At the recent Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank held in Washington, D.C. last week, Prime Minister Dean Barrow, Governor of the Fund and the Bank for Belize, made representations on the draft Annual Report for Belize, due to go shortly before the board of the IMF, indicating that he was unhappy with some comments in the report, which he believes were influenced by two attorneys representing the Ashcroft group of companies: Belizean attorney Eamon Courtenay, SC, and former U.K. Attorney General, Peter Goldsmith, QC.
The report, based on a June-July 2010 visit to Belize, is already due out. In an interview with Amandala today, Prime Minister Barrow said that the report “was clearly influenced by representations by Ashcroft’s crew.”
He said that the Ashcroft reps “...want the IMF to include the kind of language that would reflect their grossly misleading and damaging charge that the investment climate in Belize has gone to hell, because of us resisting Ashcroft and his arbitration award.”
The report did not exactly say that, said the Prime Minister. Although he classified the comments in the IMF report as “fairly neutral,” he said he quarreled about the fact that this issue was even mentioned in the report.
“No other investor has ever made any representation,” said Barrow, “This is one man,” even though references are made of a host of Ashcroft-controlled companies, said Barrow, in an attempt to try to pluralize the allegation against the government.
“This is one man’s vendetta – one man’s campaign... He is on a campaign and he is powerful,” the Prime Minister told us.
Along with Courtenay and Goldsmith on their visit to the IMF, said Barrow, was an American, a former official of the Bush administration whose name he could not immediately recall.
Barrow said that he had also learned on his Washington visit that the Ashcroft group had sent the IMF a letter that Belize had not been privy to, and “which was the cause of a great deal of hard talk from our side…”
According to the Prime Minister, there was some language in the draft report with which he was personally unhappy. This, he said, would be sorted out at the Board level. However, Belize won’t know if the report will be modified until the final report is public.
Apart from this, said the Prime Minister, the report was not much different from the usual IMF reports.
A July 1, 2010, release from the IMF said that the meetings in Washington, DC, entailed policy discussions, looking at such areas as the economic outlook for 2010, as well as the medium-term, and the government’s macroeconomic strategy.
The report noted, “Economic activity stagnated in 2009, as a result of the global slowdown and the lingering effects from the floods in 2008. Growth has resumed since late 2009, but the recovery is still narrowly based, while inflation appears to be picking up somewhat, driven by the rise in fuel prices.
“For 2010, the mission expects growth to resume modestly, and export prices and tourist receipts to recover slightly, allowing foreign reserves to stabilize at just over three months of imports of goods and services.
“Despite the recent tax revenue actions, the overall fiscal deficit is likely to widen in FY2010/11, owing largely to upward pressure on primary current spending and increased investment, while the public debt would remain high. The overall banking system appears liquid and well capitalized, but the mission is concerned about the rise in nonperforming loans (NPLs).”
The issue of non-performing loans has been highlighted as a concern by the Central Bank of Belize. As the country’s leading bank, the Belize Bank, led by Ashcroft, had been reported recently as having a rate of non-performing loans about six times the prudential benchmark of 5%.
Mr. Barrow told our newspaper that the principal reason he visited Washington for the meetings was to address concerns over the IMF report on Belize.
On that trip, he also attended the annual meeting of the World Bank Group and the Commonwealth Finance Ministers Meeting (CFMM).
A Government press release issued today, Thursday, October 14, said that attendees discussed such issues as the world economic outlook, poverty eradication, economic development and aid effectiveness.
“Ministers mapped out strategies for continuing to deal with the impact of the global economic crisis,” it added.
Other items of discussion were environmentally sustainable growth, as well as the debts of Small and Vulnerable States.