivious to that."
Wilson told Guardian Business it is currently undecided exactly when and where the negotiations will take place, although he said part of the process should take place in The Bahamas, as opposed to London. Christie said he hopes the negotiations will begin in mid-August.
"For me personally, it is first and foremost an opportunity to serve," Wilson noted. "Two, it is the mandate that has been given to us. It is not for us to define the mandate. So we have to go in there and do the best we can. It is an important thing for the country. We will be measured and reasonable, and we hope the other side sees value."