Telem Group – A cautionary Tale

Telem Group (St.Maarten Telecommunication Operating Company - SMOTC ) the government-owned company is the leading provider of telecommunications services in Sint Maarten. Despite being a leader in the field, for the past decade - Telem is without a CEO. Currently the company is being guided by a management team chaired by the CFO - Ms. Helma Etnel, a Suriname-national. She was appointed by the supervisory board originally chaired by Mr. Rafael Boasman, and now chaired by Mr. Jairo Bloem who finally initiated the CEO recruitment. And that, is only the tip of the iceberg for Telem's poor state.

Telem became an autonomous company with its own managing director and staff due to the catastrophic hurricane Luis in 1995. The hurricane caused chaos with widespread service outages and service disruptions. The first managing director without any supervision from Curacao was Mr. Curtis Haynes who developed Telem’s internet, mobile and international services. Since his dismissal 10 years ago the company has been without a CEO.

In 1998, the telecommunications market in St. Maarten was liberalized, but Telem failed to seize the opportunity. It entered the market competing against already established players in the industry such as Antelecom—formerly Landsradio—and ECC which was the first mobile operator on Saint Martin. The ECC, an East Caribbean Cellular, privately owned by US entrepreneur Barfield. The company is an example to foreign-owned companies in the field, remaining stagnant in the market until sold. In ECC's case, it was sold for close to 16 million US$ to Cellular One, and eventually never surviving the GSM wave, went bankrupt.

Inside Telem, Management of the company has not been selected on merit, but with favoritism and political connections instead. Previous managers's names has been linked to everything from failed television project scandals to recreational travels at company's expanse and all the way to rumors of romantic involvements with co-workers. Needless to say, pervious management was a failour on the professional side of things as well, not being able to forward the company technologically-wise or in services provided.

A few years ago, Peter Drenth, a specialist from the Netherlands, was brought in, and Managed to revitalize a stagnant company. Unfortunately, Drenth's contract was not extended since he felt the best course of action was for the government to sell the company. It all kept going downhill for the company since.

Today in St. Maarten's, Home internet customers are confronted with a plethora of problems on a daily basis, ranging from poor connection, slow speeds to some of the highest service-costs in the region. This is compounded by subpar customer care as the company has proven itself unable to adequately address service outages. Not to mention Telem’s inability to meet the demands of thousands of new customers when the company is plagued by dropped calls, slow mobile internet new competition as well as expensive local and roaming rates.

In conclusion, Telem has failed to live up to its mission statement “to be the best service provider in Sint Maarten with the best technology!” and until now is unable to deliver a consistent quality product of internet or mobile affordable to everyone.

The same Telem that is owned by the government of Sint Maarten that should be held accountable for the mismanagement – that was supposed to be a national engine of growth, is a company that is not helping to progress Sint Maarten’s economy. St. Maarten is a top Caribbean destination with a great potential, and it deserves first class service from its own company to be provided to its people and its tourists.

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