Roland Tuitt, finance minister for the government of Sint Maarten, has promised that he intends to raise questions relating to the decisions behind United Telecommunication Services’ (UTS’s) ANG11.7 million (USD6.4 million) dividend payment to the government of Curacao, announcing: ‘I want to know how these calculations were made and I want to know who made them’. The controversial payment points to the still-simmering tensions between the two islands, which were granted autonomy from the Netherlands Antilles on 3 November 2006.
Following the outcry, pan-Caribbean telco UTS, which is based on Curacao, issued a comprehensive statement to the local media, indicating that the payment was made based on a Kingdom of the Netherlands Decree establishing the division of the shares, and confirmed by a review committee formed last May. The statement read: ‘The committee, installed by the shareholders last May, found that UTS was required to follow the mentioned shareholders resolution and pay the surplus … The shareholders at that time, the country Netherlands Antilles and the island Curacao, each holding 50% of the shares in UTS, decided on the final valuation of the assets they contributed to the share capital they both held in UTS. … This redistribution took some time as the shares of the Netherlands Antilles were not paid in full as yet. The country Netherlands Antilles meanwhile was dissolved and the redistribution was not completed at that time, so the old shareholders both still held 50% of the shares in the company. The 50% shares of the island Curacao were transferred to the country Curacao while the 50% shares of the Netherlands Antilles were divided on a 75/25 basis to the country Curacao and country Sint Maarten by the Rijkswetbesluit. So Sint Maarten now holds 12.5% and Curacao now holds 87.5% of the shares in UTS. This redistribution by law has caused the indicated confusion with regard to the redistribution by the shareholders and which was addressed by the committee installed by the shareholders of UTS’.
TeleGeography notes that the latest hostility between the two islands follows two other separate telecoms-related flashpoints earlier this year. In June UTS lodged a bid to take a controlling 51% stake in the local telco the Telem Group, which is currently wholly owned by the Sint Maarten government, enraging some state officials, who were said to have favoured a deal with regional giant Digicel, a company unencumbered by the ill-feeling that dominates ties between Sint Maarten and Curacao. Previously, in March, government minister Franklin Meyers refused to issue the former Netherlands Antilles-based government entity Rijksdienst Caribisch Nederland (RCN) a permit to land its submarine cable in Sint Maarten, unless it was willing to use infrastructure belonging to the government-owned SMITCOMS submarine cable, which links to Puerto Rico; RCN, which is based on the islands of Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba, sought to use an existing landing point belonging to UTS.