Published On: Sun, Nov 25th, 2018

How politics failed in the BTP-case

Hilbert Haar

By Hilbert Haar

When I read that the anti-corruption taskforce (TBO) has started an investigation into the shenanigans at the Bureau Telecommunication and Post (BTP) I was not in the least surprised. Finally, I thought, somebody is taking action after the General Audit Chamber published a devastating report about BTP. Politics has failed us one more time.

On November 25, 2015, I wrote an article for the Today newspaper about this report under the headline: Chaos at Bureau Telecommunication and Post with a flag that summed up the critical issues: outrageous salaries, expensive building and no responsibilities.

If I understand correctly, the TBO-detectives are now looking at the price of the building BTP owns at Cannegieter Street and at the company – Actis NV – that handled the changing of St. Maarten’s area code to 1721. Actis NV also collects fees from telecom operators and others who fall under the BTP-regime.

Here is a brief summary of what happened to the building. On February 11, 2013, BTP bought the building for $6.6 million from Carl Critchlow3, director of construction company Taliesin. Critchlow bought the building fourteen months earlier from Claudwick Charles Peterson for just $700,000. Rumors at the time suggested that Critchlow was in a relationship with attorney Peggy Ann Brandon, a former director of BTP. Brandon denied this in 2015.

But what was the real worth of the building? Independent Consulting Engineers (ICE) put the market price at $4.1 million, the auction value at $3.1 million and reconstruction cost at $2.8 million. According to Brandon, David Morrison appraised the market value to be $7.1 million.

Then there is Actis NV. The director of this company was in 2015 Judith de Weever, who just happens to be a staff member of the law office of Duncan and Brandon.

One may well wonder why this company was established in the first place because one of its tasks is to collect BTP-fees from telecom companies and others. The other task was managing the numbering plan.

This raised eyebrows at the auditors of the general Audit chamber: “The Audit Chamber questions why the Chief Operating Officer is not responsible for the management of the numbering plan.”

The same is true for collecting the BTP-fees. Telecom companies are unhappy with it because Actis charges a fee for its activities and this means that the telecom operators are paying more than necessary. In the end, those costs land on the plate of consumers.

BTP-director Anthony Carty came also under fire from the Audit Chamber. His salary is higher than that of the prime minister (reportedly it hovers around $214,000 a year) and, according to the Audit Chamber Carty has “no performance contract, little to no accountability and practically carte blanche with his budget.”

There is therefore plenty to investigate at BTP.

Before politicians start screaming that there is a Dutch agenda designed to destroy St. Maarten’s local institutions, I’d like to point out the following.

The Audit Chamber report was published in 2015 – that’s three years ago. No politician has made an issue of all the apparent irregularities at BTP. No government has ever stood up and said: what the hell is going on here?

The body politics could have tackled these issues a long time ago, but the former ministers who are responsible for this mess – Romeo Pantophlet and Ted Richardson – apparently had a different agenda when they approved the purchase of the BTP-building. These ministers, or all those that came after them, have never made an issue of the outrageous salary BTP-director Carty collects or of the fact that Actis NV is driving the cost of doing business up for telecom operators.

Now that the anti-corruption task force has stepped in it is a bit late for politicians to scream blue murder. They are once again confronted with their own shortcomings – and my guess is that they don’t like that at all.

For a detailed look at what I wrote about BTP in 2015 go to: https://721news.com/top-story/btp-under-serious-investigation-by-tbo-team/ (old Today article).