Tue | Jan 22, 2019

Daniel Thwaites | Caricel go bring come

Published:Sunday | March 4, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Use your imagination to picture this if you can: Almost exactly two years ago, triumphant after a fresh victory at the national polls, and before you could holler "Free Werl Bawse!", a senior politician just named as a minister, like a farmer from St Mary leading a small herd with some of those nose-ring-and-rope contraptions, walks a team of senior law-enforcement officers through the facilities of a controversial telecommunications outfit. The officers grow increasingly suspicious and alarmed.

Why are they here? What is being asked of them? Why the personal tour? That's when someone helpfully suggests that perhaps Jamaican law enforcement could use the telecommunications infrastructure to the benefit of, y'know, the country.

Now, of course, I don't believe such an outrageous incident could EVER have taken place. Do you? No way! Not possible! So why do people relate that anecdote? I will tell you why, with apologies to Justin Hinds and the Dominoes:

This Caricel go bring come, my dear, brings misery

This Caricel go bring come, my dear, brings misery

So let's take a little walk down memory lane.

The contractor general had recommended that Caricel NOT be granted a telecoms licence. To not put too fine a point on it, there were concerns that the ownership of Caricel was, shall we say, opaque. It shouldn't have to be said, but the ownership of telecommunications infrastructure is a sensitive matter, and normally governments wish to have a clear picture of the bona fides of the investors and actors involved. Fit and proper and due diligence requirements are standard.

Anyway, flying in the face of the contractor general's recommendations, Prime Minster Holness decided in September 2016 to take action and grant the licence after what he called "very careful consideration and advice".


Massive Climb-Down


You may also recall that thing came to a head when US Embassy tweeted that it agreed with the contractor general who had used a public forum to express concern with the whole process. It was only after the US sent the slap via Twitter, and then went further and started to cancel visas, that a massive climb-down began.

At that point, various propaganda outlets carried feverish fake news stories about how it had suddenly come to the prime minister's attention that the US, the Canadians, and the Brits were completely and intractably opposed to a telecommunication licence being granted to what these foreigners, for whatever reason, considered the business arm of a certain posse. I wrote at the time, and still maintain, that it is impossible that the PM was unaware of the great concerns of our allies, but had chosen to ignore them. As such, granting the license was actually an act of stunning bipartisan recklessness.

The prospect of granting a telecoms licence to murky offshore companies connected to individuals that allied law enforcement was screaming had questionable connections didn't seem to cause so much as a stir to senior leadership in both political parties. The only time our leaders REALLY started to pay attention, and in fact set about to withdraw and reverse the licence, was when the authorities of other countries started to withdraw visas. As we know, our politicians can sustain a lot, but the withdrawal of visa privileges is an indignity that cannot be tolerated just so.

So that takes us to the point of trolling around for a sale of the company, because once it became clear that the US, Canada, and Britain weren't willing to tolerate the shenanigans, that would be the best way to cash out.

Just recently, an announcement was made that shares have been sold to an outfit named Involution originating in South Africa. However, it seems the whole process has been happening backward, as it appears that no due diligence has yet been done on the principals of this new company, and nobody seems to know if the principals who were causing the original problem have evacuated the enterprise, or have merely lessened their stakes.


Wheatley's Amnesia


Minister Wheatley, in particular, seems to have had a bout of amnesia when he first claimed to know nothing about the sale, only to recall later on that he had, in fact, been informed and had referred the matter to the OUR.

Very many other questions arise. A telecoms licence isn't like a regular piece of property that you can simply sell to whomever you choose. There were terms and conditions attached. Were those being satisfied? If not, why wasn't it already revoked? Has Caricel been paying the public for its privileges?

At least insofar as transparency is concerned, it seems like we're back to the same old situation. No wonder the contractor general is once again crying out in the wilderness.

Remember this began way back with Gotel when, to his credit, once apprised by the contractor general of the issues, Bruce Golding slapped it away. Gotel morphed into Caricel. The contractor general raised the red flag, but the Government proceeded. Now this. Apologies again to the music men:

You're going from investor to investor making disturbances

It's time you stopped doing those things, you old Jezebel ...

It needs no light to see you're making disturbances

Incidentally, we know that there's a fair deal of wutlissniss in Parliament. But consider this: back in January 2017, Julian Robinson tabled some questions for Prime Minister Holness. Surprisingly, those questions fell off the Order Paper in March, without answer. Mr Robinson then retabled the questions in April 2017. Alas, and surprisingly, those questions again fell off the Order Paper in February 2018. This tells me, among other things, that Mr Robinson is a patient man. Because that's a long time to wait to have a few questions not answered. Especially since the Parliamentary rule is that questions must be answered within 21 days!

Anyhow, The Gleaner now reports that Mr Robinson has asked new questions of Minister Wheatley. Third time's the charm?

Time will tell on you, you old Jezebel

How long shall the wicked reign over my people?

When will they stop playing games with this telecoms licence? Watch to see if Mr Robinson's questions are answered, and let's stay tuned to see what amnesiac Wheatley does next. Especially if the OUR doesn't like what it's seeing.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.