by Larry Smith
"In a difficult economy you need investor confidence and consumer confidence to get going ." -- khaalis Rolle. minister of state for investments
In 1997 the Free National Movement ran for re-election on a platform that explicitly called for the privatization of BaTelCo - the state-owned telecoms monopoly that everyone loved to hate for its studied incompetence and don't-give-a-crap arrogance.
Even before then, the Pindling government (no paragon of privatization) had held confidential talks with UK-based Cable & Wireless about selling a stake in BaTelCo. But after its landslide re-election in 1997, the FNM launched a formal privatization process. And the PLP continued that process throughout Perry Christie's first term.
We are all too familiar with the more recent history. The FNM continued the privatization process after it returned to office in 2007, and set about reforming the communications sector's regulatory framework. But after more than a dozen years only one major telecoms provider had come forward - Digicell, which later pulled out of the running.
In 2010, Cable & Wireless Communications, a major industry player with a long history in the region, expressed an interest in BTC and eventually agreed to buy 51 per cent for some $210 million - following extensive due diligence by both sides. The sale was ratified by parliament in April 2011, ending an ignominious 13-year saga, and the Bahamian telecoms market will finally be liberalized in 2014, when BTC's mobile monopoly expires.