The Universal Health Services (UHS) debt has been bedeviling the government of Prime Minister Dean Barrow for years, ever since the first high court ruling that the government was bound by the sovereign guarantee signed by the Said Musa government, but it is a debt that the Barrow government has decided it will not honor, notwithstanding rulings from several high courts, including Belize’s highest court, the Caribbean Court of Justice.
The Belize Bank has been relentless in its effort to collect payment of the debt, which has now ballooned to around 95 million dollars, with a six percent interest accruing.
On Tuesday, January 22, the Belize Bank prevailed in the Supreme Court of Justice Courtenay Abel, who ruled that the business taxes that the bank owes the government can be held against the unpaid UHS debt that the Government of Belize owes the Belize Bank.
Last December, Belize Bank filed for an enforcement order at the Supreme Court and this week, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin was scheduled to deliver his ruling on that application.
That ruling was not delivered and no new date has been set for the judgment to be delivered.
The Belize Bank, however, had another related action before the court in which the Commissioner of Income Tax and the Attorney General were named as defendants.
Essentially, what the bank wanted was to not pay its quarterly business tax for the first quarter of 2018, in the amount of 8.5 million dollars, but to write it off against the UHS debt of over 90 million dollars that the government was ordered to pay to the bank.
The Commissioner of Income Tax refused do what the bank wanted and tried to enforce the collection of the tax.
At the Supreme Court, the bank sought several remedies, three of which were agreed upon by Justice Abel.
Justice Abel found that the Commissioner of Income Tax was unreasonable when he refused to offset the bank’s business tax against the UHS debt, and that the Commissioner of Income Tax’s decision was disproportionate and therefore unlawful.
The court also said that the decision of the Commissioner not to allow the deduction of the bank’s tax debt from the judgment debt is unlawful and the court granted an order restraining the Commissioner of Income Tax from seeking to enforce the tax liability against the bank.
Belize Bank’s attorney Eamon Courtenay, SC, reportedly said that the bank will not pay its business taxes until the government pays the UHS debt.Amandala