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#466355 - 06/11/13 06:04 AM GOB Taking Over Ships, IBC Registry
Marty Offline
Tonight, the government is on the verge of another pair of nationalizations – and this time, it’s Immarbe and the IBC Registry – both foreign owned entities that control and operate the entire offshore business sector in Belize.

Let’s start with Immarbe – that’s the International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize, which sells the Belizean Flag as a flag of convenience to international vessels. That’s the one that we’ve been reporting on as causing much distress for Belize with the European Union. It’s gotten to the point where Belize was blacklisted by the European Union and our fisheries product could face trade sanctions because of the activities of the international vessels that carry Belize’s flag.

And then there’s the IBC Registry, or International Business Companies Registry. That’s the entity that registers so-called offshore companies which are given tax-free status and assured secrecy in their corporate affairs.

Both entities are at least partially owned by a company called Belize international Services Limited – which is believed to be part of the Ashcroft Alliance.

In the case of Immarbe, Belize international Services Limited owns 50% along with a Panamanian Law Firm Morgan and Morgan.

So why the takeover? Well, a terse official release from government this evening simply says, quote:

“The Ministry of Finance announces that the Management Services Agreement between the Government of Belize and Belize International Services Limited, to manage the International Business Companies Registry and the International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize (IMMARBE) comes to an end, today, 10 June 2013.”

It adds,

“Accordingly, the Government will assume control of the two Registries with effect from tomorrow, 11 June 2013.”

The Prime Minister will have a press conference on Wednesday to explain it all – but in the meantime – the Financial Secretary is expected to assume control of the operations tomorrow – though we can’t say for sure what will happen to the local staff of both offices – which are both housed at the Marina Towers Building in Belize City.

Government’s explanation for the Immarbe takeover is likely to be that the likelihood of trade sanctions against Belize fisheries product forced its hand. The possible explanation for the IBC registry is not so clear, but government is taking the interpretation that both the contracts ended today.

However, it’s not that clear cut. 7News has received reports that that former Prime Minister Said Musa signed a ten-year extension for the companies in his second term of office – with the last extension going from the year 2013 to 2023. While this is sure to end up in another legal battle – Government’s position is likely to be that the Musa extension is invalid because he took future executive action – which was not within his powers. As we understand it, Government did not even have a copy of the Musa extension in its records – and had to be provided with one by Immarbe.

Both registry’s were established in the early 1990’s. In other countries, ship and IBC registries are typically run by the government. They can generate quite substantial revenue – and in this case government is sure to try and win public support by explaining the takeover as a direct source of incremental revenue.

Channel 7

#466415 - 06/12/13 06:09 AM Re: GOB Taking Over Ships, IBC Registry [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

The Alliance Strikes Back: Says IBC/Immarbe Nationalisation Will Cost GOB 60 M USD

If you thought the IMMARBE and IBC Registry nationalizations coolly announced by Government yesterday might go down without a great hue and cry, just a few minutes before newstime, Belize International Services Limited – or BISL, the Ashcroft-allied co-owners of the registries sent out a release saying it quote,
“expresses its surprise, disappointment and indignation at the Government of Belize’s unilateral decision…”

The release asserts that BISL has quote, “a legally enforceable contractual right to operate and manage these two registries until June 2020.”

The release also discloses that just before the takeover, Government’s Tax Commissioner sent BISL a tax assessment for over 30 million dollars, even though, BISL argues, it is tax exempt, as are its employees. The statement says it had not been taxed for the 20 years it operated the registries.

And so, BISL says government’s takeover is a “flagrant breach of contract” and quote, “exposes the government to yet another round of expensive litigation…(in which it) will be liable for an amount estimated to be in excess of 60 million US dollars in damages.” End quote.

The statement ends by saying, BISL

“will pursue its claim for damages to the highest levels…and exercise all options available to vindicate its rights.”

The Prime Minister is expected to respond to these claims in a special press conference planned for tomorrow. But, for context, it’s important to note that things have been coming to this for some time now. In November of 2011, the Prime Minister told us he was ready to surrender the Ships registry because of the possible sanctions it could cause for the Belize fisheries industry:

Prime Minister Dean Barrow - Prime Minister of Belize
"I will say that we are prepared, and have been prepared for a while, to give up that ship's registry, if it were to come to that, in order to ensure the continued ability to export our aqua-culture products to Europe. Of course, there is the question of the commercial agreement that was signed by the last Government, and renewed at infinitum. So, we have to look at all our options before we can talk about the possibility about withdrawal from that commercial contract. Hopefully it won't come to that; it is my sense that the IMMARBE people are prepared to cooperate to de-list the vessels that are in fact operating in the zone that is under the jurisdiction of the EU."

Jules Vasquez
"Who are the corporate interests behind the IMMARBE?"

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"I am not sure of the entirety of interests. There is a Panamanian outfit, but I suspect that you would want to know whether the Ashcroft Alliance is involved. And the answer, as far as I know, is yes."

Notably, today’s statement includes statistics where it says that the registry has 62,000 active IBC’s and 914 active ships registered – which is the sixth largest in the world.

Channel 7

#466502 - 06/13/13 06:11 AM Re: GOB Taking Over Ships, IBC Registry [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Barrow to Ashcroft Alliance over Offshore Registries: “Bring It On!”

Yesterday Government took over the operations of Immarbe and the IBC Registry. Now, these are what are known as offshore operations, so, outside of the Belizeans who work at the registries, the takeover has very little effect on everyday life in Belize. But, it’s a major move in the broader picture, because these registries generate millions of US dollars in revenue annually and they do so for a company that’s part of the Ashcroft Alliance, and another called Morgan and Morgan that’s a Panamanian law firm. So even though most of us might not see it, the stakes are high – and to verify that, you just need to look at the 60 million US dollars that the Ashcroft Alliance says it will claim as damages.

But today when he held a press conference to explain the whole takeover, it looks like Prime Minister Dean Barrow wasn’t feeling the heat one bit. He told the media that it’s not nationalization, it’s a legal and necessary transition. Here’s how he explained it:…

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister of Belize
"This is not a nationalization, this is not in any way in the same category as BTL and BEL. This is the government of Belize determining that the contractuary agreement that these people had to run these two registries has come to an end. And that the secrete purported extension signed by Said Musa and Francis Fonseca is of no validity, therefore, the government has moved to assume control on a completely legal basis. The government's course of action is justified for any number of reasons but in particular in consequence of the fact that the European union by way of the commission decision has served us notice, that unless you get control of the registry and do something to regularize the operations of registry and in particular of the fishing fleet - you will have exports to EU band. This is a date that has been too long postponed, that now they can breathe easy because they know their exports to the European Union has been preserved so we have no apologies to make. In fact we will trumpet this as a positive move on the part of the Government consistent with our well known stance, that we will do whatever it takes to protect the well being of Belize."

But that well-being could be threatened on the other side by costly and drawn out legal battles with Belize International Services Limited – the company that was given the contracts to operate the registries in 1993. Barrow said the threats don’t bother him:..

Hon. Dean Barrow
"I don't care - I see them making threats about how many millions of dollars they are going to source for. When you look at what was collected over the last few years, the figure they are talking about is outrageous and laughable. But in any event that they will seek legal recourse, that is their right - and we say 'bring it on' because there is no way in the world that we will allow this abuse to continue so as to endanger the economy of this country."

And while that is just a very general overview of the official position on the Registries’ takeover – there are some fascinating details to the entire sequence of events that led to the creation and continued management of the registries. We’ll have the full story later on in the news…

How The Registries Deal Got Done And Why GOB Says It Was Illegal

All those comments were made in a press conference that lasted for one hour and forty-five minutes – followed by another 20 minutes of one on one interviews. Indeed, the Prime Minister laid it all out today – especially in the case of the Ship and IBC registries. He showed up at the press conference with a thick file – and delved deep into the creation and continuation of the Registries. We looked at some of the paperwork dating back to 1993 – and the so-called secret extension agreement.

Jules Vasquez reporting
This agreement was signed on 11th June 1993, mere days before the June 30th general elections this is the master agreement signed by the then PUP government. It was a 10 year agreement with Belize International Services Limited which managed IMMMARBE and the IBC Registry with an option to renew for another ten years.

When that ten years was about to expire in 2003 Government’s legal counsel Gian Ghandi wrote to BISL saying that due to a fundamental change of circumstances and they could no longer exercise the option to renew for another ten years.

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister of Belize
"That letter, I'm told by Mr. Ghandi was written after he had advised Ralph Fonseca and Said Musa of the legal position that he took. The Prime Minister turned right around and told BISL 'you can ignore Ghandi's letter and simply continue to operate the agreement and we in effect will treat your exercise of the option to renew as valid.' "

And so things continued until March of 2005

Hon. Dean Barrow
"The 24th of March, 2005, it turns out that on that day a secret agreement was signed between BISL and the then Prime Minster and the then Attorney General who is the current leader of the opposition."

That agreement retroactively formalized the 2003 extension and to extend the life of the agreement beyond the 10 year extension

Hon. Dean Barrow
"Up to the 11th of June 2020, for a consideration of $1.5 million. This Osbourne's sends a letter saying, this is what this letter means, you are to accept that it means that and give us your counter-signatures and you're good to go. Nobody was aware of the existence of that agreement 'march 24th, 2005' that Musa and Francis Fonseca signed. I have checked through directly in one case and through a third party in another with persons who are members of the cabinet on 24th March, 2005 and they are quite clear that that agreement was never brought to the Cabinet. How on earth could the then Prime Minister and the then Attorney General have proported to extend their agreement by the way of counter signing a letter without disclosing to cabinet, without getting any permission from the National Assembly - without going to the contractor general, without putting it out to tender. How on earth could that have been done and why was it kept secret? Except that the principals knew what they were doing was absolutely wrong."

And because it was a secret document the Barrow administration ignored it and wrote to BISL, and saying TIMES UP.

Hon. Dean Barrow
"We - this current administration wrote on the 6th of May of this year to BISL saying that since on the face of the agreement that they had there period of control of the registry, expires on the tenth of June, 2013. BISL then produced this secret agreement of 24th March, 2005. Well you can imagine how shocked we were. We checked to see whether there was any copy of that agreement anywhere in any file in Belmopan and came up with a big fat zero."

BISL furnished government with a copy but GOB was not impressed

Hon. Dean Barrow
"In so far to that secret agreement proported to extend the duration of the original 93 agreement, beyond 2013 it was holy invalid as it was patentry contrary to several to the applicable laws, including but not limited to the Finance and Audit Act, the Financial orders, the stores orders and the control of expenditure handbook. As a result of that advise - we wrote to BISL in a letter dated June 4th, 2013 rejecting this secret document of 24th March, 2005 and reitorated our position that the agreement exprired on the 10th June, 2013."

And while that is the technical explanation, Government says that the takeover of IMMARBE is a practical necessity:

Hon. Dean Barrow
"Where IMMARBE is concerned - this problem with the EU has become accute and we're at a point where we are in danger of having our exports to the European stopped. When that EU decision came out a number especially of the principles, the actors, the aqua culture industry made representation to government and asked us what we intended to do because their shrimp exports in particular were in jeopardy in being banned by the EU. We will put in place measures to regulate and control the activities of the IMMARBE fishing fleet. We are perfeclty conscious of the fact that if those measures don't work - we may as a last resort have to de-register the fishing fleet, we're not going to run any joke - we're not playing games. The fact of our exports to the EU having to be protected at all costs means that if we have to deregister the fishing fleet or particularly those fishing in the EU zone then we will do so only as a last resort, but people need to know about our seriousness."

So serious, that in terms of compensation to BISL which is claiming 60 million US dollars…

Hon. Dean Barrow
"We intend to reimburse BISL the $1.5 Million that they say they paid in consideration to the secret agreement,"

But that’s after the pay their taxes

Hon. Dean Barrow
"The Musa administration puported to relieve, to exempt BISL from the payment of all taxes. It's been said over and over again by the courts that the executive has no authority to relieve anybody from income taxes or from business tax. The commisioner of Income Tax as we understand it has recently issued tax assessment of BISL amounting to $30million dollars for the period which they were operating and during which they paid no taxes."

And government is not afraid of a law suit:

Hon. Dean Barrow
"And I am even more confident that in any case there claim will be dismissed because it is so very patent that the so called extension was done in violation to Belize's law. Any cost benefit analysis done on the basis of a national interest calculus will tell you that you cannot continue to run the risk that the European Union after they have given you a decision in writing will in fact move to the next level and impose a band on your exports- I'm prepared to defend to the death, forgive my hyperbole. Our actions which are the only actions any right minded government that it's true to it's compact to serve the national interest of the country, the only actions that any such government can take."

And today the chest-beating could hardly be opposed, after all, while there may be legal battles ahead, government could be getting as much as 10 million US dollars in additional revenue annually that accrues also to the benefit of teachers and public officers:

Jules Vasquez
"The government would then expect such revenue to accrue into the consolidated fund."

Hon. Dean Barrow
"50% of which is already promised to the teachers and the public officers by way of a salary increase for next year."

But though he was on a roll, the PM stopped short at the suggestion of legal action being taken against the government signatories of the agreement, then PM Musa and AG Fonseca.

Hon. Dean Barrow
"It turns out that the illegal nature in our view of the action done by Musa and Fonseca - I suppose we could go the route of the suit for misfeasance of the public office but when we tried that before we didn't get very far and the damage has been averted because we have rejected what they have done and we are treating the agreement as having come to an end. So I don't see that any legal action against those two would flow from the Government of Belize."

First, Leader of the Opposition Francis Fonseca says the extension agreement was discussed in Cabinet and vetted by both the AG’s off and the Ministry of Finance Officials. He said there should be Cabinet papers to confirm that but suggested that those may have been disappeared by the Barrow Administration.

Second, the timing of the March 24, 2005 signing is telling. It is the day after then Prime Minister Said Musa made an address to the nation announcing that Government had signed an agreement with an Ashcroft company, E-Com to buy back share sin BTL, and that Government had also signed a settlement agreement with Ashcroft’s Carlisle Group to write off business tax owed. Moreover, it is the very same day that the Senate passed the Finance and Audit Act – which was designed to limit government’s power to conduct such business without taking it to the National Assembly.

And a few more notes on the registries. Under interim registrar and Deputy financial secretary The Prime Minister announced that all Belizean staff will be retained at those offices – which are in the Marina Towers Building in Belize City. Under the previous arrangement, BISL got 64 cents of every dollar of revenue while government got 46 cents; government will now get the whole dollar – of an average annual revenue of 12 million US dollars. 129 of the 875 registered vessels with IMMARBE are fishing vessels. And one final note, the 1993 master agreement stipulates that all arbitration is to be settled in Belize.

Channel 7

#466573 - 06/14/13 06:09 AM Re: GOB Taking Over Ships, IBC Registry [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Leader Of The Opposition Fonseca Defends Decision to Sign

Last night on the news, you heard the Prime Minister allege that former Prime Minister Said Musa and former Attorney General Francis Fonseca had signed a secret and ultimately illegal document giving Belize International Services Limited two extensions on their contract to operate the IBC and Ships Registries. We didn’t have time to get an on-camera comment from the opposition leader yesterday but along with KREM Radio, LOVE TV and PLUS TV, we did speak to him at length today about the Barrow allegation and the broader context of the registry agreement. Here’s how that went.

Hon. Francis Fonseca - Leader Of The Opposition
"Typical Dean Barrow, when his back is against the wall - this is exactly what he does. He comes out with some bogus issue to try to divert the attention of the Belizean people away from the real problems, eating away at his government by a showman. The substantive issue that he raised in terms of this allegation of some secret agreement - well obviously the original agreement was signed in 1993, the letter that he's talking about in 2005 which extended the agreement another seven years, was absolutely not a secret. This was a letter and the agreement was vetted by the Attorney General's Ministry and the solicitor General at the time, it was vetted by officials of the Ministry of Finance, it went through the Cabinet as I indicated yesterday. Certainly we acted on the advice on the officials of the Attorney General's Ministry and in the Ministry of Finance."

Jules Vasquez
"I have spoken to two members of the Cabinet at the time, certainly not the two that the Prime Minister was speaking about - they have told me that in fact they have no recollection of it being brought up at the Cabinet level."

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"Well I don't know who you've talked to but I certainly have talked to many members of that Cabinet who recall that discussion and only after some prompting they were able to recall it. We discussed obviously many many things in cabinet so whether or not someone recalls that specific issue and now wants to say now 'Oh I don't recall the specifics of it' - that may be the case but I am absolutely confident that that was discussed."

"Is there any kind of documentation to substantiate what you're saying? Because right now it's your word against theirs."

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"Well we don't back around files and I don't take files out of government. I don't back around government files, I don't remove files from government offices when I leave, so you would have to go to relevant ministries."

"I know of other Cabinet members from that time who have electronic records of their Cabinet papers taken to cabinet. Shouldn't you or the then Prime Minister or Mr. Fonseca would have records of the cabinet papers?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"I just said to you that I recall the cabinet meeting - I don't have to have records because I know the cabinet meeting took place in which we discussed this matter."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, the Finance and Audit Act was approved by the Senate on March 24th, 2005 - the same day that letter from BISL was signed. Might you see how that signing of such agreement would be against the spirit of that legislation?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"Well as you rightly said - the legislation was not in place at the time. You may argue that it violates the spirit of the act, that may be the case but the reality is the signing of that letter, at the time it was signed was in conformity with the laws of Belize. And that was the advice we got both from the Attorney General's Ministry and from the legal counsel in the Ministry of Finance."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, if I may - was this letter a part of a side agreement with the Ashcroft Alliance on the entire Econ bail out of the Prosser mis-transaction for BTL because we know on that Thursday, which was a Holy Thursday, - the then Prime Minister Must then announced that Ecom sale was going through and that also $12Million dollars of Business Tax for the Belize Bank would be written off?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"I'm not aware of this letter as you call it a 'side letter' was a part of any other wider agreement."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, but isn't it unusual that a letter should be written basically on behalf of the government? Phillip Osbourne wrote you all a letter on behalf of BISL which you all just had to sign saying that the government through this letter undertakes to do XYZ. Isn't that unbecoming for a government to have an executive of a foreign company (though it may be registered locally) to write then and say 'the government undertakes to do so and so - just sign it'?

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"That happens all the time Jules, it's based on negotiations and discussions."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, how could sign something to bind a future administration? It is fine if one agrees to a twenty year agreement or a forty year agreement in the life of a government but you all agreed to an extension 2003 to 2013 but then a further extension, 2013 - 2020 for when there was no indication that you would be in government at that time."

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"No I think that's a legitimate concern, a legitimate view and it's something that any government has to weigh. A sovereign government can take that action, there's nothing illegal about doing that. But there is an arguement that can be made - 'listen we should confine agreements to the term of a government', you have every right to question whether that decision was right but the point is it was done in the proper way at the time, in our view."

Jules Vasquez
"But if the Finance and Audit act were law at that time and it was just within days of becoming of getting the Governor General ascent - you all would have had to disclose it to the National Assembly. Were you aware of that timeline and that in fact 'let's hurry sign this now so that we don't have to take it at the house in a month'?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"No - not at all. The matter had been in discussion for some time and I view those dates - in fact when I first recognized what you're saying was it was pointed out in the news. That the Senate had passed the Finance and Audit reform Act on that same day - that was the first time that I was aware of that."

Jules Vasquez
"But the House of Representatives, of which you are a member, passed it on March 18th."

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"Yes but I didn't know the Senate had passed it the same day as the date of the letter."

Jules Vasquez
"But you certainly knew it was a foot in the Legislative process?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"Yes, yes."

Jules Vasquez
"And you knew that what you were doing circumvented the spirit and the letter of that?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"As I said Jules, this was in progress for some time now so there was no question of time to hurry through with this letter in an effort to circumvent (to use your word) the Finance and Audit Act. That was not a motivation in this matter at all."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, would you agree with the rationale that in fact taking over IMMARBE is of some exigency in so far as our Fisheries Industry faces sanctions in European Union?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"Mr. Barrow has indicated that it is an urgent requirement for him to do this. I would have respected that - had he briefed the National Assembly on the matter and given us the reasons and the rationale of why he thinks it's an urgent matter. If he had briefed me, called me and talked to me about the matter."

And moving on from that Fonseca also discussed the meeting he had this morning with the UNIBAM executive. They wanted to talk to him about the gender policy – which the opposition last week said should be trashed. The party did that after a meeting with the Belmopan Churches – set up by Cayo south Area Rep Julius Espat. Well today, Espat – who has publicly spoken out against homosexuals, was not there when Fonseca met with UNIBAM. But the party leader told us he wanted to hear their point of view:…

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"I think as a National Leader it's important for me to meet with all sides on any issue of such major importance. To hear from all sides and to make it absolutely clear that I am the leader of a party that is committed to equality, dignity of the human person, respect - that is critically important. Their concern is that the political leaders get a balanced view of the document, we have heard from the churches. I have met with the churches - they wanted an opportunity to meet with me and talk to me and share their views; that was essentially it. But I said to those I met with this morning, we absolutely need to give the churches, the teachers an opportunity to review this document. I said to them that I felt - not to withdraw the document for the sake of withdrawing but I really believe that the document is in jeopardy. I really believe that what the Prime Minister is doing, is saying 'well we'll support the National Gender Policy' but then whispering to the churches and other people 'well don't worry about it because it's just a document and nothing will ever come out of it, it won't see the light of day', that sort of hypocritical behavior is taking place. So it was a very frank and open discussion, both with the church leaders and the LGBT community, to hear from them. I'm always open to learning, opened to be informed and that was the spirit of both discussions."

Jules Vasquez
"So if we have a document reset and we start at ground zero again as the PUP have advocated - would you the Leader of the Opposition be in support of a policy which includes diverse gender orientation including homosexuality?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"I'm not going to state my position ahead of any discussions and consultations - that's the whole purpose of having the discussion and consultations. I want to hear the specific concerns of the churches, I want to hear, if you say you have a problem with for example, sexual orientation in the document - the definition of that, let's look at it and let's see what definition can be placed."

Jules Vasquez
"You can't suit everyone and at some point somebody will have to get offended and I'm asking you to come down on the principle. Should it be omni-inclusive or should it be more conventional and exclude certain lifestyle choices or orientation?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"I think the answer Jules won't be an answer that you will like. The answer is in the middle, it can't be all of that - it can't be one or the other, it will be somewhere in the middle."

And while Fonseca is desperately seeking middle ground in a highly polarized dispute, his former Cabinet colleague and law partner Godfrey Smith says he’s dodging. In his online column Flashpoint, Smith today weighed in on the gender policy. Of the position taken by the PUP last week, he writes, quote,

“The Opposition, with Pavlovian predictability, showed no real leadership and merely rushed to ally itself with the church leaders without pausing to recall that this revised policy builds on achievements of the first National Gender Policy developed by the PUP in 2002. It is therefore nonsensical to call for its complete withdrawal. Responsible leadership demands that the opposition state what aspects of the revised policy it disagrees with and why. If the Leader of the Opposition has creditably and publicly stated that the PUP not only embraces homosexuals but also embraces their rights as Belizeans then he couldn’t possibly have any difficulty with the paragraph stuck in the craw of the Christian coalition.”
End quote.

As former PUP Deputy Leader, Smith’s column is usually printed in the Belize Times, we’ll wait and see if this one will make it to the party organ.

Channel 7

#466575 - 06/14/13 06:11 AM Re: GOB Taking Over Ships, IBC Registry [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Former Attorney General Says PM’s Behavior Is Disgraceful

On Wednesday Prime Minister, Dean Barrow disclosed what he termed as another secret agreement by the PUP Administration. The Prime Minister said that the agreement, was signed between Belize International Services Limited, former Prime Minister, Said Musa, and the then Attorney General, Francis Fonseca, and it extended the contract to 2020. But today Fonseca told reporters that Mr. Barrow is creating mischief.


“It is the response of a prime minister, who in my view is desperate; he is presiding over a government in crisis, a government that is being rocked by scandals week after week and is typical Dean Barrow, whenever his back is against the wall, this is exactly what he does, he comes out with some bogus issue to try to divert the attention of the Belizean people away from the real problem eating away at his government: corruption, nepotism, incompetent; so, I want to make that very clear that that is what took place at the press conference; it was a show by a show man. The substantive issue he raised in terms of this allegation of some secret agreement, well, the original agreement was signed in 1993, ten years ago even before I became a member of parliament. The letter that he is talking about, the letter of 2005 which extended the agreement another 7 years, it was absolutely not a secret; this was a letter and agreement vetted by the Attorney General ministry and the Solicitor General.

At the time it was vetted by the official Ministry of Finance, it went through the Cabinet as I indicated yesterday. I remember that discussion very well in Cabinet because I was wearing two hats at the time, the Attorney General’s hat and the Minister of Education’s hat and we had a discussion about the entity, the company and the effectiveness of the company, how they had been performing, what sort of revenues were being brought in; it was of course a new international financial services company. This company had just created a new industry and we felt that it was being effective in sort of creating a better investment climate in the country. So, we thought the company was functioning well and so we had that discussion and I remember we talked about the revenues that were going to be accrued from the actual extension which was $3,000,000 BZD and I remember having a list of schools, because classroom was one of the things we wanted to do with the funds; schools from the Toledo district, the Stann Creek district and the Belize Rural area and we were talking about that; of course, other people were lobbying for other projects in their ministries but I remember that distinctly.

So, there is absolutely nothing secret about this and certainly we acted on the advice of the officials in the Ministry of the Attorney General and in the Ministry of Finance and as had been shown and as was revealed yesterday at the press conference, the Financial Secretary, Joe Waight knew fully well what was taking place. In fact, the letter that was produced at the press conference shows that he, in fact acknowledged receipt of the $1.5 million and in fact, that letter that he acknowledged receipt of the monies was copied to the legal counsel in the Ministry of Finance, Mr. Ghian Ghandi at the time.

So, he knew very well what was going on; the files are there; we left everything in the opinion of the Solicitor General in this matter at the Office of the Attorney General at the Ministry of Finance and how is it that the Prime Minister didn’t disclose the letter from Joe Waight? Why was it so convenient for him to say everything else but to reveal that Joe Waight had acknowledged the receipt of the money? He wanted to be mischievous and create the impression that he didn’t know that the government had in fact receive this money; this is absolute disgraceful behavior on the part of the leader when he knew very well that there was a record that showed that the money had been received by the government and acknowledge by the Financial Secretary of this country.”

Fonseca says that while one can raise the argument that the then government should have confined the agreement to the term of the government in office rather than to extend it beyond its five-year term in office, the PUP did nothing illegal.


#466583 - 06/14/13 06:48 AM Re: GOB Taking Over Ships, IBC Registry [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Secret contract? But Financial Secretary Joe Waight knew

Prime Minister Dean Barrow was very vocal about what he called a secret agreement between G.O.B. and Belize International Services Limited at his press conference on Wednesday. In his own words, the PM said that nobody was aware of that agreement, not legal counsel Gian Gandhi or the Financial Secretary or anybody in the public service.  Well apparently that’s not quite true. Mike Rudon has the story.

Mike Rudon, Reporting

The Government of Belize is allegedly in breach of a contract signed with Belize International Services Limited, which operated the International Business Companies Registry and the International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize, IMMARBE. BISL maintains that it currently holds a valid agreement to operate until 2020 on an extension granted in 2005. Government says that extension agreement was an infamous secret document concocted behind closed doors and privy only to BISL and signors for G.O.B. at the time, then Prime Minister Said Musa and then Attorney General Francis Fonseca. So G.O.B. has refused to honor the extension to June 2020 and has assumed control of the registries in question.

That’s for background, and now we turn to the documents. This agreement signed on March twenty-fourth 2005 between G.O.B. and BISL states that in consideration of a payment of one point five million dollars U.S., the Government agrees and confirms the extension of the duration of the Agreement to eleventh June 2020.

Six weeks after, on May thirteenth 2005, the Ministry of Finance issued a letter asking that one point five million dollars US payable by Belize International Services Limited be remitted to the Central Bank’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. The purpose was explicitly stated as follows – for the purchase of the option to manage and operate the International Business Companies Registry and the Shipping Registry from 2003 to 2020.

The letter is signed by Joseph Waight for Financial Secretary and it was copied to the Hon. Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Governor of the Central Bank of Belize and the Legal Counsel in the Ministry of Finance, Gian Gandhi.

So fast-forward to the present and this letter sent to Belize International Services Limited from the Ministry of Finance. The letter refers to the agreement for extension and states, “We must say that we are appalled by this document which we have not seen before, as no copy could be found in our record.”

And with that the letter proceeds to instruct BISL that the government would assume control of the IBC Registry and IMMARBE with effect from June eleventh 2013. This letter is signed by Joseph Waight, the Financial Secretary. And yes, the Joseph Waight who is appalled at the agreement which he has never seen in his life is the same Joseph Waight who dealt with payment for that agreement in 2005. And we note for context that in 2005 the specific document which mentions the extension agreement was also copied to the governor of the Central Bank and the Legal Counsel in the Ministry of Finance.

In his press conference on Wednesday Prime Minister Barrow’s explanation was that his Financial Secretary must have had a memory lapse.

News Five attempted to get comment from Financial Secretary Joseph Waight today, but we were told that he is on leave. While it is now certain that the agreement of 2005 was not secret despite that assertion by Prime Minister Dean Barrow, it is just as certain that there will be a very protracted and expensive legal battle in the months ahead, as Belize International Services Limited has stated that because of the breach of contract, the Government will be liable for some sixty million dollars US in damages. 

More litigations ahead. Government takeover not legally airtight

At his press conference Wednesday, the PM described the agreement to extend the contract for the management of the IBC and Ships Registries as having been signed off in secret and that nobody knew about it. When News Five produced a letter proving that the Financial Secretary as well as Gian Gandhi to whom the letter was copied knew of the extension to the agreement, the PM was forced to backpedal and describe it as a memory lapse on the part of the Financial Secretary. Today, Channel Five examined the Government’s legal case a little closer and found that it is hardly as airtight as the PM confidently made it sound Wednesday. The Financial Secretary in his letter to Belize International Services Ltd informed them that the agreement extending the management of the registries was contrary to the Finance and Audit Act. The PM at his press conference also pressed this point. But Channel Five’s investigations reveal that the agreement was extended on March twenty-fourth, 2005. The Finance and Audit Act was not amended until April first 2005, after the agreement was extended. The PM also suggested that the agreement was unlawful because it didn’t go to Cabinet and the national assembly. But yesterday both former PM Musa and Opposition Leader Fonseca said that it did. Even if it did not go to the Cabinet or the National Assembly, attorneys contacted by Channel Five say that a Master Agreement signed in 1993 providing for ten year extensions wouldn’t have to be taken to Cabinet each time an extension came up and certainly there would be no need to take it to the National Assembly. With dark litigation clouds gathering on the horizon, G.O.B. should brace for stormy seas ahead.

Channel 5

#466664 - 06/15/13 07:00 AM Re: GOB Taking Over Ships, IBC Registry [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline


“…Belize keeps an International Merchant Marine Registry responsible for vessel registration which does not ensure that vessels flying the flag of Belize have a genuine link with the country.”

- Official Journal of the EU, November 2012

“…Belizean authorities were not empowered to require information from and to conduct administrative investigations of operators, registered owners and beneficial owners of the fishing vessels flagged to Belize,” the journal said.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced on Wednesday that a primary justification for the Government of Belize’s decision to take full control of the merchant shipping registry, along with the registry for International Business Corporations (IBCs), which were being managed by Belize International Services Limited under a contract dating back to 1993, is to avert impending sanctions by the European Union (EU), which they have threatened to impose due to allegations that Belize—which has about 130 flagged vessels operating on the high seas, but only 28 of which land products in the EU—has been deemed uncooperative in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Barrow said that the EU, by way of the Commission decision of November 2012, has served Belize notice that unless the country gets control of the registry and does something to regularize the operations of the registry and in particular of the fishing fleet, its exports to the EU will be banned.

Barrow said that whereas the aquaculture sector has primarily been concerned over the threatened sanctions, he could not say that the ban on Belize’s exports to the EU would not also extend to two other major foreign exchange earners – banana and sugar.

As our newspaper reported in May, following the EU declaration, the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee recently blacklisted Belize on allegations that Belize and seven other countries—Cambodia, Fiji, Guinea, Panama, Sri Lanka, the Togolese Republic and the Republic of Vanuatu—had been uncooperative in the fight against IUU fishing.

The November 2012 edition of The Official Journal of the EU said there is a failure of Belize to fulfill its flag state obligations to combat IUU fishing on the high seas, which, it said, undermines the conservation and management of living resources.

Furthermore, the journal said, the EU’s mission in November 2010 revealed that Belize keeps an International Merchant Marine Registry responsible for vessel registration which does not ensure that vessels flying the flag of Belize have a genuine link with the country.

“The lack of such genuine link between that State and the vessels that are registered in its registry is in breach of the conditions set out for the nationality of ships in Article 91 of the Unclos. This conclusion is further confirmed by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) which considers Belize as a flag of convenience…” said the report.

EU officials were informed during their Belize mission of November 2010 that the relevant Belizean authorities were not empowered to require information from and to conduct administrative investigations of operators, registered owners and beneficial owners of the fishing vessels flagged to Belize.

“The mission said it also found malfunctions in the system of authorized observers carrying out verifications of activities of economic operators, in particular with regard to landings outside the Belizean exclusive economic zone (EEZ), since certain authorized observers were at the same time acting as representatives of beneficial owners of vessels flagged to Belize,” the report added.

Prime Minister Barrow indicated Wednesday that the Government would look at putting observers on the high seas vessels as a part of a larger suite of reform measures being proposed by the ministry responsible for fisheries.

Those proposed measures, he said, would be instituted as a first step to improve regulation and oversight of the sector; if the EU says these measures are not enough, then the Belize Government would consider deregistering, Barrow said.

“We will put in place measures to regulate and control the activities of the IMMARBE fishing fleet. We are perfectly conscious of the fact that if those measures don’t work, we may as a last resort have to deregister the fishing fleet. We’re not going to run any joke; we’re not playing games.

“The fact of our exports to the EU having to be protected at all costs means that if we have to deregister the fishing fleet or particularly those fishing in the EU zone, then we will do so only as a last resort, but people need to know about our seriousness,” Barrow said.

We understand that “high seas fishing” is a highly competitive sector, and if Belize abandons the sector now, it may never again get a space on the high seas.

The EU has also taken issue with the fact that Belize has yet to adopt new fisheries legislation, which has been formulated with EU aid.

Barrow said Wednesday that the EU had asked for refinements to the law, and they are working towards finalizing the law for passage.


#467265 - 06/26/13 06:01 AM Re: GOB Taking Over Ships, IBC Registry [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

PUP Release IMMARBE Cabinet Note

2 weeks ago, Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced that the Government of Belize would assume control over IBC and IMMARBE Registries from Belize International Services Limited.

Great significance was placed on the agreement, which Barrow referred to as “secret”, which he took great care to explain to the nation why it was illegal. He laid blame on the then Prime Minister, Said Musa, and the then Attorney General, Francis Fonseca, who is now the Leader of the Opposition. According to Barrow, both Fonseca and Musa unilaterally signed this agreement which extended BISL’s control over these registries until 2020.

Last week, the much veiled figure, Gian Ghandi, who has served as legal advisor to the Ministry of Finance for the last 13 years, sent out a an unprecedented release saying that he has extensively searched for any documented signs that this arrangement went to the Cabinet in 2005.

Well, the People’s United Party organ, the Belize Times, printed an article in last week’s issue of their newspaper, in which they fired back at PM Barrow.

In that article, they released photographs of Memorandum 21 of 2005, which outlined several agenda items in relation to IMMARBE.

But, what the pictures of the document reveal are that the Cabinet was supposed to discuss several international conventions such as The International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas; ILO Conventions regarding ship owners’ liability for sick and injured seamen and for Prevention of Accidents (Seafarers) Convention.

The documents do not explicitly outline that an Cabinet was supposed to have discussed the future of IMMARBE or any extension of BISL’s contract to 2020, but the newspaper asserts that discussions such as these did indeed take place at that March 15, 2005 Cabinet Meeting.

We contacted the Leader of Opposition, Francis Fonseca, for comment in relation to the release of this memorandum, but we got no response. We also called his office, but we were told that he was out.

Channel 7


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