Mark Espat will head government's Superbond Renegotiation Team. That's the news coming out of a meeting held this morning in Belize City.
It had been rumoured for a few days - and this morning the Amandala reported that Espat had been asked to serve as a key finance advisor for the Government of Belize, to help renegotiate the billion-dollar super bond.
The Amandala reported that Espat and the Prime Minister would meet today to discuss the proposal - and so we went to wait outside that meeting at the Prime Minister's Belize City Office on Coney Drive.
Here's what we saw:..
Jules Vasquez reporting
The elevator at the Whitfield Tower opened to unveil the starting line-up for government's Superbond renegotiation team - Senior Advisor Alan Slusher, Mark Espat, Minister Godwin Hulse and the Prime Minister.
"We understand it's the Superbond team. Could you elaborate?"
PM Dean Barrow
"Well, it is a discussion with view to forming a Superbond team indeed."
"How will we proceed from here? It's not like we are going to meet the creditors Monday."
PM Dean Barrow
"No, absolutely not. These discussions this morning were very preliminary. We are trying to put flesh on the bare bones of the determination to proceed to engage the creditors. That's as far as we got this morning."
"Who will be on this team?"
PM Dean Barrow
"The Governor of the Central Bank, the Financial Secretary, the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank, Advisor Allan Slusher, Minister Godwin Hulse and we expect the team to be led by Mark Espat."
"How consequential is this that you are able to retain the services of the person who negotiated the original Superbond?"
PM Dean Barrow
"Very consequential indeed. He has the experience and he has the contacts still with those who possess the skills. It is very consequential indeed. Let me hasten to make the point, since I know that there are very many who will read very much into my request to Mark that he heads this team: Let me point out that this is for country. The request is in no way political. This is trying to make use of the skills and wherewithal of somebody who is supremely qualified to lead a process that is of fundamental interest to the country and to Belizeans."
Mark Espat, Team Leader- Superbond Team
"Well, the Prime Minister reached out to me earlier this week to ask whether I would consider in a professional capacity to head up the team that would look at Belize's debt dynamics, how much money we owe, especially to our commercial creditors and to see whether those conditions would justify going back to the table and working with them for a better scenario for Belize."
"I believe that it is a different time and that once we look at the debt dynamics and once it is clear that a restructuring or some re-alignment is justified that we would be able to make a strong case in that scenario."
"I read in the Amandala this morning that there is no political angle on this for you because you are retired from politics. Is that right?"
"Jules, I am grateful for the opportunity to have served Belize and the people of Albert for 3 terms from 1998 until the elections this year and I would want to hope that we made some difference along the way. But, yes, that is my decision: that I have enjoyed my time as an elected politician and I have appreciated and have been grateful for the confidence of the people. This assignment is entirely in a private and professional capacity."
Minister Godwin Hulse, Member, Superbond Team
"The Prime Minister when he made the announcement, we discussed and he offered that I be a member of the re-negotiating team, so to speak. This is going to be a team effort. We've all agreed that Mr. Espat will lead this team based on, of course, his knowledge and involvement with the players with whom he had originally negotiated with."
"I bring the support from the Cabinet and of course my personal concern is that we do something about this. I have always recognized long ago that it is heavy on the tax payers of Belize and it is resources we are paying that we really could be using locally."
"What is the optimal outcome that you see Belize being able to get from this?"
Hon. Godwin Hulse
"It is hard to say, but for us I can say we would like to settle for nothing less than.... a haircut would be lovely - we are looking a little bit of star gazing there - or a very long repayment schedule and extension of the debt repayment and absolutely significant lowering in interest rate would be magnificent."
Now this Superteam has its work cut out for it - as the next payment with the stepped-up interest rate is due in August.
As noted in the story, Espat, as a senior minister in the Musa administration, was the point person in negotiating the original Superbond in 2005. And as onerous as that is - the Superbond is actually a softening of the blow - and came about as bailout package when the Musa Administration could no longer service its commercial debts.
But beyond the strict finance maneuverings - politically, it is a major coup for the Barrow administration to now retain the professional services of what had been one of the stars of the PUP.
And while there is certainly bitter grumbling from within that party - Espat severed his ties with the PUP when elections were called.
Barrow offers Mark Espat super bond job
The Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) issued a statement on Tuesday, March 13, declaring that Mark Espat and Cordel Hyde, who stepped down as standard bearers in Albert and Lake I, respectively—two of the key divisions lost by the PUP in last week’s general elections -- have effectively resigned from the party, for life!
Indications are that Espat has been offered an option to serve as a key finance advisor for the Government of Belize, to help renegotiate the billion-dollar super bond. He told us that he has a meeting with Prime Minister Dean Barrow tomorrow to discuss the proposal further, and a decision should be announced shortly. For his part, Espat told us this does not mean he has become a UDP; he is done with politics, he affirmed.
The PUP said that the expulsion of Espat and his brother-in-law, Hyde, was decided at a meeting of national standard bearers held that same day at Independence Hall, Belize City, at which they “unanimously supported the motion that by their actions, Mark Espat and Cordel Hyde have effectively resigned from the People’s United Party and can no longer hold any position in the Party nor run for any seat on a PUP ticket.”
The declaration is strikingly similarly to the March 2011 statement United Democratic Party chairman Patrick Faber made to Marcel Cardona, former Orange Walk East area representative, indicating to Cardona that by his actions in Parliament, in strongly criticizing the government’s budget, he had “constructively resigned” from the UDP. Cardona was since removed from the UDP side of the House, and regarded as non-affiliated.
For his part, Hyde, who is now overseas to spend time with his ill son, had resigned as standard bearer for Lake I in February 2012, the month before early elections were called, citing his son’s illness, while Espat had soon after resigned as standard bearer, citing internal party concerns.
Amandala asked Espat for his reaction to the PUP statement, and he told us that he had already made the announcement that he is retiring from electoral politics.
He told us that he is thankful for his period of service as Albert area rep: “Hopefully, I made a difference,” he told us.
He added, “Thanks for the time of service, the opportunity to serve Belize, Albert and the party.”
Espat may very well move on to be the Barrow administration’s local point-man to work with the international advisors in the renegotiation of the billion-dollar super bond.
Espat, as a minister of government in the Musa administration of 2003-2008, had been the key person for government doing the leg work to restructure the government’s very burdensome debt, resulting in the current super bond arrangement, which has proven very difficult for the Government to service.
Espat told us, when we asked him whether Prime Minister Barrow has approached him to assist with the bond restructuring: “Yes, I have been approached and asked whether in a professional capacity I would be willing to lead that effort, and I haven’t made a decision yet.”
He said that offer came after the March 7th election, and he clarified that this would not be a political appointment, but an advisory service to the Government, to seek a reduction in the interest rate and a lengthening of the amortization period.
As for any special carve-out post within the Barrow administration for Hyde, Espat’s close comrade, he told us that he does not know of any such offer, but “I think Cordel would be—is a tremendous asset to Belize. He has a lot to contribute.”
There has been talk in public circles that he would get an ambassadorial post, but Hyde indicated to our newspaper today that he has received no offer from the Barrow administration.