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Breaking TSTT, our 26-year-old monopoly
Posted: Saturday, June 25, 2005
Staff Article

Government has awarded cellular licences to the Irish firm Digicel and local start-up Laqtel, breaking the 26-year-old monopoly that majority state-owned TSTT has maintained on the mobile telecommunications service.

On the surface many will feel that opening up the telecommunications market for competition, or even selling off the locally owned telecommunications service, is a good thing. However, the largest shareholders in TSTT, the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago are unaware of the impact of these deals. Although it is apparent how often the government mismanages the local revenues, and how poor the services are, the assets and monies earned are still assets of all the local people (51% of the shares), not just the elites who get the most financial benefits.

Many do not realize the potential of these state owned assets because of the disconnection between the government and the people. Thus, smaller economies like ours become easy targets for elitist local and foreign corporations that easily take over our state assets under the guise of investment. It should also be recognized that foreign 'investors' main thrust is to export as much profit as they possibly can to line their own corporate pockets. Although it is legal, they are not here to give a fair exchange.

Since the locally elected officials/political parties are mainly focused on retaining 'power' and 'good' relations with the United States of America and Europe, foreign governments, especially the U.S., easily influence them. They are aware that the U.S. can, and will, do much to directly impact their chances of re-election. Once local politicians are taking directives from outside governments and/or corporations, they also become prey to the oppressive agencies such as the World Bank and IMF whose policies only serve to rob the poor and make the rich richer. Today it is TSTT (and its 51% shareholders) that will be losing profits to foreign competition and the local elite business group. TSTT was not the first and is not the only local asset these foreign investors have set their sights on. Once they have established their foothold in the basic service sector of the economy it will be more difficult to avoid their dictates. As has been proven elsewhere, these dictates have yet to show consideration for the needs of the majority of people they affect. In fact, foreign impact usually brings a whole set of new hardships without resolving any of the previous unaddressed issues. In other words, services rarely improve while additional problems can exacerbate the existing ones.

TSTT can serve us better now, only if it improves its products and services, and continually drive prices lower. They can undermine artificially higher prices done through price fixing.

While competition is good, it does not guarantee better goods and services or cheaper prices. An absence of competition does not necessarily translate into bad products and services. It will serve many well to remember that. The citizens of this country must realize that our essential goods and services should be managed and 'owned' by the people of Trinidad and Tobago. It is only when we understand the magnitude of our power that we could address issues of exploitation and poor service by those we allow to run this and other corporations.

The business elites are rejoicing the end of TSTT's monopoly. Many ordinary people who have paid dearly for poor services are also rejoicing. But the foreign and local business people, who are set to make huge profits once only enjoyed by TSTT, are rejoicing their personal financial gain. They all know the profits involved, and instead of profits going to the people of this country via our 51% share holding in TSTT, a large portion of it will end up in the hands of a few already wealthy locals and foreigners.

The people of Trinidad and Tobago need to understand that deepening colonial ties can never work in our favour. TSTT's loss would also mean a loss to the 51% shareholders the people of Trinidad and Tobago. That is nothing to rejoice about.

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