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Belize government fights to keep telecoms company

Published:Monday | October 1, 2012 | 12:00 AM

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has ordered the Belize government to defer to a date not before December 14 the issue of the declaration of dividends of a telecommunication company in which it has controlling shares.

The declaration of dividends was listed on the agenda of the Belize Telemedia Limited annual general meeting scheduled for last Friday.

The CCJ, Belizes final appeal court, said it gave the order so as to preserve the status quo in relation to pending litigation before the courts, which arose from legislation enacted by the government to acquire property belonging to the appellants.

A five-member CCJ panel headed by President Sir Dennis Byron last week heard an application filed by the former owners of the company.

For fear of prejudicing the proceedings currently before the Belize Court of Appeal, the CCJ declined to adjudicate on the application filed by the appellants, Dean Boyce and British Caribbean Bank Limited, the CCJ ruled.

Instead, in an effort to preserve the status quo, the CCJ ordered the government to exercise its powers as controlling shareholders of Telemedia to defer to a date not before the 14th day of December, 2012, consideration of the issue of the declaration of dividends, said the ruling.

On August 25, 2009 the Belizean parliament amended the Belize Telecommunications Act empowering the Minister of Public Utilities to acquire certain interests in Telemedia owned by the appellants.

The appellants have challenged the constitutionality of the 2009 Act and in June last year, Belizes Court of Appeal declared that the 2009 acquisition legislation was inconsistent with the constitution and was therefore null and void.

The Court of Appeal, however, did not grant the appellants any consequential relief nor were they awarded damages for losses allegedly suffered during the period of unlawful acquisition.

The Trinidad-based CCJ granted the appellants special leave to appeal the Court of Appeals decision not to grant consequential relief.

However, the Belize parliament further amended the Belize Telecommunications (Amendment) Act 2011 seeking to re-acquire the property.

In light of a fresh challenge to the 2011 legislation the CCJ stayed the appeal against the decision not to grant consequential relief and ruled that in the meantime, the Dean Barrow government appointed board of Telemedia could remain in the day to day control of the company under certain terms and conditions.

The Belize Supreme Court in June gave its judgment on the challenge to the 2011 legislation. It ruled that the 2011 legislation was null and void but the court did not award consequential relief.

The Belize government has appealed the Supreme Courts decision while the appellants have again cross-appealed the courts decision not to grant consequential relief. The Court of Appeal is due to hear these appeals on October 8.

The CCJ noted that Telemedias board announced that it intends to call an annual general meeting last Friday and the declaration of dividends was an item on the agenda of that meeting.

But the appellants filed an application on September 13 for interim relief to prevent the company from declaring any dividends pending the determination of the appeal and cross-appeal.