Above: Emile Elias speaking at TSTT’s launch of its 4GLTE service. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.
[Editor’s note] From the moment of his appointment, Emile Elias, a significant figure in the local construction sector, declared his presence as Chairman of TSTT with boldness and forthright clarity. His would not be a tenure of timid announcements and cautious exploration of possibilities. Elias outed the most significant issues facing the beleagured company quite vocally and followed through with admirable vigour.
A TSTT press conference became a must-see event, as the new Chairman demonstrated no capacity whatsoever for delicacy and diplomacy when it came to the challenges faced by the state institution under his charge. This month he abruptly announced his resignation from the post.
I reached out to TSTT first for a copy of a resignation letter said to run to five pages and received no response. I then sent the request for the document through his daughter, Charlotte, who has been a friend of mine through arts connections for decades. After a few days of consideration, Emile Elias shared the document with me, acknowledging my argument that his position in leaving was as important as those he took during his two year tenure.
The letter of resignation is reproduced here…
September 19, 2017
The Honourable Dr. Keith Rowley M.P.
Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago
Office of the Prime Minister
13-15 St. Clair Avenue St. Clair
Dear Honourable Prime Minister,
I had fully intended to continue my National Service for another 3 years, but due to the fact that my Company is now facing unexpected challenges which require me to devote far more time to its future, I write to advise you, Minister Robert Le Hunte and the Board of my decision to submit my resignation with immediate effect, to the respective Corporate Secretaries, from my positions as Chairman of TSTT and the recently acquired subsidiary, Massy Communications Limited.
I do so with both gratitude and considerable regret. Gratitude to you and the Cabinet for having given me an opportunity to serve our country as Chairman of TSTT over the last 22 months. An enormous amount of work has taken place over that period which has required a lot of my time, energy and focus, however the outstanding successes some of which are outlined below has brought me considerable satisfaction.
During the last 22 months we started by exposing and preventing a coordinated plot to destabilize TSTT and make it ripe for a foreign takeover. This plot started with the Request for Proposals (RFP) back in 2013, and included a Spectrum plan designed by the last Board and Management of TATT to destroy TSTT by excluding us from critical 700 Mhz spectrum, while attempting to ensure two foreign firms received it.
This has been well documented by me in a 23-page report exposing this.
We also took formal steps to prevent the entire infrastructure of TSTT from being illegally rented to a Foreign Firm at a proposed rent which was only 1/3 of the Security cost only of guarding these installations. By December 2015, we were faced with another crisis when our concession renewal was jeopardized by the previous Board and Management of TATT with a proposed contract which would have threatened the viability of TSTT. The behavior of TATT in this was dishonest and disgraceful to say the least.
In fact, we almost had to close down the entire operation with serious consequences to prevent TSTT’s Board and Senior management from being in Breach of the Law as our concession was expiring. This was averted literally at the last minute by my vigorous intervention with the then line Minister of TATT, Mr. Randall Mitchell.
Shortly after, we were able to amicably settle for the first time in recent history a three (3) year Agreement with our unionised workforce, and paid out over $700M in accumulated back pay for the previous six years.
Early in 2016, we developed and the Board approved, a new 5-year Strategic Plan. This was also presented to and approved by your Cabinet, and subsequently by the Ministry of Finance. In order to give effect to this 5 Year TT$3.8 Billion Plan, we were able to raise TT$1.9 Billion in fully underwritten loan financing at very competitive Interest rates from Republic Bank.
The balance will come from internally generated funds. There was no Government Guarantee or any State Funding. To date this is the largest private fundraising in the history of Trinidad &Tobago.
We launched a TT$300m upgrade of our Mobile Communication System and introduced the only high speed LTE System available in the country.
We invested over TT$300m in an Ericsson Conversion Program to modernize and unify our disparate and antiquated billing systems.
We completed a major Corporate rebranding.
We also redesigned the whole Organization structure to better align it and equip TSTT with the ability to implement and deliver the objectives of the 5 Year Strategic plan, including making Customer satisfaction our central focus.
We introduced a new dynamic approach to procurement, and I can confidently say that to date, 22 months later, we have saved over TT$500m dollars in both Capital Expenditure and Operational Expenditures as a result of the introduction of new procedures within a robust Tenders Committee, and the choosing of the best Vendors and Technology.
We eliminated from TSTT what Martin Daly has referred to as “tenderpreneurs” and “contactocracy” which was extensively practiced before we took office. This has been an amazing team effort!
We also did a complete financial review of our network equipment which resulted in the recognition of a TT$575m impairment charge related to our old legacy copper equipment which is now redundant.
We created a joint venture with E-IDCOT, to build a Tobago Data Center. We acquired Massy Communications Limited for an excellent price of $215M, which has given us a considerable network of already rolled out, very high quality fibre, among other significant assets, which was entirely consistent with our approved 5-year Strategic Plan.
In the fight against crime, we expanded our collaboration with the Ministry of National Security, installing 800 additional security cameras and four Command Centers, and more recently, launched the very well-received Police Body Cams System, to enhance the activities of the Police Service.
The Board has approved a Retail Transformation Project which will bring considerable improvements in the quality of service to our customers, and launched a vigorous program designed to encourage online Bill Payments, and the significant reduction of costly paper billings.
We have approved the replacement of our entire obsolete core network with State of the Art Technology.
This equipment has already arrived in our country and implementation is now underway. As we fully commission this new equipment over the next 6 months, we will have the broadband capacity needed to offer all our customers ultra-high speed services in Internet, Mobile and television. It will be a World Class Network!
The Board has approved a Zero Copper project which will see the elimination of all our old legacy copper equipment over the next two years, and these services will be replaced by fibre rolled out past 100,000 homes by December this year, with the rest of the Country to be serviced by wireless technology.
This wireless approach is entirely dependent on TATT providing TSTT with the additional appropriate spectrum for which we have applied. Despite my best efforts in this regard, I have so far failed. As a result of this Zero Copper project, we expect to receive NET revenue of an estimated TTS188m from the sale of approximately 5400 kilometers of surplus copper wires, which run the length and breadth of Trinidad Tobago. Zero middlemen will benefit from this disposal.
There has been a long standing dispute with T&TEC over the last 8 years over rates to be paid for pole rentals. I met on several occasions with the Chairman of T&TEC, and more recently we both met with the respective managements of both organisations, and I am hopeful that the matter will be amicably resolved in the very near future.
We have embarked on a complete expert review of our substantial property portfolio. Some properties are already surplus to our needs and sitting idle. Many more will become available to be monetized due to redundancy of certain Exchanges arising from our huge investment in new technology.
When I took office, we immediately stopped wasteful spending in a number of areas. For example, millions of dollars were spent by the previous Board in totally unnecessary foreign Directors travel. I am happy to report that not a single dollar has been spent in the last two years on Directors travel.
We also cancelled millions of dollars that were wastefully spent by the last Board on All-Inclusive Carnival luxury fetes for family and friends. Not a dollar spent on this.
We cancelled Carnival Sponsorship of certain private sector events which had cost the Company millions of dollars annually with absolutely no benefit to the Shareholders of TSTT. Prime Minister, these are some of the challenges that we met and have been able to achieve significant success.
TSTT is well on the way to making our Nation proud of the Nationals of T&T who are leading this recovery effort both at the Board level and the Senior Management very ably led by the CEO, Dr. Ronald Walcott.
Prime Minister, there are some regrets that I have on leaving at this time. I regret that I will not be a part of the next few years, during which I hoped that the issue of the 49%, currently owned by CWC, would be resolved.
We have proven those who were widely questioning TSTT’s future without a Foreign partner to be totally wrong! Some of these persons are still in positions of some influence. There are also a number of spectrum and other regulatory issues that continue to plague TSTT, and in spite of the new Chairman and CEO at TATT, they have been unable, to date, to resolve these issues.
We face an enormous and critical challenge wiith excessive employee costs. The Board has agreed a strategy to resolve this in a humane manner over time. Transformation and change are never easy, but the future survival of TSTT depends on effecting this transformation.
The Articles of Incorporation need to be revised, once the future ownership of the CWC 49% is resolved, and I recommend that we introduce a rotation of Board members and review the manner in which the Board and Chairmen are appointed, bearing in mind the need for business continuity.
We have begun to harmonize the various Pension Schemes that we had inherited to protect our Employees and the Company. The Board has adopted a clear road map to put this issue to rest. The future is in good hands.
The current Board and Senior management are of a very high quality, and it has been an honour to serve the people of T&T with them. I have always seen the Chairmanship of TSTT as National Duty, hence the reason I have donated all my Director’s Fees to four Children’s Homes.
However, I have a greater responsibility to the many workers of my company and their countless dependents, many of whom have stood with me for over 40 years. I leave satisfied that in my twenty-two months as TSTT Chairman, I have helped to lay the foundation, constructed the walls and placed the roof for a strong and well-built TSTT, one that can withstand future storms.
The baton is now passed to others to do the finishes. In closing I would like to take this opportunity to wish TSTT continued success as it navigates into the future.
Prime Minister, I wish you continued good health and also wish you well in your Management of our Nation’s Affairs. I will make myself available if needed, to effect an orderly handover to the future chairman that you select.
(Signed) Emile Elias