Sept. 21, 2006 — Jeffrey Prosser has won a round in the Belize Supreme Court in his effort to regain control of that nation's local telephone company, Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL). Prosser is also the embattled owner of Innovative Telephone, the V.I. phone company.
The Belize media are reporting that the chief justice ruled Tuesday against the Belize government, which moved last year to strip Prosser of his ability to appoint BTL board members.
As Channel Five in Belize puts it: "Court puts BTL control in doubt." The situation is, indeed, complicated as it involves who gets to appoint BTL board members and thus who, if anyone, will control the eight-member board during its annual meeting on Monday.
Belize TV Channel 7 indicates that the ruling means that Prosser would control four of the seats and the chairmanship and British investor Lord Michael Ashcroft would hold the other four.
Meanwhile, according to the two Belize television stations, the government is considering its legal options, one of which would be to appeal the decision to a higher court, the Court of Appeal. (The Belize Supreme Court, as in some mainland states, like New York, is the name given to the next-to-highest court in the land.)
Belize Minister of Utilities Ralph Fonseca told the media that while he respects the ruling of the Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh, "according to the BTL Articles [i.e. bylaws]…. a bankrupt cannot be a director on the BTL Board. So Mr. Prosser can't be a director on the BTL Board anyway."
Two of the seats on the BTL board are controlled by a special share in the company that was granted to the government. The government, in turn, sold this share to Prosser for $1, and Prosser's critics say that the dollar was never paid. Prosser's lawyers managed to convince the Conteh that these seats, along with two others, should be under Prosser's control.
Earlier Prosser had apparently lost control of BTL when he failed to make a $37 million payment for the firm.
The government's intervention in the BTL-control battle was through a legal device called a statutory instrument, which Conteh termed unconstitutional.
These legal battles are taking place in a legal/political context with both American and British roots; the role of the courts is close to the American judiciary, while the executive branch is modeled on the Westminister model, with a prime minister being elected by the legislative body.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.