At today’s House meeting in Belmopan, the biggest news should have been the Draft Education and Training Bill. The Bill has had a long and sometimes difficult gestation in the public domain – and today – all the dissent was quelled, the dissenters maybe only temporarily hushed as some of the most sweeping changes to the education act ever were introduced. But while that was the biggest news – and we’ll get to it - the most dramatic moments of the day came from the current Prime Minister and his predecessor. Member for Fort George Said Musa spoke on the adjournment about the recession and what he feels is government’s paralysis in responding to the dire financial position many Belizeans and Belizean businesses find themselves in. It was going pretty well – until he started talking about the redeeming merits of the superbond. That got Prime Minister Dean Barrow going – and it made for a fiery back and forth between the two veteran parliamentarians. Here’s more.

Jules Vasquez Reporting,
For the old adversaries Said Musa and Dean Barrow, the day started collegially but when Musa spoke on the adjournment – the daggers were drawn – when Musa weighed in on the economy, the recession and superbond savings.

Rt. Hon. Said Musa, Fort George Area Rep.
“On the 29th of October the Hon. Prime Minister finally acknowledged that the economy of Belize was well and truly in a recession. The economy has slowed down, not only slowed down but has stopped drilling has been contracting.

And top of everything else, hundreds of Belizeans are losing their homes and their properties through banks and DFC foreclosures. People are experiencing misery like we’ve never known. The Prime Minister says there is not much his government can do, it is a global recession. I want to say to the Hon. Prime Minister yes the problem may be global but the solution has to be local.

Then again he blames some of our economic woes on the so-called superbond because as he said the interest will go up from 4.25% to 6% next year. Well we are in the recession now, not next year. Hopefully not next year. The successful restructuring of the commercial debt by the former PUP administration in 2007 has provided significant cash flow relief to this UDP government.

What is the government doing to get our country’s finances and development back on the right track. The so-called stimulus package that the Prime Minister announced in his budget speech was simply a recycling of the Capital III foreign funded budget. But what is more disturbing is that several of these projects in the budget and we’re coming to the end of it now, of the budget year that is, and these projects have not even started yet.

The government seems to be in a state of paralysis when it comes to addressing the real needs of the Belizean people. I would want to suggest that they are too busy flexing their muscle and threatening people. In a sense, and don’t take this personal Mr. Prime Minister, I believe you have overreached even yourself as was reported in the British press, you seem to be lecturing and warning the leader of the Conservative Party of the UK who he should have in his Cabinet should he form the government next year. This is kind of hubrisistic, in fact it is ridiculous for a Prime Minister of Belize to be interfering or presuming to be interfering in another nation’s affairs.

The Prime Minister and the Governor of the Central Bank say there is nothing that they can do about high interest rates that the banks are charging. Mr. Speaker at a time when interest rates in most of the world, developed and developing, has hit rock bottom, in some cases as low as 1%, you want to tell me that our government and Central Bank cannot employ monetary policy to drive down interest rates in our country. This is a sad reflection that I am saying that this government seems to be in a state of paralysis, caught up in a web of its own making, trying to put out fires that they themselves started.

But this government is coming across as cold hearted, lacking in compassion, no mercy, the message they are giving to people is tighten your belts, pay more taxes.

There has been a lot of talk, and a lot of rhetoric and indeed it’s a failure to even fix potholes but yet there is a lot of money being spent by government on propaganda commercials of potbellied Ministers posturing in front of the camera.”

Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
“Is it not absolutely the height of hypocrisy for that man, that member of this House to talk about DFC and foreclosures on mortgages? These are foreclosures that are in consequence of the old DFC debt that he presided over. You know hypocrisy, immorality or amorality is one thing but incompetence is quite another. He said that the government, that I in October finally acknowledge a recession. Man you weren’t you the Minister of Finance? There is a definition of recession. There have to be two quarters of negative contraction before there is a recession. You mean you didn’t know that, all the years you were there you learnt nothing except how to make off with the people’s money?”

Rt. Hon. Said Musa,
“I take issue with the Prime Minister making those malicious attacks, the language he is using, the Standing Orders are very clear, you cannot be using that kind of language.”

Speaker Emil Arguelles,
“Honourable Member I have allowed leeway on both sides.”

Hon. Dean Barrow,
“Mr. Speaker I am choosing my words very carefully in saying and there is nothing unparliamentarily about this, that he has displayed a level of ignorance and incompetence with respect to the whole question of economics and I am not an economist but that I find it absolutely astounding given that he was the Minister of Finance for so long. I could not have acknowledged a recession until a recession occurred. It is a great tribute to this country that notwithstanding the financial meltdown we were able to stave off the recession for as long as we did.

How can he bring up the question of indebtedness and the superbond? The fact is that next year ten million US dollars more on top of the 40 million dollars we’ve already had to pay this year. Twenty million dollars must be added to our repayment in the course of the year this superbond. How can the member for Fort George get up and pretend that he has some bleeding heart for the poor people of this country when he diverted the $20 million from Taiwan to pay his good friends’ bank? How can he claim to have a heart for people in this country suffering when he had to stand up in court and answer for the $20 million from Venezuela that he again diverted?”

Rt. Hon. Said Musa,
“Since the Prime Minister is going into this matter, let me say that last year he used me to try to use me and jail me as a distraction from his problems and this year it is telecommunications. I was exonerated…..”

Hon. Dean Barrow,
“The fact of the point is that you was charged for diverting $20 million of the people’s money so don’t get up here and talk like you have any feelings for poor people. If you had had feelings for poor people, you would look, look even the Arbitration Tribunal in the UK….even the Arbitration Tribunal in the UK pointed the fingers at you indicting you for having engaged in a conspiracy to subvert the laws of this country, in particular the Finance and Audit Reform Act and for concealing….”

Hon. Johnny Briceno, Leader of the Opposition
“On a point of order, the Prime Minister has not been answering the question. The member from Fort George was asking what the government is going to do to address the issue of the recession and he is not talking about it. What is the government going to do about the recession - he is not answering that. He is being personal.”

Hon. Dean Barrow,
“Mr. Speaker as you said you gave him a lot of latitude and he went around the mulberry bush and I am going to follow him and flag him. I didn’t interrupt you. I made my entreaties to the Speaker as terms of the Standing Orders. I didn’t interrupt you. Sit down and tek your licking. Be a man for once. Again Mr. Speaker he….he can’t have any sense to again get up and actually bring in to his presentation the situation with Michael Ashcroft. You talk about my trying to tell a potential Prime Minister in the UK what to do. Well that’s not true but when you say that sort of thing, I want to ask why it is that you allowed Ashcroft when you were Prime Minister to tell you what to do.”

[Said Musa Stands Up....Inaudible]

Hon. Dean Barrow,
“Sit down man, take your licking, sit down.”

Speaker Emil Arguelles,
“Honourable Member from Fort George do you have a point of order?”

Rt. Hon. Said Musa,
“Weren’t you representing this man for the past….your law firm?”

Hon. Dean Barrow,
“When I was being interviewed by the British Press, it is funny this is a small world and all these stories get around. They asked me whether I was present at a Belize Bank Christmas party when an assembled gathering were transfixed by the sight of Ashcroft having jacked you up against a wall, pointing in your face, lecturing you, and then you were standing there with a silly grin on your face. You are talking about the litigation we are in, we are in litigation because I am and this government have proven to the Belizean people and we are completely supported as far as I can see that unlike you, we are prepared to stand up to anyone.

This question of interest rates, interest, high interest rates from the banks have bedevilled this country for years now and at long lost there is a government that is attempting to do something about it. One of the difficulties is that when you get all the banks together in a room they make it plain that how can we talk to you about a level playing when the last government gave special arrangements to the Belize Bank so that their nominal rate of tax is different than everybody else and then turned around and by way of that member from Fort George as Minister of Finance signed a secret deal with them again that allowed them not to pay tax at all.

This government knows that it will bring this country through the recession and I am telling you that by the time the next election rolls around, when that comes around, we will be rolling around and we will roll right over you and your colleagues.”

Channel 7