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#497594 - 11/05/14 04:17 AM PUP Determined To Block Petrocaribe Spending
Marty Offline
Last week Wednesday, we told you how the PUP filed a lawsuit against the Barrow Administration in an attempt to block the Government from spending any more of the Petrocaribe Money. To hear the Prime Minister tell it, that's an invitation for his government to heap condemnation on the PUP, first, for mismanaging Patrocaribe when they started the programme in 2007, and, second, for blocking a programme that's currently spending millions on national infrastructure projects.

The Barrow Administration has already stuck back with pro-Petrocaribe ads which air on this and other newscasts - and we even hear that UDP supporters will protest against the opposition at the next House Meeting on November 18th.

So while the UDP is gathering forces to fight for Petrocaribe, the PUP is responding by crystallizing its opposition to the Government loan motion for 114 million US dollars, the current total draw down of Petrocaribe funds - which is pending approval before the House of Representatives.

Here's how the PUP explained its position at a press conference held this evening:

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"The loan motion seeks to ratify and confirm what in our view is illegal borrowing and spending by this UDP government since September 2012. The manner in which the borrowing and spending has been conducted is contrary to the intent of the act and has defeated and frustrated the intent of the act which is to provide for better provisions regulating public revenue and expenditure. When the line between the Petrocaribe fund and the UDP coffers is blurred, we in the PUP have a responsibility to question and challenge the use of those funds."

Hon. Julius Espat - Chairman, Public Accounts Committee
"The Prime Minister of Belize in 2008 convinced the Belizean people, he convinced the unions, he convinced the Chamber of Commerce, he convinced the churches that he would do things differently; that he would be accountable; that he would show transparency and he was for good governance. Low and behold in 2012 when this loan started to develop he went against every single that he promised."

Andrew Marshalleck, SC - Attorney For Opposition Party
"What the loan motion that has been tabled in the House has revealed is that the executive branch of government has been engaged in borrowing millions of dollars and also in spending millions of dollars without the authorization of the National Assembly. At core that is the executive usurping functions of the legislature."

Hon. Julius Espat
"Governments become complacent because of this money. They believe that that is all they have to depend on. This money will not continue forever. We do not see that the Prime Minister and this government is spending enough time to be able to be creative enough to drive this economy when this money dries up and that is something the Belizean people have to realize too."

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"He has betrayed the trust and confidence of the Belizean people and has been exposed as a hypocrite and a bearer of false promises."

Hon. Julius Espat
"I am not an attorney, but in my layman mind what the Prime Minister has done and what the Prime Minister is trying to do to rectify his error, based on the amendment that he has put forward in 2010, I consider him a criminal."

So, the injunction being sought from the Supreme Court seeks to block the Government from accessing more money from the Petrocaribe Agreement, until it gets the proper approval from the House of Assembly. Today, the PUP said that the case is important because Barrow's actions as Prime Minister while dealing with the Petrocaribe Money, is a perfect example of those "malignant tumours" that he likes to talk about when referring to the last PUP administration:

Andrew Marshalleck
"At the root of the claim is an allegation that the executive is usurping legislative function that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet is making decisions that properly belong to the National Assembly/ But it's not only that the decisions have been made, it's also that they've been acted upon and acted upon for a number of years in this way. This kind of problem , this kind of usurpation of legislative function is precisely the problem that arose and that the Caribbean Court of Justice was so critical of in the Belize Bank case and gave rise to the very quote that the Prime Minister is so fond of and I know you all know which one I am talking about; it says and it was from Mr. Justice Saunders: Prime ministerial governance, a priority of check and balances to restrain and over weaning executive, these are the malignant tumors that eat away at democracy. The section and law doesn't contemplate seeking authorization after you've already borrowed, it uses the language "shall only be validly entered into" which makes clear that the approval is to be sought before the borrowing. And two; the section speaks to borrowing from commercial lenders in capital market, so the attempt to authorize the borrowing by way of the motion is misguided."

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"This legal claim is not an attack on development and the UDP apologist would like you to believe. It is a legal claim on behalf of the Belizean people to stop the abuse and misuse of public funds."

Andrew Marshalleck
"The injunction sought in the court proceedings do not seek to restrain the spending of Petrocaribe monies without more. The government is free to spend Petrocaribe monies in any way it considers fit providing of course that it gets the authorization of the National Assembly. So what the injunction seek to do is to compel compliance with the law in doing the things that they have been doing."

But, as we showed you last week, the Prime Minister dismissed the case as frivolous and an attempt by the Opposition to get political mileage. Today, we got a reaction on that from the PUP, but first, we re-air the Prime Minister's comments for context. here's what he had to say:

FILE: October 30, 2014
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
"I believe honestly and with the utmost conviction that this challenge to the Petrocaribe program and this effort to stop the Petrocaribe spending is a case that the opposition cannot win either in the supreme court or in the court of public opinion."

Godfrey Smith, SC - National Campaign Manager, PUP
"You know that Prime Minister's stock answer to every legal challenge that is brought against any of his government's actions. But he doesn't stop there. When the judgments go against him he also publicly rebuffs the judges who made the decisions, so we are not at all surprised and I am sure neither are you that he has characterized wrongly this action as frivolous. It is anything but frivolous."

But, as you may have noticed, the Opposition's critics have been pointing out that when the Musa Administration entered their version of the Petrocaribe agreement with Venezuela in 2007, the Belizean public didn't get any benefits that they can point to. There has also been the suggestion that funds were mismanaged. We put those tough questions to the Opposition Leader, and here's how he responded:

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"The UDP rhetoric and propaganda that is at the foundation of every response to criticism or challenge is well the PUP use to do it. That no longer carried weight with the Belizean people. That rhetoric has worn thin."

Daniel Ortiz
"Is that when you explain what's your position on this an acknowledgement that the PUP version of the Petrocaribe initiative was tainted with corruption?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"Absolutely not. The point I have been making and I've been making this point consistently, we have consistently said and what I said today and I repeat again is that we have to draw the line. This action is not about the past. This action is about the future. We have to start to give proper adherence to these laws, we have to start sometime and in 2014, that is where the People's United Party is."

Daniel Ortiz
"In order to show that example of accountability, would your PUP now be willing to disclose what was the use of the funds generated from the 2007 version of the Petrocaribe funds? We are informed through credible reports that some39 million dollars were generated and there isn't any showing of what that benefit did for the Belizean people."

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"I don't accept what you are saying. I don't know where you are getting that from. I don't know the amounts of money. I know it was a very small pittance compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars that Mr. Barrow has raised. So it was a small pittance and if there was not proper accountability for those funds then yes we have to condemn that as well. The point is if it was wrong then it is wrong now."

Daniel Ortiz
"How do you generate the moral quantum to convince the Belizean people when your government has that taint of allegation still hanging over its head?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"I think that's the challenge of every politician - the challenge of very government. We make our case to the Belizean people. I don't accept the premise of your question, but we make our case to the Belizean people."

We'll keep following closely how this lawsuit develops, and the parallel developments in the House of Representatives where it will be debated on November 18th.

Channel 7

#498112 - 11/19/14 02:51 AM Re: PUP Determined To Block Petrocaribe Spending [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Petrocaribe Funds: “A Strange Creature”

And so the Petrocaribe Loan Motion has now passed the House of Representatives. It still faces a challenge in the Supreme Court, but for now, the House has approved 114 million US dollars loaned to Belize from Alba Petrocaribe Belize Energy Limited between 2012 and 2014.

But, that figure is going up every month - and it varies depending on the world price of fuel and the rate of local consumption. That makes it unusual - because it increases monthly - but Government can't ask for House approval in advance, because no one knows what the figure will be on a month to month basis.

The Prime Minister discussed this today:...

Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
"Now I earlier indicated that I had brought this motion to the House after I asked a public question by Channel 7's Jules Vasquez and it was a question that fairly arose as to why I hadn't done so before. Well the requirements of our Finance and Audit Act mandate parliamentary approval for any GOB borrowing that's upwards of 10 million dollars. But this Petrocaribe arrangement is and must have become clear from my description a strange creature, almost what the lawyers called sui generis, peculiar unto itself. It is then no straight forward loan from a bank or other financial institution with a known principal amount borrowed for a fix period at a determine rate of interest. As I have set out this purchase of fuel principally on credit is kind of a movable feast. The amount of the finance portion, the sum being borrowed, since we are now putting it in those terms, can never be known beforehand. It clearly depends on the volumes of fuel shipments we received in any given period and the volumes fluctuate from month to month. It also depends on the price we pay and the quantum of that price we retain for ourselves and these also fluctuate in accordance as I've said with the price on the ever volatile global oil market. We thus have had to struggle with exactly how we frame this motion and that what point during the ongoing cycle we come to the House. We clearly can't come before hand since the essential particular, the amount we are borrowing is unknowable until we actually receive it. Do we come at every point during the fiscal year? Once the receipts of the finance portion exceed 10 million dollars? Or do we wait until the end of the fiscal year then pass a validation motion covering the exact figure receive for that year? It is the latter that we are doing now and that is the way we will continue to proceed in the future for as long as this program lasts."

The loan motion next goes to the senate. No date has been set for hearing in the Supreme Court.

Channel 7

#498358 - 11/26/14 03:52 AM Re: PUP Determined To Block Petrocaribe Spending [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Will PUP Take Petrocaribe Funded Christmas Cheer

As we said, Petrocaribe is expected to factor significantly into this Cayo North election. Indeed, it is the driving force behind politics right now - and if you don't believe that, just ask the thousands who were rolled up to Belmopan to defend the programme a week ago.

Petrocaribe is being used principally for infrastructure projects, but it is also used the Christmas Cheer programme. Last year Christmas, the opposition got shared into the Cheer programme with an allotment - albeit a lesser one - for each PUP representative.

But, they took it - one prominent opposition member even asked for it in cash to reimburse himself for toys he had already bought.

But, that was before the Petrocaribe challenge - since then the PUP has gone to court to try and shut down the programme as unauthorized spending.

So, does that mean they will say no to Christmas Cheer? Well, that's a different matter - the leader explained:..

Jules Vasquez
"Christmas cheer is coming up again and that is funded, we are told, through that fund. Will you all accept the opposition money through that or will you all say its irretrievable tainted and refuse it?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"No decision has been made Jules. First of all we didn't get any mother's day cheer and that was the last handing out of funds, so there is no legitimate expectation that we will be participating..."

Jules Vasquez
"But you got Christmas cheer last year."

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"Christmas cheer we got, but after that the other program has been the mother's day cheer where they decided they don't want to include the PUPs, so I have no legitimate expectation that we will be included in the Christmas program. If we are advised that we will be by the government, then I will take it to the executive and the parliamentary caucus, the representatives, for a decision."

Jules Vasquez
"Shouldn't you just refuse it though, based on the party's position?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"Well you can say. That's a point that can be made, but I want to allow representatives to speak how they feel about it. We've taken it in the past and it's in a sense and accountable program in the sense that it's directly going not to us as representatives, but directly to people. So I think that has to be discussed."

The PUP executive will meet later this week.

Channel 7

#498805 - 12/09/14 03:56 AM Re: PUP Determined To Block Petrocaribe Spending [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

PUP Accepting Christmas Cheer

Christmas cheer - it's straight up political handouts - just in time for Christmas - a policy manifestation at the state level of the political patronage system invented by George Price - and still alive and well in Dean Barrow.

Here's how it works, courtesy of Petrocaribe funds, each UDP Representative gets one hundred and ten thousand dollars, and each PUP gets thirty five thousand dollars, courtesy of Petrocaribe to spend on their constituents. UDP standard bearers also get an allotment. Now, no one gets cash money; they get an allotment from the government treasury, which they then distribute amongst their constituents as they see fit.

It's ticklish for the PUP this year because they're in court challenging the spending of Petrocaribe money; in fact they asked the court to stop the government for spending the petr-bucks. And now, they're feeding from that same public trough.

Their opponents accuse them of hypocrisy - and yesterday at a political convention, the leader of the opposition told us it's not such a big deal:...

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"We run the risks of looking hypocritical, but we believe that of all the programs funed under the PetroCaribe program, this one in every respect perhaps the most transparent, the most accountable. We receive no monies. We submit an invoice and all the monies are then given directly through the Ministry of Human Development to the supplier of those goods and of course the representatives feel that its our money, its the people's money and the people in the divisions deserve an opportunity to participate in the program. We were also concern about equity. Obviously that has not been achieved. We understand the UDPs are getting I think $110,000, we are getting $35,000. But we are participating in the program."

Jules Vasquez
"Is this a case of cut me in or cut me out - in so far as there is room in my opinion for some corruption under the system. If you tell a business owner (you are not handling the money), but if you tell a business owner I am sending $30,000 worth of business you way - remember me, I need 10%."

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"Certainly not in our case."

Jules Vasquez
"Yes but it does happen. It seems that it's okay if you all are doing it."

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"I've explain myself. I've given an answer to why we've agreed to participate in the program. I am sure you could make many arguments..."

Jules Vasquez
"Yes but you are saying it is transparent because you all are involve. But I am saying for me as a tax payer....."

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"I'm saying it's transparent because those are the rules set by the financial secretary."

Jules Vasquez
"But you will agree there is still room for graft - if you cut a business owner...."

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"Not as far as we are concern. We will follow those rules strictly and adhere to them. We certainly expect the government to do the same."

Jules Vasquez
"It is high clientelism, the patronage imply in this program, is that irresistible in politics? Is that really the nature of politics?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"I think an argument can be made Jules, that it is irresistible and people need help. Its Christmas time, that's when people want something on their table; they want the ham, they want the turkey and so yes, there is an element of that. I certainly would not walk away from that suggestion."

Jules Vasquez
"And when you get that help, isn't it fair to say that you will give your people first which would be a PUP first situation and that's how it is. That's how it has to be. Its only $35,000 you got."

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"I can speak about Freetown; we give the most needy people in our division and those are people who support us and other who have not supported us in the past, but they are the most needy."

Channel 7

#498960 - 12/13/14 04:06 AM Re: PUP Determined To Block Petrocaribe Spending [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Hon. Julius Plays Scrooge Rejects GOB Christmas Cheer

It made big news 9 days ago when the PUP Secretary General wrote to the Financial Secretary accepting the Christmas Cheer program. Since then the leader of the opposition Francis Fonseca has praised Christmas Cheer, calling it transparent and accountable. But, it's funded by Petrocaribe Money and, in November, the opposition has taken government to court, to block spending of those funds.

The man leading that charge is PUP Cayo South Representative Julius Espat. He's also chairman of the public finance committee and today he took the high road by announcing that he wouldn't take the Cheer money. Now this is a sharp divergence from his party leader who seemed quite happy to take the Cheer funds.

So what accounts for the reversal? That's what we asked him today at his office in Belmopan:..

Hon. Julius Espat, PUP Cayo South Representative
"It was a decision based on principle. It was a decision when you have needy people in your constituency and so it was a balancing act trying to weigh the positive and the negative. But at the end I consulted with my local executive, the Cayo South executive, I spoke to each one of them. I called in our village leaders and I spoke to some of the villagers and then I spoke to my friends, my advisors and my family - that's how we normally do things in Cayo South. Before I make a decision we try to consult as best as possible. At the end of the day everybody agreed that we have to stand what we are fighting against and so at that point it was an easy decision for me. It coincided with what I originally thought. I was leaning towards accepting it originally. Once that decision was made I went to see the Party Leader and I explain to him what my problem was and at the end of the day I got his approval and his blessing to do so which to me continues to inspire me to have him as our leader. It inspires me to know that he believes in democracy. He believes that we can have differences of opinion and not sticking at that old status quo that what the boss says you have to do."

"At the original meeting of the national executive, there were 3 people that had objections that objected for us to accept the money and Party Leader was one, he believe that we shouldn't have accepted the money originally. That's why the interview with you that's what he had been saying. Everybody knew where I stood on it and that was clear from the beginning and Honorable Dolores Balderamos had also voiced her objection to receiving the funds. But before the meeting started the Party Leader made it clear, this is what I personally feel, but I want to run this party and I want to run the future government of this country in true democratic form and so he say we will abide by the decision of the majority."

So then, how is he going to assist for the resident of those 13 villages in his constituency? Well, he told us that he went around asking for donations in Cayo South and they've managed to come up with close to what he would have gotten from the Christmas Cheer program:

Hon. Julius Espat
"The problem with Cayo South is similar to other constituencies. Our people are suffering. The 14 area representatives that represent the opposition party get practically nothing from government resources to be able to help. So of course anything that signals to them that they will get less is not a happy scenario. But before I made the decision, I made sure that I went out to seek financing from the same Cayo South people, from my executive, from friends of Cayo South and people that believe in us and so we have been able to get sufficient financing for them not to be affected. Again, that's one of the thing that weigh on us to be able to make this decision. We are now prepared to go out and do what we have done before with or without the PetroCaribe stuff."

Daniel Ortiz
"The resources that you have amassed to compensate for not participating in the Christmas Cheer, is it enough to deal with....?"

Hon. Julius Espat
"It is never enough because I really don't believe in giving that much. Christmas is a special time and I understand that children are in need, so we spend a lot more on toys. But I believe that our resources should be used for other things that are more of helping community as we have been doing in Cayo South."

Daniel Ortiz
"But is it comparable to what you would have gotten?"

Hon. Julius Espat
"Yes, it is comparable."

In our last interview with the Prime Minister, you heard how he explained that any area representative asking for cash is against the rules. He condemned Julius Espat last year for making just such a request last year. So, today, we asked him about that. He says that the Prime Minister is deliberately mis-stating the facts. Here's how he explained his version of how that exchange went:

Hon. Julius Espat
"The real story is about this time last year I was chopping grass in front of my house when the Prime Minister passed on a Saturday in the vehicle and lowering the windows and said Merry Christmas Honorable and I said Merry Christmas Prime Minister and then he says oh you know this year we will give you all $25,000 to help your constituency and I said thank you Prime Minister and I said by the way, I have already ordered a container of toys. Is it possible for me to get a reimbursement of what I have paid on that already, can that be part of the program and he says sure man, send your information to the financial secretary and we will look at it and see what we can do for you - thank you very much sir. That's how it went. So I did. I sent it in because I thought he was an honorable man and I sent in the information to the financial secretary and the financial secretary spoke back to me and said Mr. Espat, I receive your information, I think everything is in order, I think everything is fine. Lo and behold, two days later the Prime Minister goes on TV and say that I want to ask for money and lo and behold this year he repeated it again. It just shows you the double face that a prime minister has. It shows you that he utilizes every single action that he does for political purposes and I have lost respect for him because of that."

Espat's first Christmas party, financed from donations within Cayo South, happens tomorrow.

Channel 7


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