PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (defend.ht) – Two citizens and lawyers rebuffed a request for an apology from Digicel and instead retaliated by filing an injunction against the telecommunications giant for it to disclose information on the circumstances and contracts that led to the sending of mass text messages to its clients in the early morning hours of May 14, 2013.
Digicel, on Thursday June 13, requested a public apology from Citizens and Lawyers, Newton Louis Saint Juste and André Michel by sending a court order for them to submit their apology within 24 hours of the notice.
The two lawyers had accused the telecommunications giant of being part of a vast money laundering, drug trafficking and kidnapping operations with the Haitian government, which helped fund the May 14, 2013 two year anniversary event of the President of the Republic.
Michel and Saint Juste retaliated by declaring a writ, Friday, June 14, 2013, to the Executive Director of Digicel in Haiti, Damian Blackburn, to make an invitation to the Tribunal of the jurisdiction. They requested that in a PERIOD OF ONE (1) DAY, Digicel is to communicate to the Central Financial Intelligent Unit (UCREF) the identity of the persons who signed the contract for messages to be sent to customers of Digicel, where no legal standing was in place, and invite them to visit the streets on May 14, 2013 to celebrate two years of “Tet Kale” in power. The injunction also requires that Digicel disclose the amount of the contract and other terms.
After this time, the lawyers request that the facts be at the behest of the two lawyer plaintiffs to be brought to the Prosecutor and with bodies involved in the fight against money laundering and organized crime.
The complaint reads:
That the applicants are surprised that Digicel would assume the right to send messages to citizens, called clients, with which it maintains no legal link from mafia contracts with unknown amounts for which origin is unknown.
That the applicants remind you that the Minister of Economy and Finance, Trade and Industry, Wilson Laleau said to the Honorable Members, that the festivities of May 14, 2013 to commemorate the second anniversary of Tet Kale in power, which Digicel is associated, were funded by supporters of President Martelly, whose names and addresses are unknown.
It is of dubious origin mobilized funds contrary to the law of 21 February 2001 on laundering of assets derived from illicit drug trafficking and other serious offenses.
Global tax havens harbor close to 1/3 of the world’s GDP.
Tax Havens of the Wealthy and Powerful
More and more companies are stashing their cash offshore, and they’re doing it at alarming rates. Why? Put simply, it’s about eluding the tax man.
– $21 trillion =
– US, Japanese, and German economies combined.
– EU, Russian, and Indian economies combined.
– Total private wealth held in tax havens worldwide.
– $9.8 trillion =
– Private wealth held in tax havens by a mere 100,000 people.
– The amount of foreign aid the US would provide in 196 years at current rates.
“Double Irish with a Dutch Sandwich”
– Profits routed through Irish and Dutch subsidiaries often end up in Caribbean shell corporations that don’t pay US taxes.
– 83 of the 100 largest companies in the US with subsidiaries in tax havens.
Largest Major Corporate Investors
[corporation-unrepatriated income (in millions)]
– General Electric–$108,000
– Exxon Mobile–$47,000
– Johnson and Johnson–$49,000
[corporation-percentage increase in offshore investment 2009-11]
– Spectra Energy–%1141.8+
– Ford Motor–%546+
– Home Depot–%426.3+
– Starwood Hotels–%203+
– Unum Group–%197.6+
– Genworth Financial – %108.5+
Bailed out and bailing ship
Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley were some of the larger bailouts of the 2008 financial crisis.
[corporation-amount received in bailout money-amount shipped offshore since-percentage increase since financial crisis]
– Citigroup–$2,500 billion–$35.9 billion–%32+
– Goldman Sachs–$10 billion–$20,630 million–%27+
– Morgan Stanley–$107 billion–$6,461 million–%61.5+
– %73 of Americans feel that loopholes should be closed allowing corporations and the wealthy to avoid US taxes by shifting income overseas.
– %83 of Americans feel that tax on US corporation’s overseas profits should be increased to equal what their US income tax would be.
– %90 of Small business owners believe that large corporations use loopholes to avoid taxes that smaller businesses have to pay.
[Tax Burden ]
Estimated Federal Income tax losses from tax havens = $150 billion per year
– US corporate untaxed wealth in tax havens= $90 billion
– US individual untaxed wealth in tax havens= $60 billion
– $150 billion = $1026 in additional taxes from every tax filer in the US.
– $150 billion = %6 percent of total reportable income for the US not filed correctly.
In 2007, tax havens accounted for nearly 9% of the world’s gross assets and liabilities. Meanwhile these nations accounted for only .2 percent of the world’s population and .25 percent of the world’s GDP.
[nation title; total portfolio investment (in millions, 2010 data); population 2010] [0= <1 mil]
– Andorra: 217 ; 83,888
– Anguilla: 627 ; 14,764
– Antigua and Barbuda:132 ; 82,000
– Aruba: 1874 ;101484
– Bahamas:17,101 ; 353,658
– Bahrain:11719 ; 1,234,571
– Barbados 2584 ; 276,300
– Belize: 340 ; 312,971
– Bermuda: 402,093 ; 64,237
– British Virgin Islands: 58,888 ; 106,405
– Cayman Islands: 1575332 ; 54,878
– Cook Islands:7 ; 21,390
– Costa Rica: 397 ; 4,563,539
– Cyprus: 18599 ; 1,102,677
– Djibouti: 3 ; 879,053
– Dominica: 1 ; 65,000
– Gibraltar: 3035 ; 28,956
– Grenada: 60 ; 109,553
– Guernsey: 82547 ; 44547
– Hong Kong: ; 7,024,200
– Ireland: 1090520 ; 4,467,854
– Isle of Man: 10394 ; 12,869
– Jersey: 232812 ; 95,732
– Jordan: 2260 ; 6,113,000
– Lebanon: 2670 ; 3,785,655
– Liberia: 7607 ; 4,101,767
– Liechtenstein: 5529 ; 35,789
– Luxembourg: 2051813 ; 502,066
– Macao: ; 552,300
– Maldives: 3 ; 319,738
– Malta: 3389 ; 414,372
– Marshall Islands:12082; 54816
– Mauritius: 12448 ; 1,283,415
– Micronesia: 0 ; 176,815
– Monaco: 80 ; 36,371
– Montserrat: no data ; 5,000
– Nauru: ; 13,000
– Netherlands: 1883690 ; 16,574,989
– Antilles: ; 197,041
– Niue: 0 ; 1496
– Panama:33587 ; 3,504,483
– Samoa: 4 ; 183,123
– San Marino: 84 ; 13,147
– Seychelles: 170 ; 86,525
– Singapore: 173271 ; 5,076,700
– St. Kitts and Nevis: 286 ; 51,300
– St. Lucia: 112 ; 174,000
– St. Martin: ; 77,741
– St. Vincent and the Grenadines:278 ; 125,000
– Switzerland: 712,622 ; 7,785,806
– Tonga: no data ; 103,365
– Turks and Caicos Islands: 902 ; 50,000
– Vanuatu: no data ; 245,036
– Establishing a corporation offshore:
– Three pieces of paper:
– A nominal director declaration states that the nominal director with a tax haven address will follow the direction of the firm’s real owner.
– An undated resignation letter allows the nominal director to duck liability.
– Power of attorney is granted to the corporation’s real owner.
– The Ugland House, one small building in the Cayman Islands is home to some 18,857 companies.
– The state of Delaware, with a population of 917,092, is home to some 945,000 companies, many of which are shells.
So you have a nominal owner, what happens then?
– Like Bidzina Ivanishvili, the Prime Minister of Georgia, you can buy Picasso’s “Dora Maar au Chat” for $95 Million, a full $35 million more than it is appraised for. Just because you want to.
– Also like Ivanishvili, you can provide 60,000 in your home region with free electricity and gas, build twenty schools, a stadium, and provide monthly bonuses to doctors and teachers.
– At $2 million for a 65′ yacht, the global private wealth in tax havens could fill the entire length of the Mississippi River 34.8 times.
Cellular operator Digicel Group Ltd jumped into Myanmar early and big, hiring staff, funding local sports, negotiating land deals for thousands of cell tower sites and signing up hundreds of partners for retail outlets.
The strategy helped propel it onto the shortlist for a mobile license in one of the world’s last mobile frontiers, putting an operator that ranks 65th globally in terms of customers up against giants such as Vodafone Group
Whether its strategy pays off or not, industry insiders say, Digicel, largely unknown outside the Caribbean and some Pacific islands, has shaken up a usually conservative industry.
“They have been a disruptive force,” said Roger Barlow, a Hong Kong-based telecommunications consultant who has worked in Asia for more than 25 years. “Some of the big guys tend to look down their noses at them but they shouldn’t because they’re becoming a credible player.”
Myanmar this month short-listed 12 consortia for two licenses it plans to grant foreign operators in late June. The government wants to expand mobile penetration from less than 4 percent to up to 80 percent by 2015-16.
While Digicel is up against behemoths such as Vodafone, China Mobile Ltd and Telenor ASA, several other big players failed to make the list – among them South Korea’s SK Telecom Co Ltd and Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Holding SAE.
It’s a vindication of sorts for Digicel’s long-term approach. Business development director Frank O’Carroll led the charge into Myanmar in 2009. In early 2012 he persuaded the company to commit funds to build a local brand and prepare the ground so that if it did get the go-ahead it could roll out a service in a matter of months.
That entailed deploying hundreds of workers across the country to negotiate thousands of leases for base station sites, months before the government had even begun the tender process.
“There’s not one square inch of the country we haven’t been in,” O’Carroll said in an interview in Singapore.
Its sponsorship of the national football federation has built brand awareness – of sorts. Lots of locals have heard of Digicel, O’Carroll said, though at least initially they were as likely to think it’s a brand of battery as a cellphone operator.
It’s a strategy, he said, that Digicel has been pursuing in much smaller markets for more than a decade.
“What we are doing in Myanmar is not unique to Myanmar,” said O’Carroll. “The first country that Digicel as a company looked to get a license was Trinidad and Tobago. We did very the same thing. We were there, we leased the land, we rented local offices, we started a local team, sponsored big sports.”
SMALL AND NIMBLE
Digicel has since set up shop in 31 markets, gaining 13 million customers. While none boasts a population above 10 million people, the company has taken on some major rivals, including America Movil SAB, Vodafone, Telefonica and Cable & Wireless.
“I don’t think there’s any fantastic science to it, but I do think it’s our ability to move fast because we’re small, we don’t have this complex machinery that takes months and months to make decisions,” said Vanessa Slowey, Singapore-based CEO of Digicel Asia Pacific, in an interview.
Making those decisions is Digicel owner Denis O’Brien, an Irish billionaire who first focused on small markets in the Caribbean after noticing that spectrum was being auctioned off in Jamaica. Eventually the Pacific beckoned.
Telecoms executive David Borrill recalls meeting O’Brien in his office after three years working for the incumbent operator in Samoa. “He went straight over to his library and opened the biggest atlas he had, turned to the Pacific and said, ‘Tell me about this, where would you put an office here?'”
A few weeks later Borrill was back in Samoa, this time working for Digicel. The company bought out Telecom New Zealand’s stake in the incumbent operator in 2006, and within six months had more than doubled its customer base.
Last financial year the company reported revenue of $2.5 billion, year-on-year growth of 14 percent and EBITDA of $1.08 billion, up 13 percent. It has 87 percent market share in Haiti, at least 75 percent in Jamaica and 92 percent of Papua New Guinea, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
“Digicel is very astute in selecting the markets it enters,” said John Hibbard, an Australia-based telecoms consultant. “It has to be convinced it will win a reasonable market share.”
When it isn’t, it’s prepared to abort. In East Timor, for example, Digicel went so far as building cell towers, and assured the government that if granted a license it could cover more than 90 percent of the population within four months.
But, Digicel said, the government dragged its feet and ignored advice to issue only one license. So when it did eventually win one of the two on offer last year, Digicel turned it down. “Why would we invest $50 million to compete with two other operators, for the 40 percent that is left? It’s crazy. So we handed our license back,” said O’Carroll.
Digicel sold its assets to the other licensee Telin, a unit of Indonesia’s PT Telkom. The company broke even on its Timor investment, said Digicel’s Slowey, without giving details.
Such an approach is at odds with the industry’s more conservative approach, where investment decisions must be highly rational and based on certain outcomes.
“Digicel doesn’t have the institutional memory of other telcos,” said Rob Bratby, a Singapore-based telecoms lawyer with Olswang LLP. “It’s an example of a company with a different mental framework.”
Digicel, however, has not had a free ride in Myanmar. The government turned down its proposal in 2012 to set up a joint venture with the incumbent operator, Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications, in favor of an open tender.
That has meant facing the diplomatic and financial muscle of some of the world’s biggest and best-connected operators, prompting Digicel to take on its own partners: Yoma Strategic Holdings, owned by Serge Pun, a powerful businessman who, unlike many tycoons in Myanmar, isn’t entangled in Western sanctions. The other member of the consortium: Quantum Strategic Partners, owned by financier George Soros.
The Soros-funded Open Society Foundations have long worked with exiles, refugees and dissidents, according to its website. Last year Soros said he would set up an office in Yangon.
Digicel shrugs off criticism that it lacks the experience of working in big markets like Myanmar, arguing that it’s harder to work in lots of countries, whatever their size. Among the shortlistees, only France Telecom SA matches Digicel in the number of markets covered.
“Whether it’s the smallest country in the world you deploy in or the largest, it’s still the same building blocks, still the same issues that you must go through,” said O’Carroll. “A lot of those same things, whether it’s Nauru’s 9,000 people or Myanmar’s 60 million, we think are going to be identical.”
By Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
We have repeatedly warned against using food crops to produce gene drugs and industrial chemicals since 1998. The inevitable contamination of our food supply has now come to light. But the more insidious pollution of our soil, water and air has yet to be assessed. Poisons can seep through the plant roots and dissolve in ground water. Pollen carrying the offending drugs and chemicals could be inhaled. Wild and domestic animals of all kinds are likely to feed on the crops.
On November 11, the US government ordered the biotech company, ProdiGene, to destroy 500,000 bushels of soybeans contaminated with GM maize, engineered to produce a drug not approved for human consumption. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) refused to give details on the protein involved because it is deemed ‘confidentual business information’.
It could be one of the following: the HIV glycoprotein gp120, a blood-clotting agent (aprotinin), a digestive enzyme (trypsin), an industrial adhesive (a fungal enzyme, laccase), vaccines for hepatitis B, vaccine for a pig disease, transmissible gastroenteritis.
USDA records show that ProdiGene has received 85 test permits for experimental open-air trials of pharm crops and chemical crops in at least 96 locations.
The ‘edible’ AIDS vaccine with the HIV glycoprotein gp120 gene has been condemned as dangerous by a number of AIDS virologists because the gp120 gene and gene product can undermine our immune system and generate new viruses and bacteria that cause diseases.
A day later, the US government disclosed that ProdiGene did the same thing in Iowa back in September. The USDA ordered 155 acres of nearby corn to be incinerated for fear of contamination.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. The true extent of the contamination remains unknown owing to the secrecy surrounding more than 300 field trials of such crops across the country since 1991. Still others sites are in Canada. The chemicals these plants produce include vaccines, growth hormones, clotting agents, industrial enzymes, human antibodies, contraceptives, immune suppressive cytokines and abortion-inducing drugs.
The majority of engineered biopharmaceuticals are being incorporated into maize. ProdiGene, the company at the centre of the current scandal has the greatest number of pharm crops and projects that 10 percent of the US maize will be devoted to biopharm products by 2010.
Far from supporting even weak containment strategies such as buffer zones, ProdiGene has told its shareholders it is hoping to “gain regulatory approval to lessen or abandon these requirements altogether”.
Trials in other countries have also come to light. According to a recent report by Genetically Engineered Food Alert, a US-based coalition of environmental and consumer advocacy groups, Puerto Rico is one of four main centres in the US for these tests. The other three are the states of Nebraska, Wisconsin and Hawaii.
Another report by the same group reveals that these plants are by no means the only experimental GM crops grown in Puerto Rico. This Caribbean island has been host to 2,296 USDA-approved GM open-air field tests as of January 2001, making Puerto Rico host to more GM food experiments per square mile than any US state, except Hawaii.
Puerto Rico is not a state. Its residents are US citizens but have no voice or vote in the US Congress or in the UN.
Puerto Rico Farmers Association president Ramon Gonzalez revealed that he plants GM crops in his farm in the town of Salinas. He said that genetically modified crops in Puerto Rico are commercial and include a herbicide-resistant soya made by Monsanto (Roundup-ready) and a variety of corn that produces its own bio-pesticide, or Bt corn.
According to Gonzalez, the harvested GM crops planted there are sold as seed to be planted elsewhere. “Puerto Rico is the preferred place to make seed because our weather permits us to have up to four harvests a year.”
Local regulatory agencies seem to be unaware of the issue. A spokeswoman for the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board said that as Puerto Rico has no laws or regulations for GM crops, it has no mandate to intervene or investigate.
USDA spokesman Jim Rogers is reported to have said, “Nobody’s going to know all the possible risks”, and “We mitigate these risks to what we feel is appropriate”.
On the contrary, we do know enough of the risks for such crops to be banned immediately. The USDA and other government regulators have been warned, and they should be held liable for all damages along with the companies involved.
When a major earthquake clobbered Haiti in January 2010, a shift in how international officials talked about solving the country’s ills was already under way. Starting with then-U.N. special envoy, Bill Clinton, the word “aid” had fallen from use, in favor of the new buzzword in international development: “investment.” The term was sexier, more optimistic, and promised something not only for recipients but also givers with diminishing economic and political confidence: a return.
After the catastrophe, investment fever was everywhere, expressing itself in hundreds of millions of dollars poured into efforts to scale up Haiti’s moribund export sector, particularly in low-wage textile factories, tourism, and niche-crop agriculture, such as mangoes. Another directly related trend was the investment of money and political capital in a new president, Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, a former pop musician whose core governing principle — expressed, in English, at his inaugural address — was to create “a new Haiti open for business, now.” Anything that threatened those investments, and the further investments they were meant to attract, could expect a cold reception.
That’s the greeting that awaited Michel Forst, the visiting U.N. independent expert on human rights in Haiti, when he returned to Port-au-Prince last November. His ensuing report was an ice bath in reply. Forst alleged police torture and pervasive judicial corruption, deteriorating security, crackdowns on press freedom, and a general inadequacy on the part of Haiti’s leaders — including Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe — to uphold the rule of law. He invoked the recent cases of Serge Démosthène, a groundskeeper allegedly tortured to death by police trying to elicit a confession in the killing of a major Haitian banker; and Calixte Valentin, a Martelly adviser arrested on murder charges but freed months later by a “judge believed to have been appointed solely for the purpose.” Forst even took a swipe at the United Nations for failing to “throw light on the causes of the outbreak of the cholera epidemic” its peacekeepers are suspected to have caused. (Evidence suggests U.N. soldiers introduced the disease, previously unknown in Haiti, by contaminating a major river with their sewage. With more than 8,000 dead, the U.N. has refused to apologize, and recently rejected a petition for redress.) “I cannot hide from you my concern and my disappointment in the face of how the situation has developed in the fields of the state of law and human rights,” Forst explained, as he presented his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva last month.
The report was Forst’s last as the U.N.’s expert on human rights in Haiti. Upon finishing his presentation, the French official announced that despite being eligible for an additional, sixth year on his term, he was resigning immediately “for personal reasons.” As if to underscore the improbability of that explanation, the council’s president, Remigiusz Henczel, thanked Forst for his work, “Regardless of the reasons for your resignation.”
To Haitians who had been following the story, it seemed clear that Forst hadn’t jumped on his own. “Michel Forst is very attached … to the rule of law and fight against impunity while we have a government that acts arbitrarily and encourages impunity and corruption. ” Haitian human-rights campaigner Pierre Espérance told the newspaper Haiti Progrès.
Private interviews with officials familiar with Forst’s departure, granted on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, confirmed this view: that a breakdown in relations with President Martelly, exacerbated by impatience inside a U.S. State Department invested in the Haitian administration’s credibility, resulted in his dismissal. At first, those sources said, the Caribbean nation‘s president simply wanted the human-rights council to deny the pro-forma yearly renewal of the independent expert’s mandate entirely. Eventually, pressured by allies who wanted to see the position maintained, Martelly relented — under the condition that someone other than Forst take over the position. “They felt Forst never really helped them at all. He’d just come pontificate,” one diplomat explained.
Forst’s critics blasted him for arrogance. But the departing official — who remains the voluntary chairman of the committee coordinating all U.N. special rapporteurs worldwide, and whose day job is secretary-general of the French government’s national human-rights council — wasn’t finished. In a parting op-ed reprinted in Haitian newspapers and made available to foreign journalists, he poked his opponents where it hurt, rejecting the notion that Martelly’s Haiti is “open for business” at all. Noting that economic development is linked to the rule of law and stability to human rights, he hoped for a Haiti where “human rights proclamations will finally become real.” (In late 2012, Forst had been even more blunt, telling a press conference: “Haiti is not ready at this time for the return of large companies.”)
The irony is that many of the same concerns Forst expressed are shared by many in the governments and organizations whose money and influence hold sway over Haiti’s leaders — including the United States — and even by Martelly himself. Forst praised many of the government’s efforts, including the dismissal of 79 police officers in November 2012, including chief inspectors, found guilty of crimes ranging from rape and drug trafficking to falsifying credentials. Aware of international concerns, Haiti’s president and prime minister — who both embarked in the middle of l’affaire Forst on investment — seeking tours of the Caribbean and West Africa — have affirmed they are in a “war against corruption.” But Forst seems to have broken an unwritten rule against criticizing the government’s efforts in public.
Haiti has long suffered from an often-unfairly negative image abroad. Its current government knows that in order to attract serious investment, that image has to change, and has been aggressive about pushing back against negative publicity — no matter the source. Regardless of whether any specific initiatives were threatened by Forst’s condemnations, it seems clear that his tone was no longer welcome. (The Haitian government did not respond to a request for public comment.)
Specifics may become clearer over time. Forst’s departure recalls the late-2010 dismissal of another outspoken diplomat — Organization of American States permanent representative Ricardo Seitenfus, who saw his contract expire after he criticized the heavy hand of the international community, particularly U.N. peacekeepers, in Haiti. In retrospect it seems clearer that Seitenfus was causing problems by airing public grievances at a moment when the OAS and other major players were embroiled in a debate over how and whether to intervene in a shambolic postquake presidential election. Following his dismissal, the OAS presented a highly controversial report alleging fraud in Haiti’s vote count that would have benefited the then-ruling party of President René Préval. That report, backed strongly by the Obama administration, upended the electoral tally, and paved Martelly’s path to the presidency.
Then, as now, it’s not that the international community was reticent to make its opinions felt in Haiti — even those far more condemnatory than Forst’s ultimately toothless reports. But when investments are on the line, it’s usually advantageous to keep embarrassing facts far from view. As one Western diplomat told me, “We find it’s better to beat them up in private than in public.”
22/04/2013 – Jean-Claude Duvalier Rule of Law and Reason of State?
23/04/2013 – Daily Life in Haiti for the Poor
24/04/2013- A look at Digicel and the Moral Compass of Denis O’Brien
Mr Cameron made the claim yesterday during a speech in West Yorkshire in which he criticised people who suggested that more spending is required to kick-start economic growth.
“It’s as if they think there’s some magic money tree. Well let me tell you a plain truth: there isn’t,” he claimed.
“Magic money trees thrive in areas of no tax,” one arborist told us.
“They are in bloom all-year round and are a heavily protected species.”
Money tree identified
“Mr Cameron appears to have adopted an interesting tactic for reducing the UK’s debt which involves saying it’s going down in the hope no-one notices it’s going up,” explained 4 year-old Freddie Lewis.
“His declaration that he is sticking to the same plan is an attempt to create an impression of steely resolve, but instead creates an impression of being an enormous twat.
“This combined with his denial of magic money trees just shows how out of touch he is.”
Digicel has won a LTE spectrum auction in Turks & Caicos. After a two-stage bidding process that ran for 6 months, the Turks & Caicos Islands Telecommunications Commission has awarded Digicel LTE spectrum in the 700 MHz frequency band.
Under the terms of the license agreement, Digicel will provide free internet service to all public/government schools, subsidized 4G LTE devices and data bundles for all students and teachers in the country, and each public/government secondary and post-secondary school with a Digital Classroom free of charge.
It may be of interest for readers to know that n August 2009, the United Kingdom suspended the Turks and Caicos Islands’ self-government after allegations of ministerial corruption. The prerogative of the ministerial government and the House of Assembly were vested in the islands’ governor, Gordon Wetherell, and his successor, Ric Todd, pending the report of a Commission of Inquiry and the drafting of a new Constitution of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Home rule was restored in the islands after the November 2012 elections.
Telecommunication company Digicel is to head to court on Tuesday to make its case in the ongoing issue with the Tax Administration Department (TAJ).
However, Digicel had secured a court injunction barring the TAJ from extracting information from its servers.
Digicel is contending that it has been supplying the required information to the tax officials over the past months.
In a statement issued late last evening, however, Digicel provided no specific word on the nature of the information it has been providing the tax authorities.
Digicel has also strongly refuted any form of wrongdoing emerging from what it calls a blatant witch-hunt and fishing expedition on the part of the TAJ.
It has also warned that it will use every possible legal avenue to pursue those involved in this matter whether directly or indirectly.
Originally Published: Saturday May 5, 2012 | 10:59 am
Tomorrow: Ten things to know about the Denis O’Brien/Siteserv transaction
A GATE for Whom | CARIBARENA ANTIGUA
The recent announcement of the GATE project was marketed as a “major”, “historic”, “game changing” initiative that would change the face of Antigua and Barbuda forever. However, just how effective and significant the GATE project will really be needs a more detailed breakdown.
The backbone of the GATE project is Digicel‘s soon-to-come 4G LTE network. Basically, 4G LTE is a network that allows phones, laptops, and any compatible device to get high speed internet anywhere. Whether you are at home, on the road, or at the beach, you can get high speed internet (assuming the provider has good coverage).
The primary advantage of 4G was for social interaction. Watching youtube videos, uploading photos to Facebook, and calling on Skype all from a smartphone drove the market appeal in the United States, giving birth to the 4G LTE technology. So all 4G LTE really does is provide fast access to the internet anywhere.
At Thursday’s announcement, the Government Assisted Technology Endeavour (GATE), consisting of four components, was basically various ways of implementing and leveraging Digicel’s 4G network.
One of the major components of the GATE program was “e-Education computer tablets and e-Education connectivity”. Putting big words aside, the Government are buying thousands of Tablets (like the iPad), hooking them up to 4G, and giving them to students. Minister of IT Dr. Edmond Mansoor said during the press conference that Digicel had donated $6.75 Million towards the Tablet fund, in which 6,000 tablets will initially be purchased.
This raises two important questions. Firstly, why Tablets, and secondly, why 4G?
The Minister said that the Tablets will be manufacturered by Samsung and compatible with 4G. However, tablets still do not support the same level of word processing, ease of use, and compatibility with e-learning programs that laptops do.
One Laptop per Child is a global organization, from which programs like the GATE project can receive fully capable laptops that are built tough and designed for educational purposes for the price of $200 USD. With $6.75 Million ECD, the Government could purchase approximately 12,500 such laptops.
So why use Tablets? Tablets are easy to break, incompatible with most if not all e-learning systems, and limited in terms of word processing and ease of use. Tablets are also expensive when compared to the One Laptop per Child Laptop, and offer less compatibility and features.
And now for the second question, why 4G?
Internet is not something new to Antigua and Barbuda. The Government do not need 4G technology to equip schools with laptops and internet, even if the entire campus has to be covered. Why didn’t the Ministry instead implement this solution with APUA‘s ADSL technology? Or LIME’s wireless internet?
Why did the Government choose to leave the schools without internet and devices, and wait for Digicel’s 4G network in order to purchase tablets that will work on Digicel’s network, when the technology has already been in Antigua and Barbuda for years?
Putting laptops in the hands of students, and giving them internet connectivity, is a fantastic initiative. But why has it been so delayed? Also, why is the Government building so heavily on Digicel?
After the Government experience with APC, in which many officials, notably Prime Minister Dr. Baldwin Spencer, promised that the Government would never rely on private groups for essential services, why is Digicel being given such a huge project?
Why isn’t APUA instead being harnessed? APUA have $15 Million worth of 4G LTE equipment awaiting installation in Antigua and Barbuda. Why don’t the Government instead support APUA’s attempts to establish a 4G network, and then the Government and people will “own” the 4G network?
The Minister said that, “the connectivity on an annual basis to these 6,000 students is valued at $14.3 million, and over the 5 years, the connectivity will be worth $71 million.” These Millions of dollars are going to Digicel, and by extension, leaving the country, when instead they can be payed to APUA, and circulate within the economy.
And Digicel’s services are not only being harnessed in schools, but also in “the Passport Office, Immigration Department, Lands and Survey Department, High Court Registry, Mt. St. John’s Medical Centre, and District Medical Clinics”.
While there is still debate about Private vs. Publicly-owned essential services, the Government took the position that essential services should be owned and controlled by the Government. So why are the Government deliberately breaking their own policy for Digicel, particularly in crucial areas such as the Immigration Department, Passport Office, and MSJMC?
“This is a major, major, major, major development in how Government partners with the private sector to propel Antigua and Barbuda forwards ladies and gentlemen,” were the exact words used by Minister Mansoor during the announcement.
Also, who is paying Digicel the $14.3 million a year for students to have 4G connectivity? The Government seem to be the party responsible, as the Minister said that this connectivity had been “pre-negotiated” between the Government and Digicel.
And if the Government fail to pay Digicel, will Digicel disconnect the students and various Government departments? Business is Business, and there is no reason or indication that Digicel will donate this connectivity.
Beyond the e-Education, there are more interesting points made by the Minister during his speech. He said, “1000 dongles will be provisioned, Mr. Minister of Finance, with 4G LTE connectivity, and we will make sure the top 1000 people in Government get trained in the use of this technology and more importantly will have access to the Government platform and have access to the internet 24/7, 365.”
A dongle is a device that looks like a USB flash drive, but allows you to connect to network or information. So what the Minister is saying that 1000 of these small devices will be given that will allow Government officials to connect to the 4G network and access the internet at any time.
There is very little complication in the use of dongles. Modern dongles are plug-and-play devices, requiring no interaction from the user. So what training the persons will need to receive, beyond connecting the dongle to a USB port, is unclear. Further, all these devices do is give Government officials or workers access to the internet, so unless there is a powerful online platform for them to work on, the dongles will probably be used for Youtube and Facebook.
The term “e-Government“, which was tossed around carelessly during the announcement, doesn’t refer to Government officials having 4G on their laptops or devices. e-Government solutions involve computerizing of whole Ministries. Why isn’t the police force computerized? The DCA? Is this Ministry of Finance computerized? Why can’t people go online and see all the active projects and costs that the Government is currently involved in?
These are some example of true e-Government technology. Why don’t the Ministry spend time in developing and computerizing the Government and deploying real-world, effective solutions? It seems the Ministry is too busy finding ways to get people on Digicel’s 4G network to engage in any of these crucial development tasks.
The Government seems to be over-stressing and exaggerating the uses of 4G networks, and while it could be said that the GATE initiative is a good concept, there are many issues and questions that need to be answered.
I wonder does a little bit of corruption enter into the equation somewhere along the line ?
Tomorrow: O’Brian and Digicel Never far from Controversy Islands Business – Business: ENEMIES AT THE GATE –PNG TELIKOM