Thursday, September 3, 2009

(Following post is quoted from Imran Khan's blog
Strike back against phone thieves

A cousin of mine and a friend of hers recently had their mobile phones stolen in Georgetown. It was early evening and they were standing on the street chatting and exchanging phone numbers when a neatly dressed young man walked up and held my cousin’s hand, forcibly removed the phone and then snatched her friend’s phone. He then calmly walked away.

They were left helpless and mildly distraught after what was a slightly traumatic experience. Naturally when one loses a mobile phone, either by theft or otherwise, one tends to be more concerned about the valuable information stored in that phone – particularly the contact details of friends, colleagues and loved ones – than the instrument itself.

In 2005 when I worked with the West Indies team I and several of my then colleagues had our phones stolen in Sri Lanka and we had not known about the need to save our IMEI numbers. Fortunately after a month our phones were returned to us after an intense countrywide search by the Sri Lankan police and army and the offender – an army deserter – suffered a terrible fate.

After the loss of my phone and over the years I received several emails advising that I copy and store my phone’s IMEI number in a safe and secure place in the event I lose the instrument. Ever since I received the first email about this I have been keen on storing the information but thankfully I have not had reason to use it for the purpose intended. I have also forwarded this most useful email tip to others and I am certain that I forwarded to my cousin as well.

Purely by coincidence I came upon her at the very scene of the crime less than five minutes after it occurred. After a quick assessment of the situation it was agreed that there is little sense in going after the thief in the dark of night in a dangerous ghetto area in which he appeared to have entered to make good his brazen escape. We were left with two options. One was to report the matter to the nearest police station. This is Guyana, we agreed that the phones were lost for good and decided not to pursue that course of action.

We could however exact some form of revenge. I immediately asked her for the IMEI number so that we could report it to her network and have them render the phone useless. Unfortunately she did not have the number saved.

You should not make this mistake. It is easy, painless and may come in useful.

To view your phone’s unique IMEI number simply input *#06# on your keypad. The number will automatically show up. Copy it, send it to yourself and select loved ones by email and, as a back-up mechanism, it is also a good idea to write it down in a place where it will be easily accessible. Saving your phone’s IMEI is like a quasi-insurance policy of sorts.

If you suffer the unfortunate experience of losing your phone you should contact your service provider and provide them with the IMEI number. They will be able to use the number to block the handset from being used even if the thief (or new owner) changes SIM cards. The phone will become nothing more than a paperweight.

I have come to realise that many people are aware of the need to save their phone’s IMEI number but, sadly, out of pure negligence they do not save it and some are left bitter and helpless when they lose their prized handsets. If enough people all across Guyana save their IMEIs and phone thieves realise that stealing people’s phones is a worthless petty crime it could lead to a reduction in the incidence of phone snatching which seem to be at an all time high in Georgetown.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Those GT&T shares: To sell or not to buy; that is the question

By Chris Ram; Stabroek News, Sunday, August 09, 2009


The decision by the Government of Guyana to sell its 20% holdings in the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Co Limited (GT&T) has caused its fair share of discussion and debate in Guyana. That is not unusual or strange. Ever since the US Virgin Islands-based Atlantic Tele-Network, Inc took over GT&T, it has fascinated, annoyed, excited and generated intense interest among the public. It may have had to do with the process of the sale by the Hoyte administration of the highly profitable, foreign exchange earner under circumstances that still arouse some suspicion. It may have had to do with the revelation that the company was sold with hundreds of millions of Guyana dollars in the bank. It may have had to do with the distrust of multinationals of the late President Cheddi Jagan which seems to have been handed down to his party and some of the Guyanese public. Yet, like it or hate it GT&T has played a significant role in the modernisation of the telecommunication sector in Guyana.

The company boasts of the billions of dollars it has contributed to the national coffers. It is a major employer as well and appears to have had a very good relationship with its workers and their representatives. It has invested hundreds of millions of US dollars in new and modern plant and equipment and its service has reflected continuous improvement which may have been partly driven by the competition from the aggressive and agile newcomer Digicel in the cellular phone market. Of course none of this is due to altruism but to hard decisions about money. The company has also kept our courts busy and its conflicts with the Guyana Revenue Authority are legion.

FITUG and PNCR agree

Now the debate surrounding the company is about the sale of the government’s holdings with the government-backed FITUG and the opposition PNCR arguing against a sale and the government saying it would welcome a debate in the National Assembly. Business Page today considers the offer, which ATN has already refused, and some of the implications for a sale. From a review of my files (in the most innocuous sense of that word), the rights and obligations of the government as minority shareholder were never really clear and that is likely to muddy things a bit.

As a company incorporated under the old Companies Act Cap. 89:01, the company’s shares were under the control of the directors, and like any private company, GT&T was permitted to impose conditions and limitations on the transfer of its shares. Indeed Article 24 of the company’s Articles of Association gave the directors absolute powers to refuse to register the transfer of any shares in the company. Even though the new Companies Act takes a more enlightened view of the right of a shareholder to dispose of his property as he sees fit, sections 334 and 335 of the new act recognise as valid any of the old act’s provisions which may be inconsistent with the new act.

In 2007 I wrote that the government was not as free as it thinks it was to dispose of its 20% holding and that it would have to obtain the agreement of its senior partner if it wished to do so. I still hold that view. Unfortunately, no one appears to have given any attention to that first hurdle.

Ability to pay

The PNCR and FITUG have raised another hurdle and that is the sale of the shares to the employees of the company, which suggests that they are willing and able to pay for the shares, since they must know that the government has abandoned everything else for the maximization of sale price. But the PNCR and FITUG seem to have paid no attention to what a reasonable sale price per share could be. That could be huge. GT&T is in law a private company which means that its shares are not traded on a stock exchange and so the value of the share has to be calculated on what may be considered no better than an educated guess, using a range of factors and making a number of assumptions. Even in the best of circumstances there are at least six factors to be considered, but in the context of Guyana and the company, the number is considerably greater. Yet, one cannot escape the following six:

1. the nature of the business and the history of the enterprise from its inception;

2. the economic outlook in general, and the condition and outlook of the specific industry in particular;

3. the book value of the shares and the financial condition of the business;

4. the earnings capacity of the company;

5. the dividend paying capacity;

6. the market price of shares of corporations involved in the same or similar line of business, having their shares actively traded on the free and open market, either on an exchange or over the counter.

An uncertain future

While the computation of a price may be considered a mathematical exercise, it is based largely on the future, rife with its uncertainties. Consider, for example, the rapid changes in technology in the telecommunications industry, the not unreal possibility that the monopoly enjoyed by GT&T may soon end and the increasing and intense competition which Digicel poses to the company, and the uncertainties certainly mount up. The fact that ATN refused the government’s offer may very well be an indication that even the principal shareholder considers the future of the company far too uncertain for any further investment. In publicly filed documents the company’s parent has drawn attention to the uncertainty about the company’s licence resulting from action both by the government itself and the regulator. It would have been surprising as well if ATN did not consider that its 80% is as good as 100%. It really does not need any more shares in the company, so why not invest its money elsewhere? That is exactly what ATN has been doing and GT&T now accounts for less than half of the group’s revenues. The rest is all outside of Guyana.

So how much is one GT&T share worth? The Earnings per Share in GT&T exceeds $200,000 dollars, and if one values the share at a conservative P/E ratio of 8:1, the value per share is over $1.5 million. And if one uses the book value of the net assets of the company, which is generally considered a minimum price, the value per share is about $1.4 million. These are extremely rough numbers and it is likely that the value of each share on a more sophisticated basis, all things being equal, is an amount well outside the reach of the average worker in the company or the average member of the public.

Why sell a good thing?

Another issue is whether the government should be selling its interest in a company which has a guaranteed rate of return of 15% and which enjoys a monopoly in a still developing sector. There are arguments on both sides. The returns are clearly lucrative and the government does not seem to have any urgent need for funds given the continuous windfalls from VAT. Guyana must be one of the very few countries in the world which is recording increased government revenues in the crisis-prone 2009. High inflows from the Low Carbon Development Strategy are predicted, there are no pressures from its workers and the IDB seems to be as generous as ever, even in the face of increasingly costly and pervasive corruption in the public sector.

Will the government’s proposed regulations for the sector which it has so far not made available to the public have an adverse impact on the company and its share value? Is the proposed share sale more a jump-ship and the real intent of the government is to cash in while the going is good? These questions alone should cause potential buyers to hesitate and leave the government stuck as an unwilling partner to ATN while the value of its holdings depreciates.

On the other hand, the government has been remarkably negligent in managing its investment in GT&T. Under the Government of Guyana-ATN Agreement the government is entitled to board representation consistent with its percentage ownership, meaning that it can nominate two directors. Incredibly, the government has not taken up even one of these positions for the past five years, but yet complains about ATN’s management of the company. It is mind boggling that our NICIL/Privatisation Unit could have been so busy over the past five years that it was unaware of this gross dereliction of its duty to the nation to protect all the country’s investments.

What future for the shares?

It seems highly unlikely that the sale of these shares will take place any time soon. The government has clearly not thought through or prepared itself for what is a major and high value step; the calls by FITUG and the PNCR seem to be based more on emotion and politics than on the consideration of hard facts; and the potential for ATN to raise challenges cannot be underestimated. The government will continue to do nothing while the President spends the next few months looking for money from the ‘rich’ countries leaving the company to manage in the face of increasing uncertainties. If this government cannot mend an arrangement with a partner of close to twenty years, it is hard to see how it will deal with all the environment-friendly international businesses the President hopes to attract.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

SIM ‘banks’ being used to drive illegal incoming overseas calls

The Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T) is cautioning both its cellular service vendors and members of the public to steer clear of what it says is a costly and potentially dangerous racket that employs multiple cellular SIM cards to facilitate rogue telephone ‘services’ that bypass the company’s network.

GT&T believes that there could be as many as 600 illegal services in various parts of the country running ‘bottom house’ services that bypass the company’s legal network, routing overseas calls directly to local telephone numbers. The illegal service has cost the company around US$2M in lost revenue over the past eight months, GT&T’s Chief Financial Officer Yog Mahadeo told Stabroek Business last Friday.

The illegal operators employ banks of SIM cards, each of which represents a telephone number. The SIMS are fed calls by a satellite facility that receives the signals or calls and feeds them to the SIM bank which then routes the calls to local numbers. “In such cases, when you receive an overseas call the number that shows up is a local number. You only become aware that it is an overseas call when you answer it,” Mahadeo told Stabroek Business. He said that a feature of calls that are made through illegal services is poor voice quality resulting from the small, unsophisticated nature of the operations. “The problem here is that the local party is unaware of the illegality of the exercise and blames GT&T for the quality of the call,” Mahadeo said. This newspaper understands that both GT&T and DIGICEL SIM cards are used in the ‘banks.’ However, DIGICEL declin-ed to offer a comment on the matter.

Mahadeo told Stabroek Business that the company has already alerted subscribers to the racket and has asked that in cases where local numbers show up for overseas calls, reports should be made to the com-pany.”People have been making such reports and we have come up with around 400 numbers per week that are making bypass calls,” Mahadeo said.

GT&T Chief Executive Officer Major General (ret’d) Joe Singh told Stabroek Business that the move to alert the public to the bypass racket and to the wider dangers associated with the proliferation of SIMS will be stepped up significantly in the period ahead and will be attended by an incremental effort to “go after” the offenders which will involve both the regulatory bodies and the law enforcement agencies.

The lucrative nature of the rogue service has significantly increased the demand for SIM cards the sale of which is restricted to two services per customer by GT&T. Additionally, subscribers wishing to secure a cellular service are required to present vendors with several forms of identification and to provide specific personal information including proof of address. These sales records are then forwarded to GT&T.

Mahadeo said that by and large, this system has worked well, bypass operators have been pressing other persons into service to purchase SIM cards for them. He said that these buyers move from one vendor to the next, buying two SIM cards during each transaction. “At the end of a day each buyer may well secure up to a dozen cards. Those cards are then sold to the bypass operator.”

While both Mahadeo and Singh told Stabroek Business that the loss of revenue is a worry to the company both say that the far greater worry is the proliferation of SIM cards and implications which Singh says go “far beyond the revenue issue.” Mahadeo says that access to multiple SIMS which allows users to make telephone calls then dispose of the numbers can significantly aid criminal enterprise “and, conceivably, compromise national security.” He said that the company had not ruled out the possibility that some of its own vendors may be involved in an illegal SIM sales racket and that both vendors and some members of the public had been interviewed by the company based on sales records. This newspaper has seen sales records that reflect multiple SIM purchases by individuals. Mahadeo said, however, that GT&T was yet to secure evidence linking multiple SIM purchases to any bypass operation.

Singh said that while GT&T had made the authorities aware of the practice he was less than enthused with the official response given the potential dangers posed by the proliferation of SIM cards. He said that he believed that curbing the SIM racket and “going after” the bypass operations required the collective intervention of all the stakeholders including the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU) and the two licensed telephone service providers. Mahadeo told Stabroek Business that while SIM rackets were not unique to Guyana the scale of the problem here was significant. He said that in the immediate term the company was concerned with alerting the public to the dangers of securing cellular services for third parties. ‘In cases where the police require information of phone use that may be related to criminal activity we are required under the law to provide that information. In those cases it is the purchaser of the service who may not necessarily be the user of the phone who is implicated,” he added.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Govt’s GT&T shares should be sold to workers – PNCR

The PNCR believes that if it is indeed necessary for the government to sell its 20 percent share in the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T), employees of the company should be afforded the first option to purchase same.

These sentiments were expressed by the party at its weekly press conference held on Friday at Congress Place.
PNCR member Amna Ally, who read from a prepared statement, said the party would “oppose any attempt to deny the workers of GT&T the right to own those shares.” She said it was the workers of the company who have made it “into an effective and efficient organisation” and contended that “they should be given some preference over the political hangers-on and favoured supporters of the PPP.”

Bypass costs GT&T US$2M in revenue over eight months

Stabroek News July 26, 09
Over the last six to eight months, the Guyana Tele-phone and Telegraph company (GT&T) has lost appropriately US$2 million in revenue through international calls that have bypassed the company’s network, Chief Financial Officer Yog Mahadeo says.

In a recent interview with this newspaper, Mahadeo said this problem has been in existence for some time, but stated that there has been an increase in this activity over the last 18 months. He said this activity has not only robbed GT&T of substantial revenue but also the nation, since whenever GT&T loses revenue the country also suffers since lower taxes are paid.

What is telephone bypass?
According to the Chief Financial Officer “telephone bypass” refers to international calls that are made in and out of Guyana which do not go through the GT&T network. Currently GT&T has the licence for all international telephone traffic. Mahadeo explained that under normal circumstances, someone overseas who is making a call to Guyana would dial 592, which their local phone networks would then transfer to the GT&T switch in Guyana. At this end, Mahadeo explained, the calls are transferred to a GT&T landline or GT&T or Digicel mobile phone.

But he said that while outgoing calls which bypass the GT&T switch are an issue, it is not nearly as big a problem as the incoming calls that bypass the network. This, he explained, is predominantly an issue with calls coming from the USA and Canada.

Mahadeo said bypass occurs because of some degree of selfishness by the giant phone companies in the USA and Canada, who do not care about the revenue lost by GT&T. He said that these large companies may give phone minutes to an illegitimate bottom-house operator in North America. Calls can then be made to Guyana via these illegal operators. According to him, this bottom-house operator instead of sending the call through the GT&T network routes it directly to another illegal bottom-house operator in Guyana. Such an operator, he explained, has a bank of SIM cards which these operators use to send these calls out directly to a telephone numbers. Since these individuals do not have the capacity of the GT&T network they are forced to compress the voice and this results in telephone calls of “horrible quality”. Mahadeo said that when this happens, GT&T is unfairly blamed for the poor quality of these calls which do not pass through its network. He said that another sign that an international call has bypassed the local network is when a telephone user receives an international call which bears a local cell phone number.

Although bypass is common in other territories in the region, Mahadeo said that he was convinced that Guyana was the territory most badly hit by this phenomenon. He made this assessment was based on the significant number of Guyanese who reside in North America, many of whom contact relatives in Guyana frequently.

In an effort to counteract the problem of bypass, Mahadeo said, the ‘Call Home Guyana’ card was launched. This, he said, is a legitimate and cheaper means by which persons overseas can call Guyana. He also said that good quality calls are also assured if these cards are used.

Additionally, Mahadeo said that the company has approached the government for assistance. Further, the local phone company has contacted US and Canada-based telephone companies and according to him, these companies are trying to address the problem as well.

However, the Chief Financial Officer emphasised that the citizens are essential in curbing the problem of bypass. He urged anyone who receives an international call from a local cell phone number, to report it to the phone company. Further, if a caller receives an overseas call of poor quality, this should be reported as well.

Meanwhile, Mahadeo said that so far whenever the company discovers illegal operators it takes appropriate actions against them. However, he said that it was not always easy to find these persons. The Chief Financial Officer emphasised that the company was very serious in addressing the problem even though certain elements of control the issue was out of its hands.
– customers urged to report irregularities

GT&T contributes $43 Billion to national treasury since 2000

July 23, Kaieteur News

The Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T) has invested US$300M in Guyana since the beginning of operations.
At present, the company is worth over $5B with 250,000 mobile subscribers and 130,000 wire-line consumers.
Yesterday, Kaieteur News was told that the annual book earning per share is $195,859 and that the company has 20,625 shares. Of this amount of shares, the government has 4,125.
Since 2000 the government has received more than $4.7B in dividends. Licence fee: $1.75B; Consumption Tax/Vat: $7.2B; Corporation Tax: $29.3B: and Dividends: $4.7B. All told, the telephone company has contributed a whopping $43B (US$215M) to the public treasury.
In justifying the reason for selling government shares, which have earned nothing less than $200M per year with over $800M earned in 2004, President Bharrat Jagdeo said on Monday that his intention to liberalise the telecommunications sector will lead to cheaper costs and enhanced services to customers.
He said that the liberalisation would enable greater international connectivity since studies have shown that more than 25,000 young Guyanese can be employed in the Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector.
In the deal that was struck between Atlantic Tele-Network, an 80 percent stake in the telephone company was sold for the sum of US$16M to Atlantic Tele-Network (ATN) and was guaranteed an investment return of 15 percent.
A six percent advisory fee on gross revenues and a multi-year monopoly on international calls were involved in that deal.
As a consequence the GT&T parent company has received US$80M in advisory fees since the sale.
The US$16M purchase price was recovered in two years of operations.
Meanwhile, this newspaper was told last week that the GT&T parent company has rejected the offer to buy Government’s 20 percent shares in the telephone company.
A source stated that ATN at its recent Board of Directors meeting declined to purchase the shares. Last year government collected $1.5B in taxes from the company and $265M in dividends.
The Opposition is contending that the real motive behind the selling of these shares is intended to ‘benefit the friends and supporters of the PPP’.
During a press conference two Fridays ago the PNCR called for workers of GT&T to be afforded the first option to buy the shares.
According to PNCR Vice Chairman, Basil Williams, the party would insist on this position and oppose any attempt to deny the workers of the company the right to own those shares.

Finance Minister on the sale of GOG's GT&T shares.

In the recent political debate on the sale of its shares in GT&T, the Finance Minister has made a statement that does not fit with his Finance Minister's cap - instead it is a political statement. His statement was carried in the two Government papers (Chronicle and Times).

Finance Minister is questioning the Advisory Fees paid by GT&T to ATN and labels the fees as distribution. This is coming from the finance minister who cannot put this parallel with many other companies in Guyana. Such distributions take place by the GoG using the Lotto Fund and other unaccounted-for accounts as per the Auditor General Report.

Finance Minister is also saying that the taxes and other contributions of GT&T is nothing...since any company ought to pay its taxes. The point is that if the company is forced out as is happening, then there will be NO taxes. There are many instances of poor governance and administration that can come into the argument.

At the end of the day, one cannnot understand how selling these shares has to do with the cost of bandwidth. The Government seems to prepare for riding on the back of GT&T's investment in a new cable - so that bandwidth costs will be lowered anyhow, regardless of the ultimate distribution of the shares. Fact is: the Government only need to invest ONE year's taxes paid by GT&T (17millionn USD per year) into ICT to make it a reality.