The United Democratic Party has heaped criticism on the decision by the Government of Belize to award Speednet/Smart a 3.3-million-dollar contract for Microsoft Licensing Fees. Speaking generally on Tuesday, BTL Chairman, Markhelm Lizarraga said that the company has to be competitive in light of services that are being offered by Smart. UDP Leader Patrick Faber said that Lizarraga’s agenda neither coincides with the company’s best interest nor that of the country, whose investments in BTL are substantial.
Patrick Faber, UDP Leader: “We find very disturbing the comments of the chairman of the board of directors of BTL Mr.Mark Lizarraga who in his television appearances yesterday basically said that competition is healthy and it is because BTL is not up to the competition that they have been losing business to the competition Smart Speed Net. We find that to be unacceptable and we find that the chairman is now not living up to what he on many occasions before professed that he would live up to. And certainly we make the call this afternoon for his resignation as chairman of the board of BTL if that is his position that he has outlined indeed.”
As it pertains to the Licensing Agreement, Faber questioned whether the winning bidder, Smart, is an authorised Microsoft service agent to begin with or whether the company was using its political connections to snag the bid.
Patrick Faber, UDP Leader: “I’m told from the persons who have a background to all of this that in fact Belize Telemedia, as I’ve hinted before, went out to actively seek Microsoft, went out to actually do what it needed to do in order to make BTL an authorized seller. The question that we have this afternoon is whether or not Smart is an authorized seller or if Smart is really using some kind of backdoor approach to have qualified or maybe not have qualified at all to put in a bid for such a contract. We are told by the Government’s press release and by this document that in fact the deadline for submission was 18th of June 2021 and that the bids were password protected. We have some concerns about that because of course we know that in fact Smart SpeedNet is owned by the Prime Minister’s family, some would go further to say the Prime Minister himself I’m not going to venture there. But we also know as well that the Chief Executive Officer in the Office of the Prime Minister who would have been overseeing all of this is none other than the former CEO of Smart and so we have to raise those concerns that even if the bids were password protected there could have been some undermining of the process.”
In a release today, the Ministry of Finance said the Smart bid was lower than that of the two other competitors, BTL and Inova Solutions, and the Bid Evaluation Committee recommended to the Ministry of Finance that Smart Belize be awarded the contract. The ministry accepted that recommendation. Faber said that the Government erred when it does not consider the value-added services BTL was offering.
Patrick Faber, UDP Leader: “As you comb through the details you will see that in fact there were offerings made by BTL to offer what was referred to as value added services or value added benefits. BTL’s value added benefits to their quotation would have been something like $80,000. Now we’re told that SMART has won the bidding and that is because they were the lowest for the one year offering that was made, the three years offerings were dismissed and so they awarded SMART the contract for one year at a quoted price of $3,373,145.73 million. We’re told that the Belize Telemedia Limited came in at $3,540,174 million dollars but we’re told again that the value added benefits amounted to about $80,000 offered by BTL. Now this is important because again we make the point that BTL is owned by the government and the differences between what SMART bid and what BTL bid we believe could have been looked at and considered in light of the fact that there were value added benefits that BTL offered when there were none offered by SMART and also in light of the fact that there are many other additional benefits that come with awarding BTL such a contract. In fact those who have been historically involved with the situation will tell you that in fact this whole situation of the Microsoft Office packages were arranged because as I said earlier we saw this as an advantage for BTL to make an extra amount of money so that it can of course in the future given the fact that it had done so much in terms of VOIP and providing services, providing scholarships, providing internet access to so many schools this is a way that the government could have engaged it’s own company to ensure that it’s company was prosperous and successful.”
Faber also called upon the Government to rescind the unsigned contract and to refund the payment, which Faber says was already paid via a cheque. The party is also calling on Government to remove politically connected individuals that sit on the company’s board.