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#437973 05/15/12 07:40 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline OP
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Written by: Godfrey Smith

The Dassault Falcon 7X carrying British billionaire Lord Ashcroft had not landed on Belizean soil for a full three years, and with good reason. His million dollar campaign contribution in 2008 to the then opposition United Democratic Party had helped to make Dean Barrow prime minister of Belize, the small, impoverished Central American nation of which Ashcroft had once said, "if home is where the heart is then Belize is my home". But by 2009, Mr. Barrow had declared Lord Ashcroft - who had once served as Belize's UN ambassador and been nominated by the Government of Belize for a knighthood - public enemy number one and a "new age colonial master".

Mr. Barrow nationalized the highly profitable phone company once associated with Lord Ashcroft, enacted ad hominem legislation with stiff jail sentences for anyone seeking to arbitrate against the Belize government anywhere in the world and launched a sustained public relations campaign characterizing Ashcroft, Lord of Chichester, as the enemy of the Belizean people.

It was a risky, reckless move for a country dependent on foreign direct investment and highly vulnerable to external shocks. But Mr. Barrow gambled and rolled the dice, calculating that, if nothing else, expropriation of public utilities would ignite nationalistic fervor and secure his legacy as the great restorer of Belizean pride, dignity and nationalism. In much the same way that George W. Bush framed his presidency with the war on Iraq, so too, Mr. Barrow hinged his first term squarely on the partisan war against the so-called Ashcroft Alliance. Making his rounds on the local radio stations following the taking of the phone company, he declared that if the alliance wanted a war they should "bring it on".

The alliance did bring it on: in wave after wave of unending litigation across three continents, in theatres of war that included Belize courts, US courts, British courts and international arbitration tribunals. Every ruling was appealed and every piece of legislation challenged. Mr. Barrow resolved that it was not a war he was going to lose; he certainly seemed prepared to do anything to avoid at all costs the political embarrassment of defeat.

When the Belize Court of Appeal, in June of 2011, reversed the high court and ruled that the government had in fact unconstitutionally nationalized the phone company, Mr. Barrow initially accepted the court ruling but later that same night, under pressure from party hardliners, he re-seized the company with the aid of state security forces and then enacted highly controversial constitutional amendments in an attempt to neutralize and nullify the court of appeal judgment. The Jamaica Gleaner newspaper warned that the prime minister was placing Belize on a slippery slope.

It should have been obvious from the start that it was foolish to commit the sparse resources of a tiny country to an expensive litigation war with no end in sight. Flashpoint had cautioned in its December 9th 2009 instalment that : "In protracted battles in which opponents are roughly evenly matched, a truce is sometimes declared to save money, time and resources, the initial fit of egotistical pique that precipitated the battle having succumbed to the reality of the pointlessness of it."

The government and the alliance could be considered roughly evenly matched, except that one was using taxpayer's money in an unproductive, unbudgeted enterprise for which the approval of the people had never been sought; the other was using private resources. But Mr. Barrow ploughed on, inflated by his perception of widespread support from the people for his patriotic defence of them. He ignored the warnings that foreign direct investment was dangerously plummeting, the Belizean economy stagnating and that business houses everywhere were complaining bitterly. Meanwhile, spiraling violent crime was getting Belize free international recognition as the fifth most dangerous country on the planet and dead bodies of feuding inner city youth were piling up in the streets of south side Belize.

Mr. Barrow called national elections a year before they were due, to get, he said, a mandate from the people to continue his defence of the country's patrimony against the predatory alliance. The government was confident of a huge victory to the point of being complacent; their analysts were predicting that the party would capture even more parliamentary seats.

Mr. Barrow barely managed to hang on to the reins of government. In fact, but for the ignoble, treacherous resignation by two opposition safe-seat parliamentarians two weeks before the election, the government would have lost. Having captured 25 of 31 seats and by staggering margins just four years earlier, to have won by the skin of its teeth, aided by treachery, could hardly be considered a mandate or a vote of confidence. A 66 vote difference kept Mr. Barrow's government in power. One of the PUP deserters re-emerged as a high-flying ambassador and economic advisor; the other was offered a high-profile diplomatic post in New York.

It was predictable then that rapprochement would be sought, and fittingly too, in the Colonial Garden of the Radisson Hotel. The stage used to signal to the public the commencement of negotiations between the government and the alliance was the Belize Bank's 25th anniversary celebration. In a carefully worded 15 minute key note address confined to the context of the Central Bank of Belize's ongoing dispute with the Belize Bank, Prime Minister Barrow declared that the time had come to choose cooperation over confrontation. He extended the olive branch to the Belize Bank; one cynical guest muttered wittily that an olive tree would have been more appropriate. The Belize Bank chairman, Lyndon Guiseppi, accepted the peace offering and pledged to work with the government while Lord Ashcroft stood listening among the audience like just another invited guest. Noticeably absent were the Governor of the central bank and those two beneficiaries of Ashcroft generosity in former times, Ministers Michael Finnegan and Boots Martinez.

The road to a full and final settlement of outstanding issues between the alliance and the Government of Belize will be difficult and tricky to navigate, requiring large doses of compromise on both sides. Mr. Barrow will be beset by hardliners in his party who view any compromise as capitulation to foreign interests. The opposition will naturally prefer if the hostilities continue to keep the government distracted (as it has been for the past four years) from the critical issues of crime, employment and economic growth. But Belizeans should support the process. Unless and until a settlement is found, Belize will continue to slip further into the economic hole it has dug for itself; the country will be consigned to another decade of stagnation while politicians desperately divert taxpayers' money away from stimulating investment and economic growth and sink it into unsustainable programmes to keep the unproductive pacified and the steadily advancing criminals at bay.


Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline OP
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PM Barrow & Ashcroft Getting Ready To "Kumbaya"?

On Friday night, the Belize Bank celebrated its 25th Anniversary - and the man who owned the bank for much of those 25 years, Michael Ashcroft jetted in for the event. It's noteworthy because his acolytes say that Ashcroft has not visited Belize for three years, since BTL was nationalized.

And he kept his distance because of a very cold, bitter and protracted war between the Ashcroft Alliance and the Barrow Administration. But on Friday night - relations seemed to be thawing.

Not only was Ashcroft in town, but the featured speaker at the Belize Bank gala was Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow. They didn't quite hold hands and sing Kumbaya, but the Prime Minister made it clear that - as regards the Belize Bank - which has been kept on a very tight leash by its regulator, the Central Bank - it's time to - as he put it - replace confrontation with cooperation.

Here are portions of his remarks from the event at the Radisson:...

Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
"The state would want to see an ordered and mutually supportive relationship between the financial system players and the financial system regulators."

"It is no secret though that in this regard confrontation rather than cooperation has been too much the norm in recent times. This is discomforting all round and a large dose of shared goodwill is now required to address the problem."

"Though nobody is naive enough to expect that the regulatory relationship will ever turned adversarial. But the occasions when this happens must be the exception rather than the rule and a financial system cannot function properly in climate of unceasing litigation. A way must therefore be found out of this thick at this briar patch."

"Ladies and gentlemen it must be clear by now that I am asking for some sort of middle ground between commercial banks and the regulator."

"Striking the right balance is not nearly as "jesuitical" an exercise as might first appear. If the ultimate authority of the central bank is respected and the central bank is return is realistic and flexible a via media can indeed can be found."

"Government as the ultimate custodian of the public welfare is needless to say ready to help. So I declare to the Belize Bank tonight that we fully expected to partner with us to use its leadership role, its ingenuity and its resources to help find a way out of the ompass."

Lyndon Guiseppi, CEO - BBC Holdings
"Honorable Prime Minister I thought I heard the extension of an olive branch and I am one of those who believe that people should never stop speaking. I think a lot of the problems in the world occur when people stop talking and what I heard this evening is extremely encouraging to me."

After the speeches, Barrow and Ashcroft greeted each other cordially - and then Barrow posed for pictures with the Bank's executive team. The Belize bank is the largest Bank in Belize - and though - recently its balance sheet has failed to impress - the Bank is hoping that a new logo and motto can indicate, or spur a change of direction.

Notably, while Barrow indicated some easing of regulatory pressures at the banking level - according to our reports - neither the Governor of the Central Bank, the Chairman of the Board, nor any of the deputies were in attendance.

Notably, Barrow was also the only minister of Government in attendance, accompanied by his Minister of State, Santino Castillo and CEO for Trade and Investment Mike Singh.

Channel 7

Joined: Jul 2010
Posts: 1,465
Lyndon Guiseppi, CEO - BBC Holdings
"Honorable Prime Minister I thought I heard the extension of an olive branch and I am one of those who believe that people should never stop speaking. I think a lot of the problems in the world occur when people stop talking and what I heard this evening is extremely encouraging to me." If these two Gentlemen can find common ground it gives hope that any of us can resolve our disputes for the sake of the bigger picture.

My friends call me Judyann
Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline OP
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Barrow urges Belize Bank to help break impasse

The Belize Bank has a 110-year history, dating back to the founding of the Bank of British Honduras in 1902, and this past weekend, it celebrated its 25th anniversary as The Belize Bank at a gala event held Friday night in Belize City. The main speaker for the event was Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow-an interesting development against the backdrop of a string of litigations that had ensued between the bank and the Barrow administration since 2008. Barrow, in his address, called for "a new beginning."

Since 2008, there have been several rounds of legal skirmishes between the Central Bank and the Belize Bank, over the return of the US$10 million Venezuelan grant funds reclaimed by the Barrow administration during its first term of office, as well as the Central Bank's directive for the bank to give full account of how another US$10 million, gifted to Government by Taiwan, was distributed.

Most recently, in 2011, the Central Bank and the Belize Bank had differences over the treatment of $7.4 million in its accounts for a prohibited share transaction via the parent company, BCB Holdings Limited.

Also in 2011, there was a dispute between the Central Bank and the Belize Bank over transactions with its Turks and Caicos affiliate, which were classified as parallel banking transactions.

Early in his remarks, Prime Minister Barrow noted the economic importance of the bank, saying "the Belize Bank has been perhaps the major source of financing for the productive sector in this nation, and it currently represents some 40% of the banking system."

The bank reported a major financial setback in 2011 - a loss of $33 million, the biggest in the bank's history; however, the bank remained optimistic.

"One year of bad performance is not going to jeopardize the future of a bank; what is important is performance trends over a period of time. The continuation or arrest of a bad performance trend will be determined by how aggressive the bank management is in addressing the situation - what managerial action and administrative corrective measures it takes to address the high levels of non-performing loans," Deputy Group Chief Financial Officer of the Belize Bank, Michael Coye, told Amandala last June.

Barrow also demonstrated an optimistic spirit at Friday's event - optimistic not only about a positive future for the bank, but furthermore, for better relations between the bank and the financial regulator, the Central Bank.

"It must be with a sense of great satisfaction, then, that the management, staff and clients of this bank look back at its long past, and look forward to its even longer future," said Barrow. "But pride of place in the financial system of Belize as the country's largest and oldest bank, also carries a heavy responsibility."

He said that the bank should set an example in the best traditions of banking.

The Prime Minister noted the desire of the state "to see an ordered and mutually supportive relationship" between the financial regulator and the banks.

"It is no secret, though, that in this regard confrontation rather than cooperation has been, in at least one case, too much the Belizean norm in recent times," he commented. "This is discomfiting all around and a large dose of shared goodwill is now required to address the problem."

"...Now nobody is naive enough to expect that the regulatory relationship will never turn adversarial. But the occasions when this happens must be the exception rather than the rule. And a financial system cannot function properly in a climate of unceasing litigation. A way must, therefore, be found out of this thicket, this briar patch."

Barrow also asserted: "The fact is that the regulator has a job to do, and is given financial oversight authority by the laws of the land. On the other hand, that authority should never be exercised in a bull-in-a-china-shop fashion. Sensitivity, as well as firmness, is required."

He appealed: "It must be clear by now that I am asking for some sort of middle ground between commercial banks and the regulator, and striking the right balance is not nearly as Jesuitical an exercise as might first appear. If the ultimate authority of the Central Bank is respected, and the Central Bank in turn is realistic and flexible, a via media [Latin for 'middle way or course'] can indeed be found. Government, as the ultimate custodian of the public welfare, is-needless to say-ready to help. So I declare tonight to the Belize Bank that we fully expect it to partner with us, to use its leadership role, its ingenuity and its resources, to help find a way out of the impasse."

Barrow then said that he was looking to "a new beginning."

On the occasion of its 25th anniversary, the Belize Bank is undertaking a comprehensive rebranding exercise. In a statement to the press, it says, "Beginning today, the Belize Bank Limited introduces a new look, complete with a redesigned logo and tagline: The Belize Bank Limited - Our Country. Your Bank."

It added that, "In line with the bank's strategic objectives, the bank's goal is 'to be the pre-eminent financial services provider in Central America and the Caribbean', and in order to achieve this status of preeminence the bank will 'maximize value for individuals and businesses locally and internationally by providing quality and innovative financial services, nurturing long-lasting relationships and delivering superior customer service'."


Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline OP
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Rice and beans

We believe that it is safe to say that beginning with his first term as Prime Minister, the Hon. Dean O. Barrow has sold himself to the Belizean public as an implacable opponent of British billionaire, Lord Michael Ashcroft, whose policies and operations on the country's financial (and economic) landscape were seen as inimical to the best interests of Belize, to say the least.

The Hon. Barrow fought Lord Ashcroft primarily in his own battleground, the House of Representatives, while the Central Bank, the country's financial regulator, sought to keep the Lord in check. The Central Bank of Belize is legally charged with overseeing the behavior of the country's banks, and has the power and authority to force the banks to adhere to proper banking regulations and procedures.

We note that while the Central Bank operates independently of central government, its board and governor are appointed by the Prime Minister, and it is foolish to assume that the Central Bank's directives will therefore not reflect the wishes and policies of the ruling administration, and especially the wishes and policies of the Prime Minister himself, although we note that specific regulatory actions are crafted by professional regulators independent of any board executive interference.

Now the background to the 25th anniversary party of the Belize Bank, the country's premier banking institution "owned" by Lord Ashcroft, is that the bank has been in almost continuous quarrel and litigation with the Central Bank, which has made known its unhappiness with some of the bank's business dealings and practices that occurred under the administration of former Prime Minister Said Musa, whose close relations with Lord Ashcroft is well known, and has been well documented.

To be blunt, while the relationship between Hon. Musa and Lord Ashcroft was like that of "rice and beans," the relationship between Hon. Barrow and Ashcroft, as portrayed to the nation by Barrow, was like that of "cat and dog."

The featured remarks of the Prime Minister at the Belize Bank's party celebrating its 25th anniversary, therefore, came as a complete surprise to us, and citizens of the Jewel. The appearance of the Prime Minister at the bank's celebrations was not, in itself, that remarkable, in the sense that if the bank was desirous of new and better relations with the Central Bank, what better way to begin than by inviting the Prime Minister to celebrate with them?

The Prime Minister, by way of his remarks, said that he was directing the Central Bank to find "middle ground" with the Belize Bank, to in effect, end the bank's quarrel with the Central Bank. This should be a concern to all, since it is not appropriate for the Central Bank to give banks selective treatment. This, we feel, would amount to a dangerous reversion to the status quo under Musa.

While the Belize Bank was told that continuous litigation was not the way to go if it wanted better relations with Government, Hon. Barrow, by innuendo, appeared to criticize his Central Bank.

Said the Prime Minister: "The fact is that the regulator has a job to do, and is given financial oversight authority by the laws of the land. On the other hand, that authority should never be exercised in a bull-in-a-china-shop fashion."

The Prime Minister also remarked on the international financial crises in other countries, including the US and the UK, saying that while those countries could inject huge amounts of capital into the private banks, Belize cannot afford this luxury.

He blamed the "regulators" in these countries, and with reference to his Central Bank, said: "But the effort to avoid a replication of that scenario in our country is complicated by a reliance on provisioning arrangements that are no longer effective for non-performing loans. So those arrangements needed to be changed. But not in a way as to suck all the air out of the system, depriving both the banking and business sectors of oxygen."

What the Prime Minister appeared to be saying, in a nutshell, was that while he believed that the Belize Bank was wrong in its approach to the problem, he also believed that his Central Bank was not always right in its approach to the bank, thus calling for a "middle ground" between the commercial banks and the regulator (the Central Bank).

And in apparently speaking to his Central Bank, the Prime Minister said: "A way must, therefore, be found out of this thicket, this briar patch. Global banking standards of prudence and stability must be upheld, but without imposing requirements on institutions that are impossible for them to meet."

He then reminded Lord Ashcroft's Belize Bank: "Of course, where individual institutions have, through past practices, put themselves in especially difficult positions, they must be prepared to take extraordinary measures to extricate themselves."

It appears to us that the Central Bank acted on its own lawful authority, and in good sense sought to protect the interest of depositors and the stability of the financial system, based on its interpretation of the Prime Minister's publicly declared policies and beliefs. The Hon. Barrow, remember, in his speeches to the House, was in the habit of heaping glowing coals on the head of Lord Ashcroft.

So, we believe, in keeping with his promise to run a "transparent" administration, that it is incumbent on the Prime Minister to explain his remarks to the nation. To find "middle ground" is basically to negotiate, which commonly means that each side would surrender something to gain something.

The question to Hon. Barrow is, therefore, which of the Central Bank's financial regulatory instructions to the Belize Bank will be "watered down," or even perhaps struck out to appease the bank, and what will the Belize Bank, which is to say Lord Ashcroft, surrender that would be of benefit to the nation, and would be worth the indirect remarks to the Central Bank in front of Lord Ashcroft and company?

And should the Prime Minister not also extend these advantages to other banks which were better behaved than the Belize Bank?

To us, perhaps one of the most important things to note is that Lord Ashcroft probably would not have invited the Prime Minister to address his celebration if they had not previously spoken and come to an agreement. The Prime Minister had not informed the nation that he was in negotiation with the Lord.

If we may venture an opinion, we would say that in the photo ops segment of the celebrations, the Hon. Prime Minister and Lord Ashcroft appeared to be like the proverbial "rice and beans" - quarrel done.


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