Govt blames Cabinet reshuffle for delay in filing objections to Digicel service
A Government lawyer yesterday blamed the recent Cabinet reshuffle, former minister Walter Roban’s quitting and a permanent secretary being on a month-long vacation for failing to meet a Supreme Court deadline for filing objections to the new Digicel long distance service.
Consultant Crown counsel Maurice Cottle was appearing before Chief Justice Richard Ground to explain why the Attorney General’s Office could not file its documents in time.
During the hearing yesterday afternoon, Mr Cottle also revealed that Government’s case would involve claims Digicel was seeking to secure “market dominance” ahead of reform, and that sister company Transact could now be conducting business without a licence.
Mr Cottle suggested Government would take the position in next month’s trial that Transact’s 114B licence may be void after certain conditions of it being allowed to operate in Bermuda were contravened.
Mr Justice Ground has taken over from Puisne Judge Ian Kawaley in the increasingly complex case, which involves long distance provider TBI, cellular provider CellOne and Government coming together against Digicel’s attempt to offer long distance through sister company and Internet provider Transact.
Digicel has argued the service was completely legal and is fighting CellOne’s refusal to offer interconnection.
Last month Judge Kawaley ordered Digicel to halt the long distance service until legal action over it was resolved.
Mr Cottle told the Court he could not meet the deadline because has had to deal with two different ministries in the dispute, as well as the major Cabinet reshuffle earlier this month which saw a new Minister of Environment, Planning and Infrastructure appointed (Marc Bean). In addition, the assistant director of Telecoms / Permanent Secretary was on vacation from October 23 to November 20. And, he said, Mr Roban had quit Cabinet as the new Works Minister (over a Planning scandal.)
Before that Mr Roban had been Minister of Environment and Infrastructure and had made several major public statements concerning proposed Telecoms reform and Government’s expectation of providers until that reform was carried out. Mr Roban also had stated while corporate restructuring had been approved, licence classes must continue to be operated and managed separately.
Mr Cottle said that part of the Government’s case would centre around claims Digicel was seeking to secure “market dominance” ahead of reform.
He then presented a letter he said he had just received from Internet service provider North Rock, which he suggested would be used in the case against Digicel and over the terms of Transact’s licence to operate in Bermuda.
But Mr Justice Ground cut him short, saying the case today was a time summons and Mr Cottle should stick to that in his arguments.
CellOne lawyer Larry Mussenden said his client supported an extension and understood that the changes in Government could be “unsettling” in the case.
TBI lawyer Mark Diel said his client’s only concern was that they have enough time to prepare for trial expected in mid-December.
Digicel’s lawyer Jan Woloniecki said Digicel objected to Mr Cottle’s request for a seven-day extension saying Government had already been given an “extremely generous” time to respond by the court.
“We still are totally in the dark as to what it is the Government are objecting to ... they have filed no evidence whatsoever,” Mr Woloniecki said, adding Digicel was suffering damages by its new long distance service continuing to be delayed.
He urged Mr Justice Ground to either strike out the objection altogether for Government being in breach of the court deadline, or order Government to file its objections and evidence within 24 hours.
Mr Justice Ground decided to grant Government an extension to 4pm this Friday to file the necessary documents.
In his ruling Mr Ground said he could understand how the Cabinet reshuffle and Mr. Roban’s resignation may have caused “some disarray” in giving instructions. But he said no further extensions would be granted and set the case down for trial on December 14.
Mr Cottle has in past hearings argued Government opposed the Digicel/Transact service and accused Digicel of “jumping the gun” on imminent Telecoms regulatory reform.
“All parties have known reform is imminent,” Mr Cottle had argued. “Digicel is the only party that has broken ranks in seeking to do what it is doing ahead of reform ... to get an advantage.”
However, Digicel’s lawyers claimed Government had given the company the okay to offer the long distance service, and Digicel had fully disclosed to the Ministry its plans and time frame to launch the service, yet, never once did the Ministry tell Digicel it could not offer the long distance service which is offered through Transact but Digicel branded.