Cabinet sub-committee to review state of TSTT

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

TSTT House – FILE PHOTO

The government has appointed a Cabinet sub-committee to review the current status of its majority-owned company – Telecommunications Services of TT (TSTT) – and make recommendations on its future.

Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young made the announcement at the post-Cabinet media briefing on Thursday.

“TT has a majority ownership in TSTT and there’s a minority ownership of 49 per cent by Cable & Wireless. A decision was taken by Cabinet to appoint a sub-Cabinet committee to take a look at TSTT’s current position, and the status they are in now. Secondly to take a look at, are they fit-for purpose in an ever-changing world, in a revolution that’s taking place in front of our eyes in the telecommunications industry, and thirdly on behalf of the people of TT to come back with recommendations to the Cabinet as to what we believe should be done with TSTT and part of that would be of course to include a valuation of the current value of TSTT.”

Young said the committee would be chaired by Planning and Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, and would include himself, Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonsalves, Finance Minister Colm Imbert and Digital Transformation Minister Hassel Bacchus.

He said it was premature to ask if government would be privatising its share of the company. He also said there was no issue about consulting with the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) which has been in talks with TSTT management on a restructuring exercise.

“We will start by getting in there and getting an understanding. I don’t get the impression we will be doing a very deep dive, we’re going to be looking at it, getting an idea as to what the status is, what needs to happen, and making recommendations. There would be no move on our part to not have the union have an audience, I believe they may have met or supposed to meet with a couple of the ministers already, so there is no issue with us excluding the unions.”

CWU head Clyde Elder said the union was disappointed to hear that the committee did not plan to take “a deep dive” into the company.

“The union will want to be part of any kinds of discussions or planning or future decision-making on TSTT, because we firmly believe that TSTT is a working entity, and it is in the state it is in because of poor management. We have shared some of our plans with ministers Imbert and Gonsalves and we are willing to share them with the committee.

“It is only when you take that deep dive, then you realise what is wrong at TSTT, and certainly if they are not willing to do this deep dive, we have already taken that deep dive and we want to be involved in the process so we can tell them what exactly is happening at TSTT.”

Elder said the last meeting between the union and TSTT management took place on February 9, where the management did a presentation on the restructuring of the management structure.

“We sent them a response on February 9, and on March 1 they sent us a 17-page letter purporting to be the answers to the questions we asked, as well as the consolidated audited financial statements for the last five years, and the market survey reports from TATT (Telecommunications Authority of TT) from 2009 to 2020. We have committed to respond to them by March 22, and we’re satisfied we’ll be able to go through those documents and respond by March 22.”

Robinson-Regis said as the committee had just been formed, it had not yet had an initial meeting. Young said no timeline had yet been set for the committee to report to Cabinet.

Attempts to contact TSTT CEO Lisa Agard were not successful up to news time.

In 2021, Liberty Latin America (LLA), which acquired Cable & Wireless in 2016, and retains the legacy brand names of Flow, Columbus and C&W said it remains committed to honouring the seven-year-old agreement to divest its 49 per cent shareholding in TSTT.

In a release, Princes Town MP Barry Padarath said if any meaningful work was to be done by the committee, it must involve and address the employees and the assets of the company, and not just a valuation. He said it was disturbing that the committee had no specific terms of reference and timeline to compile its report.