Prime Minister Perry Christie quietly met with the head of Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC) yesterday during one of the worst blackouts in the history of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC).
The highly anticipated meeting at the Office of the Prime Minister, first revealed by Guardian Business last week, brings to fruition the prime minister's pledge to "remain faithful in our commitment to explore all lawful means by which majority ownership of BTC can be restored to the government and the Bahamian people".
Geoff Houston, the CEO of BTC, confirmed to this newspaper that Tony Rice, CEO of CWC, has arrived in The Bahamas and spoke with Christie yesterday morning.
"We can confirm Mr. Rice met with the PM [Monday]," he said. "We will not issue any further comment."
It is unknown what was specifically discussed during the meeting, or whether it could be the first of many encounters.
Meanwhile, Monday was marked by mass disruptions and blackouts throughout the country , impacting thousands of customers and business owners. In a statement, executives at BTC blamed a commercial power failure at its Poinciana Drive location, which houses the majority of the company's telecommunications facilities.
The plant's generator and batteries failed to provide back-up to keep the system online.
Yesterday's mishap provided an unfortunate backdrop to yesterday's meeting.
The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) has made no secret on its desire to re-nationalize BTC ever since it won the election in May.
"We shall very shortly arrange a timetable for discussions that we propose to undertake in this regard with the major owners of the majority stake in BTC and other interested stakeholders," the prime minister said last month.
In April 2011, CWC gained a 51 percent stake in BTC for $204 million. The move opened the flood gates to full privatization of the telecommunications sector, with competition in the mobile service arena expected in the near future.
Lachlan Johnston, director of brand and communications at CWC, confirmed to Guardian Business from London that "Mr. Rice will come to The Bahamas and visit".
However, he downplayed the meeting's significance in terms of the future of BTC.
"He tries to get in front of the new government, particularly when it's a shareholder and a partner, which is the situation in many other countries," Johnson added.
Reactions to the prime minister's statement concerning BTC have been mixed.
Members of the BTC union have praised the PLP's commitment to revisit the idea of re-nationalizing the country's sole mobile provider, claiming Bahamians should be completely at its helm. Analysts in the international investment community, however, have warned that such talks could have an unintended impact on foreign investment.
Richard Lowe, the vice president of The Nassau Institute, a local think tank, said "nothing justifies a monopoly".
"In the case of BTC, it was a company in decline and selling the government monopoly was an opportunity for government to get something for it and hand the personal issues off," he explained yesterday. "Once privatized they could easily allow competition in the future without fighting usual pressures from civil servants."
Competition is key, Lowe added, and the institute looks forward to the day when there are more phone companies in the country.
Click here to read more at The Nassau Guardian