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BATTLE FOR TSTT By Laurence Brown

posted 11 Nov 2017, 06:22 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 11 Nov 2017, 06:27 ]

Laurence Brown is a former President of the Communication Workers Union
The only future the Political Hustlers have for TSTT is to place it into PRIVATE hands, preferably their financier of choice. Dr. Eric Williams in 1970 with his trademark vision purchased 51% share holding in the then Cable and Wireless to create TEXTEL, which had full responsibility for all of Trinidad and Tobago's External Communications via the technology of the day. The purpose of this move by Prime Minister Williams was to ultimately place the Government and people of Trinidad and Tobago in charge of the country's telecommunications future.

This move by the Dr. Williams led Government was not a simple one and came with its drawbacks. At the time of the share purchase, Trinidad and Tobago was in the early stages of internal societal upheaval, the oil boom was some way off and the leaps and bounds in information technology was in its embryonic stages.

The twenty year agreement commencing January 1970 between the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and Cable and Wireless which gave life to TEXTEL, seemingly gave the Government an upper hand via its 51% shareholding. In reality, Cable and Wireless, with its two hundred year presence and experience in the colonies, as agents of the crown, contrived a deal very much in its favour.

In the same period, Cable and Wireless having recognized the need to upgrade its regional facilities in preparation for the approaching technological boom, devised ways and means to do so without putting its own capital at risk.

In order to achieve this, the Colonial Telecommunications Giant entered into arrangements with Regional Governments whereby the Governments acquired 51% of Cable and Wireless shareholding in local operations. The Heads of Agreement (all of which have been shrouded in secrecy), reportedly included an arrangement whereby cash strapped Governments including that of Trinidad and Tobago, were loaned the money to purchase the C&W 51% shareholding by the very same Cable and Wireless, at interest rates favourable to them.

This came with generous tax breaks along with the right to secure its (C&W) share of profits before application of taxes; funding for upgrading of plant and technology to be borne largely by the majority shareholder; all operational improvements re parts and new technology to be bought through the same C&W at exorbitant costs.

While the composition of the Board of TEXTEL may have reflected the Government's majority shareholding, from inception the Chairmanship was always a government appointed party hack, in deference to any technologically literate leader with a vision for all of Trinidad and Tobago. All top managerial positions from the General Manager down, were Cable and Wireless’ British operatives with periods of 'understudy' by locals being written into the agreement(s).

The vision of Dr. Williams was never shared by his lesser colleagues both within the PNM and the traditional Political opposition and as such, while they played musical chairs as to who next will get to feed at the trough, C&W was always effectively in control.

With the coming of the NAR Government in the 1980's, another twenty year deal was struck between C&W the Government and a floundering TELCO, whereby the profitable TEXTEL was acquired and thus evolved TSTT.

By this time telecommunications machinations which began in 1970 had come full circle. The IT boom was on; technological advances had and continue to make worldwide telecommunications the most profitable industry ever seen, generating trillions of dollars per year. The true nature of CABLE AND WIRELESS then came to the fore, as they moved to retake full share ownership of all their operations in the Caribbean, an undertaking in which they were largely successful, with the notable exception of strategically located TSTT, the cash cow of its Caribbean operations.

This holding out of TSTT becoming once again fully under the thumb of CABLE AND WIRELESS, was not achieved by the altruistic view
Lyle Townsend
of any of the elected governments, but solely by the efforts of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) - expertly and selflessly led by the late Lyle Townsend.

It is no secret that in the ten years or so since Lyle Townsend's retirement and eventual passing, the CWU has been a shadow of its former self, struggling to produce new leadership of Comrade Lyle’s calibre, with the membership over the period having to settle for a more compliant leadership, which over the ensuing years, presided over the erosion of hard won rights, benefits and most importantly respect, all of which has now come back to haunt workers at TSTT and the Union itself.

This has not gone unnoticed by our local hustler/trader capitalists who through their respective client Governments, have been working diligently to ensure that TSTT and what it represents is safely secured in their hands. In this regard, the last two PNM appointed Board Chairmen, the mysterious MASSEY share purchase, the reduction of operational costs via closure of outlets etc, are all components of a strategy to disenfranchise the people of Trinidad and Tobago in terms of ownership and control of a key and profitable state enterprise and place it into the private and greedy hands of the less than 1% elite.