Published On: Tue, Dec 8th, 2020

An opportunity to shine

By Hilbert Haar

The much anticipated meeting of Parliament about the financial status of the Bureau Telecommunication and Post (BTP) has not yet provided much clarity but especially questions asked by MP Claudius Buncamper indicate that the perceived financial chaos at BTP is finally getting the attention it deserves.

The failure by successive ministers responsible for Telecommunication to step up to the plate became once more glaringly obvious. BTP’s Chief Financial Officer Judianne Labega-Hoeve showed that her organization’s annual budgets are routinely submitted too late and that they are approved by default.

Is that bad? I think it is and it remains a mystery why successive ministers have consistently given BTP a free hand with its budgets (that also include reports by the BTP-director about his own performance contract) while it was already clear from a 2015 report by the General Audit Chamber that there was, to put it mildly, a lot of room for improvement at the Telecom-regulator.

Whether the current Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication Ludmilla De Weever will follow in the footsteps of her predecessors by not doing anything about everything that is wrong at BTP remains of course to be seen. When the minister returns next year to Parliament with her answers to the questions MPs posed this will become clear. It is certainly an opportunity to shine.

The anti-corruption taskforce TBO, so criticized by members of parliament when it has one of their own in its crosshairs, is investigating allegations of corruption and fraud at BTP. In the course of this investigation, director Carty was once arrested and former director Peggy Ann Brandon has also caught the attention of the investigators.

It is tempting to complain that the TBO-investigation is taking too long. But what matters in this situation is not speed but quality. It seems unfair to leave people under a cloud of suspicion for a very long time, but conducting a sloppy investigation would even be worse.

MP Buncamper made a couple of keen observations on Monday. Why indeed is most of the BTP-building standing empty? Why did its only tenant leave? Why does the minister approve budgets by default, thus giving director Carty a clean bill of health while he is potentially implicated in an investigation into corruption and fraud?

Come to think of it, Parliament could also pay some attention to the Audit Chamber report Retrospective. That report notes that BTP’s income between 2015 and 2019 was 17.09 million guilders ($9.5 million) and that the ministry of finance only received 2.96 million guilders ($1.65 million), while BTP claimed to have paid 4.5 million guilders ($2.5 million).

CFO Hoeve-Labega told Parliament on Monday that BTP has paid the government this year 4 million, while according to the Audit Chamber, BTP’s payment arrears to the government at the beginning of 2020 amounted to around 10 million guilders ($5.6 million).

Maybe Minister De Weever could also provide clarity about a deal she brokered between telecom provider TelEm and BTP. In a press release issued sometime in August, the minister announced an “amicable agreement” between the two parties. What the agreement entails remains a mystery. The press release stated that TelEm owed money to BTP and BTP owed money to the government and that the settlement enabled the minister to issue a concession agreement to TelEm based on a positive advice from BTP.

Does anyone know or understand what really happened here?

I certainly don’t.

Related articles:
TelEm-BTP settlement leaves many questions unanswered
The mess at BTP is still there
Answers to questions about BTP will have to wait until next year
Emmanuel wants clarity from BTP on telecom quality, operations