U.D.P. says letter proves U.H.S. debt now G.O.B. loan
When Prime Minister Said Musa returns to Belize on Sunday, a welcoming committee will not be waiting. Many people, from all sides of the political spectrum, including his own party, will be looking to the P.M. for an explanation of recent bizarre developments regarding the Government guarantee of the Universal Health Services debt at the Belize Bank. The latest evidence indicates that, without the approval of the National Assembly and even his own Cabinet, Musa single-handedly converted a guarantee of the thirty-three million dollar U.H.S. debt into a binding loan agreement between Government and the Belize Bank. If true, it would not only violate the law, but could very well constitute the final nail in the P.M.'s political coffin. On April twenty-fifth, the day the Prime Minister left on an official visit to Taiwan, his administration released the text of the U.H.S. guarantee to the public. Prior to his departure, the P.M. maintained that negotiations to settle the debt were still underway. But since then, a letter sent to Musa by the Belize Bank indicates that at that time, there was nothing left to negotiate. Dated May second, Bank Chairman Philip Johnson refers the Prime Minister to a settlement deed signed on March twenty-third. The letter indicates that the U.H.S. debt is now the Government's debt, complete with payment schedule and usurious rates of interest. The first payment was due on the twenty-third of April, but because no money was sent, the Bank informs the Government that: "Failure to make payment constitutes default under the terms of the Loan Note. We require you to make payment forthwith and draw your attention to the fact that interest on overdue payments shall bear interest at a default rate of seventeen percent per annum. We look forward to receiving payment without delay. We expressly reserve all our rights under the above arrangement, including our right to call for the Principal Sum and all accrued and default interest to be immediately repaid."
The letter has left more than a few people with their mouths open. This morning the United Democratic Party held a press conference to react to the latest Johnson letter and outline their list of demands to the Musa administration.
"Deliberately, with malice aforethought, this man secretly converts the already illegal guarantee into a loan that expressly violates the terms and provisions of the Finance and Reform Act number twelve of 2005."
Janelle Chanona, Reporting
With a copy of a letter from the Belize Bank demanding payment of the Universal Health Services debt under a signed deed of settlement in hand, this morning Leader of the Opposition Dean Barrow openly accused the Prime Minister of deception. The basis of Barrow's claim is that only four days ago, People's United Party Secretary General Henry Usher denied the existence of such a document. Usher went on to indicate that members of the Public Finance Committee would in fact be going back to the Bank for better terms.
Henry Usher, P.U.P. Secretary General
"The sub-committee of Cabinet as appointed by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister or really his committee that he appointed is prepared to go back to the Belize Bank to negotiate this matter, yes."
"And what would be the leverage there that they would use?"
"That would be something that would have to be discussed in Cabinet. I'm certain that if the legal advice is that the Prime Minister must take it to the House of Representatives then he will take it to the House of Representatives. I have no doubt about that."
Dean Barrow, Leader of the Opposition
"The Prime Minister is guilty ladies and gentlemen of serial lies, serial lies. Lies to the Cabinet, lies to the Public Finance Committee, lies to the nation-in fact as it turns out, lies to his own son, because his son, Henry Charles Usher, is the Secretary General of the People's United Party."
"And he flatly denied that there was any settlement deed much less loan agreement that the Prime Minister had entered into. So the man lies to his own son, hangs him out to dry, sacrifices him publicly on this altar of fraud and conspiracy."
"This is entirely on the Prime Minister. He did all of this on his own. Everything that I know about constitutional law and everything that you know about democracy tells us both that this man is obliged as a matter-not of honour, but of duty and of law to resign. The second call that we make ladies and gentlemen, we demand that there be immediate disclosure to the United Democratic Party and to the public of that loan note, of the settlement deed, of any other document that is in any way connected to this U.H.S. debt to the Belize Bank which the Government of Belize has now assumed. No wonder that in the letter to A.C.B., Philip Johnson could have told them that they were not aware of all the facts. The tone of the letter and the arrogance apart, what he was saying was true. At that time, none of us knew that there was this loan note."
Barrow has promised to write to the Prime Minister and Financial Secretary Dr. Carla Barnett demanding the financial information as well as a letter to Speaker of the House Elizabeth Zabaneh to call a meeting of the House of Representatives for May eighteenth to lay the guarantee and loan note on the table.
"If the Speaker of the House does not heed the request for a meeting of the House, if the President of the Senate does not heed the request for the meeting of the Senate, the United Democratic Party will take to the streets. It is a constitutional matter; we want to solve it in a constitutional fashion. But if we are denied the opportunity to go to the National Assembly, we will go to the streets."
During today's press conference, Barrow and the U.D.P. also called on public officers in the Ministry of Finance to refuse to comply with any orders to make payment to the Belize Bank in settlement of the U.H.S. debt. Our newsroom's attempts to solicit comment from officials of the People's United Party were unsuccessful as the usual spokesmen indicated that the party is not making any public statements until the Prime Minister's return. That position was reiterated this evening by a press release from the Office of the Prime Minister. The release maintains that "government's efforts to settle the Universal Health Services debt ... are ongoing" and goes on to contend that because the matter has "become the subject of legal action ... we are restrained in our ability to fully respond." The document goes on to state that the Cabinet and the Public Finance Committee, have planned to meet in Belmopan on Monday to "discuss and develop a structured solution to this important national issue."