The Briceno Administration has been facing heavy criticisms for weeks after the Ministry of Rural Transformation announced that it was switching phone numbers for its labour and employment officers and rural community development officers from BTL to Smart. CEO Valentino Shal explained that switching to SMART is cheaper and allows the field officers to be more efficient. And while that is the explanation from the Ministry, the public sees it as blatant nepotism – something that the PUP accused the Barrow administration of doing under the previous government. There is public outrage over the decision because the relatives of Prime Minister John Briceno who is also the Minister of Finance are shareholders of SpeedNet, SMART. In a release, responding to the controversy, SMART stated (quote) Proposals from Smart have allowed the Ministries for the first time in many years to compare alternative proposals that result in considerable savings on their telecom bills.” (unquote) After weeks of silence, we heard from BTL. Chair of the Board of Directors, Mark *Lizarraga, says that BTL must be competitive.
Mark Lizarraga, Chairman, Board of Directors, BTL: “We are operating in a competitive arena and we have to be prepared even though we’re an essential services provider, to compete with the other players in the arena. So our staff may not like it but they know it, we’ve known it from day one. I’ve said it from the minute the first meeting we had with them BTL needs to become lean. BTL needs to become noble and we need to be responsive to the demands of the marketplace. That is what happens in competition. The businessman in me in some sense understands what they’re going through. They have been asked to operate with a significant cut to their budgets, they’ve gotten a 20% cut to their budget so the business person in me understands – look they have to cut their expenses as well to survive. Now as the chairman of BTL I would love for all their business to come to BTL obviously but I think that we cannot expect to be entitled to it, I think we have to fight for it. I think we have to earn their business. I don’t know if I can say the Prime Minister is biased toward Smart, I won’t agree with you there and I don’t even know if the Prime Minister is a shareholder of that company. The Prime Minister is the head of the government and we have just gotten an agreement from government to help BTL expand its services and while we may be weak in certain areas and there may be many factors that contribute to our inefficiencies if that if that is what you want to call it or high cost if that is what you want to call it again we have to learn to compete in this competitive arena.”
Reporter: Chairman is it safe to say that you believe that the decision of these government ministries to move to Smart services is fair game ?
Mark Lizarraga, Chairman, Board of Directors, BTL: “I think it’s fair game. Is it a game that I like ? Obviously not. Like I said I have my own biases I want to generate as much business as I could for BTL and I want to see this company as all the team members want to see this company as profitable because that’s our mandate but we live in a reality where we have to compete. We’re not like BEL or WASA or the other public utilities that they’re the only game in town no we operate in a competitive environment so we have to compete.”
We didn’t see a fiery Lizaragga today as we have come to get accustomed to when he was Business Senator. And while he seemed calm, Lizarraga says BTL will remain on top of its game.
Mark Lizarraga, Chairman, Board of Directors, BTL: “BTL made a presentation to Cabinet to bring it up to date as to where we were, what we were doing and what we could do to grow with them to help them. And then I believe BTL had a presentation at the CEO level where they made basically we introduced ourselves to the CEO caucus and told them what our services were etc. I’m not aware with the details of that but yes we did have two presentations, one to Cabinet and one to the CEO caucus. We have people in BTL that are in charge of liaising with these customers and apparently what we gave them was not to their liking. I mean obviously if we had made them an offer that was more palatable or more appeasing to them they would have taken it so we have to go back to the drawing board and we have to see – and I’ve not had those meetings yet I’m just back in office this morning as I said. But it helps us, it challenges us and it helps us to take a look at ourselves again to see where we can improve on and how we can become more aggressive and more competitive. It’s possible that for those accounts that we have, that have migrated to Smart that Smart may have given them a better deal than we have. I just hope that Smart is not giving them below cost I mean that’s possible too. You have things that you call loss leaders in business where I give you something very very cheap because I’m trying to get some of your business that’s possible as well I don’t know but I’m saying that question you should pose to those departments that migrated and ask them. I can assure you that we do not intend to sit by on our laurels and watch government business be eroded I mean like I said we are committed to becoming competitive, we’re committed to becoming more efficient. We’re committed to becoming more responsive to our customers needs and BTL will become a leaner and nimbler company.”