Published On: Thu, Apr 23rd, 2020

Government intends to buy BTP-building for $4.7 million dollars

BTP buildingPHILIPSBURG – The draft 2020 budget contains a remarkable line item that reveals the government’s intention to purchase the building of Bureau Telecommunication and Post on Cannegieter Street for 8 million guilders (almost $4.7 million). That is close to $2 million below the price BTP paid for the building to contractor Carl Critchlow on February 11, 2013.

The intended purchase appears in the draft budget on a list of capital investment priorities for the coming years.

Why the government plans to buy the building is unclear. BTP is not a government-owned company but according to the national ordinance BTP’s director is appointed by the Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication and the director is accountable to this minister. BTP’s annual budget is also subject to ministerial approval. BTP is tasked with executing a government task – the oversight of the telecom sector – and it is only allowed to deduct real operational costs from the fees its collects from telecom operators.

Bureau Telecommunication and Post has a concession from the government for the execution if its tasks. In 2019 the concession fee was budgeted as 1.8 million guilders (just above $1 million) and in 2020 (according to the draft budget) at 1 million guilders (around $558,000).

On September 16, 2010, then Minister of Telecommunication Patrick Illidge and Commissioner with the same portfolio Frans Richardson (a business partner of BTP-director Anthon Carty) signed the protocol that transferred the BTP-tasks from Curacao to St. Maarten.

The history of the BTP-building is shrouded in mystery. A critical report from the General Audit Chamber notes that talks about BTP’s intention to buy the building it now occupies on Cannegieter Street began in February 2011. Hardly ten months later, on December 1 of the same year, Carl Critchlow, director of construction company Taliesin, bought the building from Claudwick Charles Peterson for $700,000. At that time, attorney Peggy Ann Brandon was interim director at BTP. Brandon denied in 2015 that she is or was in a relationship with Critchlow at the time.

Then, on February 11, 2013, Critchlow sold the building to BTP for $6.6 million. The price raised some eyebrows because an appraisal by Independent Consulting Engineers (ICE) from September 9, 2013, put the market value of the building at $4.1 million, its auction value at $3.1 million and reconstruction costs at $2.8 million.

BTP justified the purchase price by pointing to an appraisal by David Morrison who arrived at a much higher value: $7.8 million. BTP bought five of the six floors in the building; Critchlow remained owner of the ground floor. In essence BTP paid the full price for 5/6 of the building. Even based on Morrison’s appraisal this was $100,000 too high. Based on ICE’s appraisal the telecom supervisor paid $3.2 million more than the building’s estimated value.

The question is now why the government intends to buy the building and why BTP would agree to let it go at a loss of almost $2 million. In the explanatory memorandum with the capital account of the draft budget, the government claims that buying the building would result in annual savings of 500,000 guilders.

… there is a much cheaper option…

Legal experts have suggested that there is a much cheaper option: adjusting the legislation that governs BTP and making the organization an integral part of the government organization. That way, ownership of the building would automatically go over to the government.

The goings on at BTP caught the attention of the anti-corruption task force TBO. In November 2018 detectives initiated an investigation based on the critical BTP-report the General Audit Chamber published in 2015. Investigators questioned Taliesin-director Critchlow and they also visited the law office of Duncan&Brandon.

Media reports at the time suggested that this investigation focuses not only on the purchase price of the building but also on the outsourcing of the numbering plan (the change of St. Maarten’s phone area code from 599 to 721) to a company called ACTIS NV.

On June 15, 2012, former Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication Romeo Pantophlet signed the national decree that appointed ACTIS as the numbering resource manager for St. Maarten.

The director of ACTIS is Judith de Weever who works at the law office of Duncan&Brandon. The involvement of ACTIs is suspicious because the Executive Council of St. Maarten took already a decision about outsourcing the numbering plan on August 24, 2010. ACTIS was established one month later.

The General Audit Chamber questions in its 2015-report why BTP’s Chief Operating Officer (Anthony Carty) is not responsible for the management of the numbering plan.

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Draft 2020 budget meets with criticism
Government intends to buy BTP-building for $4.7 million dollars
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