Outspoken Tribune columnist Larry Smith is a Free National Movement (FNM) hired gun, according to the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).
The PLP yesterday slammed the ‘Tough Call’ columnist for his “about face” regarding the current government’s intention to regain majority ownership of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC).
Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) currently owns a 51 per cent stake in the company.
On Sunday, PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts said his party is privy to information that confirms that Mr. Smith was/is a hired gun for the proponents of the BTC deal, which the PLP has referred to as a “national asset giveaway.”
“A most reliable source informed the party that, ‘Larry Smith at the Tribune was then used to write columns justifying the FNM’s actions in selling BTC, and to attack the PLP’,” Mr. Roberts said.
“This information, which we had for some time, is further supported by the actual playing out of this drama in Mr. Smith’s ‘Tough Call’ Tribune columns.”
Mr. Roberts continued, “In 2006, under the then PLP Government, assuming that Cable & Wireless was one of the companies that may have possibly purchased BTC, Mr. Smith wrote in his column, ‘Experts say C&W is poorly run and despised by politicians and unionists alike as a relic of the colonial past. It is also a takeover target itself – only its odd portfolio of 14 Caribbean licenses plus Fiji and the Seychelles has protected it from acquisition so far’.”
“If that was not enough, as he further relished in his apparent role of PLP antagonist and FNM apologist, he added, ‘Realistically, the best outcome might be for Digicel to take over the cell phone side of BTC while the government keeps the land-line service with all the excess employees and debt. As a well-run company, Digicel would be foolish to buy all of BTC’s baggage – according to one analyst’.”
Mr. Roberts said there is doubt in the PLP’s mind that Mr. Smith is a hired gun for the instigators of the very (BTC) sale he is writing about.
However, in a press statement to the media yesterday, Mr. Smith said “absolutely none of the propaganda points contained in the . . . PLP statement about my commentary have any validity or substance whatsoever.”
“I am for the privatisation or divestment of state corporations wherever that makes sense, as in ZNS, BTC, and Bahamasair and, probably, BEC. I am against perpetual state control of major industries, especially telecoms for a myriad of important reasons,” Mr. Smith said.
“I am also interested as a journalist and commentator in ventilating these issues as much as is possible in our stifled little society. As a journalist and commentator in a supposedly free Bahamas I believe I have the right to report on national issues and to air my reasonable opinions. I would have thought that the new Christie government would have better things to do than to try to silence little ole me, in this day and age.”
But, Mr. Roberts isn’t convinced.
In fact, the PLP chairman said Mr. Smith should put down his journalistic pen as he cannot be objective.
“In fact his objectivity is so impaired that his statements are now bordering on the ridiculous when compared to his earlier comments on the suitability of C&W, as he now attempts to re-write history and distort the facts surrounding this national giveaway,” Mr. Roberts said.
“The question that should be asked of Mr. Smith is – if he did not get an epiphany about C&W what was the asking price for the about face, as he has now carelessly asserted in his latest Tough Call column, ‘Industry observers say they can’t imagine a global public company like CWC accepting minority ownership of BTC. It would have to protect its commercial interests. And even if it did agree to sell two per cent of BTC’s shares back to the government, this would doubtless incur a significant premium, as much as 40 per cent on top of the actual price of the shares’.”
Mr. Roberts said not one telecom investor has a problem with the government investigating the BTC sale and regaining control of the national operations and network assets.
He said those in opposition to the PLP’s plans are afraid of what will come out of any investigation into the sale and current operations of the company and he said Mr. Smith falls in this category.
The Christie administration has vowed to regain a majority share of BTC.
“We will remain steadfast in our support of the current government’s obligation to the Bahamian electorate in keeping with its election commitments and its right, in the best interest of the Bahamian people, to investigate and address any and all irregularities surrounding the transfer of shares to C&W,” Mr. Roberts said.
“Mr. Smith is asked to come clean on any hidden agenda/ interest he may have and to drop all pretences of being an innocent and objective bystander. He is not objective and any utterance on this topic is a charade, as he is not qualified or suitable to render any opinion on this matter.”