Frank O’Carroll, Vice President of Business Development, confirmed that Digicel has made a firm offer to buy Telecom New Zealand’s 60 per cent share of Telecom Cook Islands.
All details of the price and negotiations are confidential – subject to a non-disclosure agreement – but a deal is likely to be struck soon, O’Carroll said.
He and Paul Stafford, Chief Executive of Digicel Vanuatu, spent the week meeting with Telecommunications Minister Mark Brown, Financial Secretary Richard Neves and members of the new Telecommunications Advisory Committee.
They also had discussions with local lawyer Heinz Matysik and Business Trade Investment Board (BTIB) Chief Executive Terry Rangi and Foreign Investment and Compliance Manager Teariki Vakalalabure.
O’Carroll said the pair were in the Cook Islands looking at what obligations Digicel would have to meet and what challenges it may face to operate here,
“It’s probably concluding the transaction. There are a number of administrative things we need to sort out, like getting BTIB approval.”
Before being sacked recently from his position as BTIB Chairman, George Pitt said Digicel would not be granted permission to operate in the Cook Islands unless it complied with strict pre-purchase rules.
If Telecom NZ wants to sell, it must advertise those shares in the Cook Islands for 30 days, he said.
“We will not approve Digicel’s Foreign Enterprise Registration if they don’t comply.”
O’Carroll said he is still trying to get definitive guidance on the rules with regard to Pitt’s comments, another reason for this week’s visit.
They were also here to bring the Government – a 40 per cent shareholder of Telecom Cook Islands— up to speed on Digicel’s negotiations in New Zealand.
O’Carroll confirmed that Digicel is interested in acquiring some of the Government’s stake in Telecom Cook Islands.
“We’d be interested in having a higher share but we’d be happy with the 60 per cent as well. That’s a decision the Government would have to make.”
O’Carroll and Stafford also spent time talking with Matysik to gain a greater understanding of the local land ownership laws.
Stafford added that Digicel is fully supportive of plans by Mark Brown to liberalise the local telecommunications market.
“We’re fully in favour of competition.”