GT&T, Cel*Star dispute…
Appellate Court reserves decision on PUC motion
July 14, 2004
THE Court of Appeal yesterday reserved decision on a motion by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), seeking advice as to whether the regulatory body can order Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company Limited (GT&T) to interconnect Cel*Star Guyana Inc to its system while a dispute over ownership of the latter remains unresolved.
Chancellor Desiree Bernard, who sat with other Justices of Appeal Nandram Kissoon and Ian Chang in the case, said counsel will be informed of the date.
Justice Bernard said so after Mr Stephen Fraser, who is associated with Mr Miles Hughes for Cel* Star, laid over a written reply to Senior Counsel (SC) Miles Fitzpatrick, representing GT&T.
Fitzpatrick, in association with other Senior Counsel Keith Massiah, had earlier hinted at the possibility of a settlement in the matter.
Fitzpatrick said talks were ongoing under the aegis of Attorney General Doodnauth Singh, another SC.
Without going into details, Fitzpatrick said one of the hurdles was cleared over the past 48 hours and more dicussions were scheduled for yesterday afternoon.
While expressing the hope that a solution could be found, Chancellor Bernard reiterated that the Court has a mandate to advise the PUC.
Fitzpatrick maintained yesterday that the issue, from a practicality point of view, is how GT&T can deal with the present management of Cel*Star Guyana.
He said GT*T has been advised about the risk of dealing with the people currently in control of Cel*Star Guyana and has been trying to find a way out.
Fitzpatrick submitted that there should be some way in which the High Court, which is adjudicating in the ownership controversy, can protect GT*T until it rules.
However, if that question is not settled, GT&T would seek an interim order on how to do business with Cel*Star Guyana in the meantime, he added.
Chancellor Bernard asked Fitzpatrick how what he said affects the appellate tribunal and the lawyer said it does not but suggested that the High Court could approve of GT*T temporarily interconnecting with the other service provider.
Fraser declared that if the Legislature creates a duty and remedies, the jurisdiction of the High Court is excluded.
He argued that interconnection has been expressly assigned to the PUC, which can make an interim order and prevent other parties from re-litigating the issue.
Fraser stressed that the PUC is the only body that can make orders for interconnection.
Also present at yesterday’s hearing was Ms Prabha Persaud, who is appearing with Mr Vidyanand Persaud for the PUC.
The PUC has requested the Court of Appeal to rule whether it can direct GT&T to implement an April 2003 agreement to interconnect the two systems while litigation continues over who owns Cel*Star Guyana shares.
Cel*Star had complained to the PUC about the non-compliance of GT&T which enjoys a monopoly in the voice communication sector that the Government also wants to end.
However, GT&T claimed it was unable to do as expected amidst the prolonged legal wrangling.
The documentation filed by the PUC said it is seeking the opinion of the appellate Court if, in the public interest, the former has the power and jurisdiction to compel GT&T to act in accordance with the deal signed, on the terms and conditions established by the Commission and on an interim basis, pending resolution of the legal proceedings between Cel*Star Guyana and others over that company’s assets.
The PUC moved after acknowledging that, if it issues the directive, GT*T can appeal against it and further delay Cel*Star from venturing into the local telecommunication market.
Ultimately, a ruling by the Court of Appeal, sanctioning a PUC edict for GT&T to interconnect Cel*Star, would open the way for more investors to become involved in the business here, in keeping with a previously enunciated Government policy.