Belgacom is seeking a new CEO after the Belgian government, which owns 53.5 per cent of the operator, sacked Didier Bellens from the post because of his repeated criticism of the authorities.
In a statement, the operator's board of directors said it has temporarily assigned CEO powers to its CFO Ray Stewart, and chairman Stefaan De Clerck and has started the search for a new CEO through a headhunting agency. The government has the final vote on any decision.
"We think that it's possible" to get an idea of the candidates in the next few weeks, De Clerck told Bloomberg.
Bellens' dismissal will certainly be seen by some as a clear indication of the dangers of government ownership. Bloomberg reported that he was sacked after comments he made about Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo and the group's dividend payments, likening the prime minister to "a small child" only interested in what the government would be getting at the end of every year. Bellens has also been critical of regulatory restrictions that have hampered the rollout of LTE networks in Brussels.
Bellens earned €2.14 million ($2.87 million) in 2012 including bonuses and other benefits, Bloomberg added, and had been with the operator for 10 years. During this period, he concentrated on building up Belgacom's position in its home market with a strong focus on multi-service contracts to compete with cable operator Telenet, as well as rival mobile operators BASE and Mobistar.
"We believe Mr. Bellens has done a fine job at Belgacom, balancing investments with a consistent (dividend) payout policy," KBC analyst Thomas Deschepper wrote in a note to clients, Reuters reported.
Foreign Minister Didier Reynders also told broadcaster RTBF that Belgium could reduce its stake to below 50 per cent "if we want to avoid this saga," Bloomberg said. "You can be a majority shareholder and have things to say while being below 50 percent," he added.
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