The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) today, 22nd November, 2017, handed down its decision regarding the matter of the Belize Bank vs the Attorney General of Belize where the Belize Bank was appealing the decision of the Belize Court of Appeal on the Universal Health Services (UHS) matter delivered on the 24th day of March 2017. In that ruling, the Court of Appeal upheld the Supreme Court’s decision that enforcement of the final arbitral award of the London Court of International Arbitration dated the 15th day of January 2013 by the High Court in Belize would be contrary to public policy of Belize, and offend the legal and constitutional order of Belize.
The CCJ overturned the decision of the Belize Court of Appeal and ordered that the Government of Belize (GOB) pay to Belize Bank the money that the Said Musa administration had saddled the government with back in 2007. The total award in favor of Belize Bank is approximately BZ$88M plus interest and cost.
The Government of Belize is extremely disappointed and laments the judgement delivered by the CCJ. The lawsuit arose from a dispute stemming from one of the most egregious and scandalous acts of the Musa administration where the then government secretly diverted US$20 million that was granted by the Venezuelan and Taiwanese governments for social programs for needy Belizeans to pay towards a loan the PUP had contracted for UHS, a private hospital owned by PUP cronies. GOB maintains that the enforcement of the arbitral award granted by the London Court of International Arbitration is not only contrary to the public policy of Belize, but also offensive to the legal and constitutional order of Belize.
The public may recall the genesis of the protracted litigation, when in 2004 the Musa Administration signed a loan note, between the Ashcroft owned Belize Bank and the privately owned UHS, as the primary guarantor for a grand quantum of BZ$29M. The revelation of the agreement was so loathsome in the minds of the Belizean people that it led thousands to protest outside the National Assembly a month later. After UHS defaulted on its obligation to the Belize Bank, the taxpayers of Belize were left to shoulder the burden. Shortly thereafter, in complete disregard for and in contravention of the Finance and Audit Reform Act, the Musa Administration unlawfully diverted US$20M , gifted to GOB by the Venezuelan and Taiwanese Governments for the benefit of the people of Belize, to settle the UHS debt with the Ashcroft Alliance although both the Supreme Court of Belize and Court of Appeals found the loan note to be invalid as it was contrary to public policy. However, an Arbitration panel ruled differently and an arbitration award in excess of BZ$37M was granted by that Tribunal, even though it also deemed the diversion of Belize’s grant funds to the Alliance was illegal.
The Rt. Hon. Prime Minister of Belize Dean Barrow, after assuming office in 2008, was steadfast in his decision not to honor the award originating from an unconstitutional loan guarantee and was even able to reclaim the monies gifted by Venezuela for the benefit of Belizean citizens. In its typical predatory fashion, the Ashcroft Alliance instituted a claim in the Supreme Court of Belize to enforce the judgement of the Arbitration Tribunal. Both the Supreme Court of Belize and Court of Appeal ruled that enforcement of the award would be contrary to public policy of Belize.
With the lower courts being consistent in their rulings, GOB is at a loss to understand this latest decision by the CCJ. To make matters worse, the Belize Bank earlier sold the assets of UHS to Belize Healthcare Partners Limited (another private entity) for approximately BZ$39M yet still claimed the award money from the people of Belize in the same amount. The Government of Belize will never understand how the Caribbean Court of Justice could have upheld this PUP/Ashcroft ripoff of the Belizean people.
GOB is seeking further legal advice as to its options now, on further behalf of the people of Belize.
#527230 - 11/23/1705:52 AMRe: CCJ Overturns Ruling of Lower Courts in UHS Settlement
Another 90 Mil: Crushing and Costly Defeat for GOB at CCJ
90 million more - that's how much the Government of Belize will have to pay the Ashcroft Alliance - after losing another huge case at the Caribbean Court of Justice today. But this time, it has nothing to do with compensation for BTL. This one goes all the way back to 2004, when then Prime Minister Said Musa gave Universal Health Services a secret government guarantee for 35 million dollars in private debt owed to the Belize Bank. When they couldn't pay, the Government guarantee kicked in, and the Musa Administration then came up with a loan note to use public funds to cover the private debt. That was in 2007 - but when the UDP won, they refused to honor it - saying the undertaking to use public funds was made without Parliament's approval and that made it unlawful. But, in 2013, the London Court of International Arbitration held that the Loan note was valid and gave the Belize Bank an award of 37 million dollars.
So, the Barrow Administration went to the Supreme Court of Belize and the Belize Court of appeal which both agreed that the arbitration award could not be enforced in Belize. But, today - in a crushing reversal of fortune for government - the CCJ over-ruled those lower courts and said it can be enforced in Belize, with interest and costs. The total? A staggering 88.9 million Belize dollars. Here's an excerpt of the judgment delivered this morning, and reaction from the attorneys for both sides:...
Hon. Mr. Justice Winston Anderson, CCJ "We concluded that an order allowing enforcement would not involve any illegality and would not be contrary to public policy. We wherefore ordered that the bank be at liberty to enforce the award and to recover its costs both at this court and in the courts below."
Eamon Courtenay, SC - Attorney - Belize Bank "This morning the CCJ handed down its judgement saying that the Belize Bank can collect on the award from the government of Belize and, therefore, we're supposed to write the government and the government is supposed to pay. If the government does not pay then we begin the enforcement proceedings against the government."
"There has been an addition of 52 million dollars in interest between 2013 and today. Over 50 million dollars in interest has been added unto the amount because of the government's obstinacy and its decision to fight Mr. Ashcroft."
"I think the bank is very happy that it is now able to recover this amount from the government. And I hope that the government will obey the CCJ."
Jules Vasquez, reporter "It will be said that it is in fact the inheritance of an immoral and perhaps unlawful undertaking in the first place. And that it's really the PUP's fault."
Eamon Courtenay, SC - Attorney - Belize Bank "You see, Jules, there is a big difference between politics and the law and once again Belizeans should understand that there was an arbitration hearing. The government started participating and tried to stop the arbitration and when they failed at that, they withdrew. And did not defend the interests of the Belizean people in those arbitration proceedings. When you abdicate your responsibility and when a tribunal moves forward, you cannot in the end say, "oh, it was corrupt." Because when the day was called for you to go there and make your case you ran away like a coward."
"Today is the day of reckoning. Unfortunately for the Belizean people it cost us 52 million dollars in interest, plus legal costs."
Nigel Hawke, Solicitor General "Well, well, it's always a disappointment when you lose, but it's the final court and we have to respect the decision. That's how our system is designed."
Jules Vasquez, reporter "What is the indication from the Fin Sec or the Minister of Finance? Will payment be coming forthwith?"
Nigel Hawke, Solicitor General "Well on that one we'll have to take instruction. Shortly the Honorable Prime minister will issue a statement, I guess, to the effect as to the Government's position."
Jules Vasquez, reporter "Was it foolhardy to have taken it all these years - ah, we are four years after the award and accumulated so much in interest - over 50 million dollars?"
Nigel Hawke, Solicitor General "Well, I would say, you know, in hindsight, people might think of a lotta things but, ahm, litigation is always a risk and reality is that we thought we had some formidable arguments in relation to the public policy issues. I think the court's decision, they relied on the Privy Council's judgement on saying that the loan note was valid. Our argument that we were urging is that at the time when that consideration was given, the arbitration award was not out."
Government's official response came shortly after in this statement, saying, quote, "The Government of Belize is extremely disappointed and laments the judgement delivered by the CCJ...With the lower courts being consistent in their rulings, GOB is at a loss to understand this latest decision by the CCJ. To make matters worse, the Belize Bank earlier sold the assets of UHS to Belize Healthcare Partners Limited (another private entity) for approximately $39M Belize dollars, yet still claimed the award money from the people of Belize in the same amount. The Government of Belize will never understand how the Caribbean Court of Justice could have upheld this PUP/Ashcroft ripoff of the Belizean people." end quote.
Strong words against the highest court in the land, and Government makes no commitment to pay. Its statement ends by saying, quote, "GOB is seeking further legal advice as to its options now, on further behalf of the people of Belize."
So, what can the Bank do to enforce the judgement? That's what the press asked Courtenay today:
Reporter "What would the enforcement proceedings entail? Do you have an idea?"
Eamon Courtenay, SC - Attorney - Belize Bank "Yes, the enforcement proceedings, first, we would ask the Registrar to issue a certificate in the amount that is due on the award. After that amount is due we would serve it on the financial secretary and he would be required to pay it. If he does not pay it then we would commence proceedings in the court for his imprisonment or the imprisonment of the minister of finance because the CCJ was very clear that the constitution provides in section 115(3) that in circumstances like this there's an obligation on the minister of finance to go to Parliament to get approval to pay the money because the court has ordered that it should be paid. And if they refuse to obey the order of the CCJ then there is no other recourse for us but to commence proceedings for their imprisonment."
As Courtenay said, the obligation is on the minister of finance to go to Parliament to get approval to pay out the funds. And that's crucial. Even though the original agreement never went to Parliament, the fact is that the only way to get this 88.9 million out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund is through an act of Parliament, which is a whole different kettle of fish - since the courts cannot compel parliament.
And while its left to be seen if the very expensive executive gamesmanship will continue - the fact is that, tonight, all government has is 90 million in debt - and nothing to show for it - since the asset at the centre of this entire dispute, the Universal Hospital, now Healthcare Partners - is wholly owned by another group.
Now, to hear the present government tell it, all the blame will be directed at former Prime Minister Said Musa. In fact, today's government release says, quote, "The lawsuit arose from a dispute stemming from one of the most egregious and scandalous acts of the Musa administration...."
But today, Musa, who happened to be in the courtroom for another matter told us he feels vindicated:
Rt. Hon. Said Musa, Former Prime Minister "But I feel very, fully vindicated today, again, when the Caribbean Court of Justice has ruled that the agreement that was made, the settlement that was made over the UHS debt, that my government signed unto was valid and enforceable."
Jules Vasquez, reporter "You said you feel vindicated."
Rt. Hon. Said Musa, Former Prime Minister "Yes, because I remember all that demonstrations and thing and what not. And even an attempt to jail me, you remember that? Yes, aha. Charged for theft, imagine."
Jules Vasquez, reporter "Would you accept though, the original sin, that, in factâ€¦"
Rt. Hon. Said Musa, Former Prime Minister "You've gone to Adam now?"
Jules Vasquez, reporter "The original sin of making a guarantee for private PUP-connected investors for a hospital which Belize still doesn't own, a hospital built in, like a warehouse shed. The structure is not a proper 04:20 concrete edifice."
Rt. Hon. Said Musa, Former Prime Minister "Now you might say it wasn't worth it at the time but I look at it this way" we were engaged at the time in carrying out a major health reform program. NHI, you remember it?"
"Now, that must be seen in the context in which that guarantee was given, because UHS at the time, now Healthcare Partners, was part of that NHI program, providing healthcare to the Belizean people and that is how I would justify that, ok?"
This evening, the Belize Bank issued a rare statement. First off, while the figures Courtney gave us put the amount owing at 88.9 million, the bank's release says the "total amount due as at 22 November, 2017 is $90.6 million Belize dollars.
The release adds, quote, "The Bank's debt has been confirmed by an international arbitral tribunal, the Privy Council, the courts of the United States, and now the Caribbean Court of Justice. The Bank looks forward to the Government of Belize finally settling this debt after years of unnecessary litigation to recover the funds." End quote.
Hon. Elrington: Judgement Marks Sad Day For Country
Speaking about the CCJ decision today, former Attorney General Wilfred Elrington said that it is a sad day for the country:
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs "Whenever we get judgments of that type it makes it that much more difficult for us to provide for the people of Belize the badly needed goods and services that we so depend on. We are already such an impoverished country most Belizeans don't understand the extent to which we as a nation rely on grants and loans just to survive from day to day when you get a decision of this type it will ultimately have a devastating impact on the ordinary poor Belizean citizen. It is a shame that these things are happening. It is a sad day for the country when you get decision of this type given against."
And while Ellington was moderate, others we have spoken to in the Barrow Administration are bitterly angry at the outcome and adamant that the 88.9, or 90 million cannot, in conscience, be paid - especially when government does not have ownership of the asset. Of course, it's a zero sum game, because one government refuses to pay the interest continues to accrue at the merciless rate of 17% compounded on a monthly basis.
Will the “Nay’s” Have It? Four UDP Reps Says they Would Vote Against 90 Million Dollar Judgement
Last night the news was all about that 90 million dollar judgement against the government for the Universal Health Services debt. But, tonight, the narrative has shifted, and that's because four ranking UDP Representatives say they will vote against paying all that money to the Belize Bank. To give you some background, the Caribbean Court of Justice granted permission for the Belize Bank Limited to enforce a 2013 arbitration award against the Government of Belize. The original award was for 36 million Belize dollars - but that was back in 2013, and since then interest of 17% has been running. The interest alone has now added up to another 50 plus million dollars, tot a total cost of 90.6 million dollars - for a hospital the government doesn't even own.
And even though the interest racked up on their watch, that massive figure has been keeping UDP representatives up at night - especially since the original guarantee for Universal Health Services dates back to a secret deal made during the previous PUP Administration.
And today, in quite remarkable declarations, four of them told us they will vote against paying the money. And their vote matters since this 90 million has to come out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund - and the constitution makes clear that no monies can be paid out of that fund without the approval of parliament.
Right now, by the terms of the decision, the Minister of Finance - who is the Prime Minister - is required to take the enforcement order to Parliament to get approval. And today, Michael Finnegan, John Saldivar, Anthony Boots Martinez and Tracy Taegar-Panton told us they will vote against it.
We start with the senior member, Party Whip Michael Finnegan who said he doesn't see the sense in paying:
Hon. Michael Finnegan, UDP Party Whip "Imagine you guarantee wa loan for 39 million dollars for UHS without coming to the national assembly for approval. You guarantee it without any collateral. In other words, if dehn people end up not paying the loan as they did - the government of Belize and the people of Belize noh have nothing to get back in return for the 34 or the 39 million dollars. When you done do that now, the Belize Bank now then turn around, they sell off UHS to another group, that took it over now, this new group, Universal Healthcare Partners. So they collected their 39 million dollars for their sale to healthcare partners. So the bank doesn't lose anything. They already got their first 39 million dollars. Jules, in my view that is worthless and immoral and I have to break it down in small change so the ordinary Joe and Jill could understand. And I am saying I don't want to pay because what you did in terms of my concern you did it illegally. You spent Belizean's money without coming to the National Assembly for permission, and I am going to my grave with that in my heart. Anyhow, you took me to court, and I decided I would fight all the way. The CCJ has decided now that you will get an additional 39 million dollars, so you are collecting two times. You are collecting two 39 million dollars and then they are giving you an additional 50 million dollars of interest which occurred over that period of time. Jesus Christ, they don't have any moral conscience to the poor people of Belize. We are dealing with a court, as far as I am concerned, in my view, that has no...conscience, no regard for small nations, and in my view it is frightening. We have made tow mistake sin this country since independence. Two mistakes we have made. One, we have made a mistake to allow the PUP to run this country for 10 years. They say UDP is bad, you meet these ones who want to get back into power, and they want to get back in power for a repeat of the same thing, to do the same thing. The second major mistake we made in the country was made under the United Democratic Party Government. When we made the decision to relinquish our relationship with the privy council and to join the Caribbean Court of Justice. In my view that was a mistake. We were told that we were going to get Caribbean jurists who were born and raised in Belize and will think like how the ordinary people in the region think. If you google most of these jurists, these are right-wing people, conservative people who in my view have no regards to the ordinary Joe or Jill out yah. That is my humble view. And if is left to me - when that motion if that motion would come to the National Assembly, I would encourage every member on my side, not to vote for that motion, not to vote for that motion."
Jules Vasquez, reporter "You serious?"
Hon. Michael Finnegan, UDP Party Whip "I believe I have some influence, and I would encourage my colleagues not to vote for that motion. When they borrowed the motion, they didn't tell us. Now they want to pay back the money, they will come to me to pay back what I didn't approve? I would never pay that! I don't know if you have to google it for me and look up I was reading something the other day, one of those old philosophers or one of those good old fighters in the world, said, I am prepared to go to jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience."
In a release yesterday the Belize Bank stressed, quote, "there have been no double payments to the Bank: that was an argument rejected by Mrs Justice Griffith in the Belize Supreme Court, a decision not appealed by the Government."
Will the "Nay's" Have It? Four UDP Reps Says they Would Vote Against 90 Million Dollar Judgement Last night the news was all about that 90 million dollar judgement against the government for the Universal Health Services debt. But, tonight, the narrative has shifted, and that's because four ranking UDP Representatives say they will vote against paying all that money to the Belize Bank. To give you some background, the Caribbean Court of Justice granted permission for the Belize Bank Limited to enforce a 2013 arbitration award against the Government of Belize. The original award was for 36 million Belize dollars - but that was back in 2013, and since then interest of 17% has been running. The interest alone has now added up to another 50 plus million dollars, tot a total cost of 90.6 million dollars - for a hospital the government doesn't even own.
Hon. Saldivar Firm And Clear Cut: He Will Vote Against It And while Finnegan is prepared to go to jail, Belmopan Representative John Saldivar is prepared to go right down to the wire. He says he cannot see himself voting for such a bill:..
Jules Vasquez, reporter
"Would you support the government paying 90 million to the Belize Bank to settle this matter?"
Hon. John Saldivar, UDP Belmopan:
"First of all, Jules, let me state that I am disappointed in the decision of the CCJ and secondly, I certainly cannot, under any circumstance support passing a bill to pay moneys to Michael Ashcroft."
"However, that may be an emotional reaction, but - real talk- the Minister of Finance, the Prime Minister, is obligated to take it to the National Assembly and you have to support your Prime Minister. You can't- it is an existential crisis for the UDP if members of his own government- if he says 'yay' and they say 'nay'. That's like a vote of no confidence in the PM."
Hon. John Saldivar:
"Well, I think you're assuming that he will say 'yay'. What is clear from the decision is that the court has made it clear that the Ashcroft people cannot collect on this award unless it is passed by the parliament. And so it is clear also to me that the CCJ cannot direct or compel the parliament to pass a law. And so it is clear to me, also then, that the CCJ is saying that the parliament must decide if they will or will not pay this award."
Hon. Boots Says His Conscience Wouldn't Allow Him to Vote In Favor of $90M Payment And while Saldivar was cut and dry, and very firm, Port Loyola Representative Anthony Boots Martinez was a little more animated. He says he is going to the grave with this one on his conscience if he votes "yes":...
Hon. Anthony "Boots" Martinez:
"Parliament will decide, and my vote is mine. My vote belongs to the people of Port Loyola, and I must vote my conscience. And if I tell you that I noh sleep good last night, I can't do nothing else but vote what is my conscience."
Jules Vasquez, reporter:
"But if the Prime Minister and the minister of finance brings a motion like that to the house to make certain payments out of the consolidated revenue fund, the government side has to support him. Never in history has he not - has the Prime Minister, whoever it is..."
UDP Albert Rep Says She Is Against Fleecing, Would Vote Against And the member for the Albert Division, Tracey Taegar - Panton says she joined the UDP to stand against corruption - and if she votes for this, it would be supporting what she calls the fleecing of public funds:...
Hon. Tracy Taegar Panton, UDP Albert:
"I feel very strongly about it, Jules. I think the only word I can use to describe it is criminal. It is no secret that I come from a family that supported the People's United Party, and one of the reasons I made a decision to run under a UDP umbrella was because of the fleecing of public finances under the PUP administration. So I am very clear on my view on this matter. It was an illegal act as far as I am concerned and there is no way that this administration should be made to pay for an act that I clearly believe was illegal and a fleecing of public funds."
DPM Faber Opposed Judgement, Lambastes Rt. Hon. Musa Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber joins his UDP colleagues in rejecting the CCJ judgment. Today at another event Faber gave his view on this matter and at the same time, called out Former Prime Minister Said Musa for being at the root of this $90 million dollar problem.
Hon. Patrick Faber, Deputy Prime Minister:
"It is terribly disappointing, it continues to have us make the point that the horrors and the evils of last PUP administration continue to haunt us. Of course our position is that this is not something we should be paying at all, there are no benefits to the Belizean people and so it is an absolute nightmare for us that this is the outcome coming from the CCJ. We will now have to discuss what our position will be as a government. We did have preliminary discussions in cabinet on Tuesday but we did not know what the official outcome would have been so it is left to be seen what those discussion will yield. But if you want my personal view right off I don't think this a burden that the Belizean tax payers should be carrying at all and it is going to deprive us of monies that we could be doing a whole lot more things with."
AG Peyrefitte Stands With The PM So, while the Deputy Prime Minister was more circumspect about what will come out of Parliament, Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte says that he will support the decision of the Prime Minister.
As an un-elected Senator he can't do much about a money bill, but Peyrefitte made it clear that his gut reaction is an emphatic "no" to paying that 90+ million dollar award:
Hon. Mike Peyrefitte, Attorney General:
"The CCJ made it very clear that that money has to be made available by parliament. So we don't know what will happen. The minister of finance, in my view - and we are still making sure that we get all legal advice so that we are on the right page, on the same page with everybody. But in my view, the Prime Minister as the minister of finance should not pay that 90 million until it has been budgeted for and the only way it can be budgeted for is if the matter is taken to parliament and parliament votes for it to be budgeted for."
#527278 - 11/25/1705:54 AMRe: CCJ Overturns Ruling of Lower Courts in UHS Settlement
It's been all the news this week: on Wednesday, the Caribbean Court of Justice granted permission for the Belize Bank Limited to enforce a 2013 arbitration award against the Government of Belize to the tune of 90.6 million Belize dollars.
But, it has to be paid out of the consolidated revenue fund - and the only way to get money out of that fund is with the approval of parliament. The Minister of Finance, Prime Minister Dean Barrow is now required to take it to Parliament for approval - but tonight, there is some doubt as to whether the house would approve it: for the first time in Belize's parliamentary history, the "nay's" could have it.
That's after we tracked down four ranking UDP representatives yesterday and they all made the most remarkable declaration: they say that when the Prime Minister brings the motion to the House of Representatives they would vote against it.
Today, the Deputy Leader of the PUP Julius Espat held a press conference at the Party Leader's Office to say, basically, don't believe the hype:
Jules Vasquez Reporter "At least four members, and I know that there are many more, are saying that 'we won't vote, we will vote against paying this.' How do you view that as a member of parliament yourself?"
Hon. Julius Espat - PUP Deputy Leader/Cayo South Rep "Very responsibly. I kind of briefed through what a couple of them said. For example honourable Finnegan is going after the CCJ. Please be reminded that the Prime Minister's brother sits on the CCJ and that's our ultimate court. And if a member of parliament is totally disrespecting a decision of the international court- well, not only one, four international courts- then I believe that is an irresponsible statement to make. Now what is the problem of this decision of going to parliament and saying that you won't pay, a part from the semantics and what they will preach and everything? What signal are you sending in the foreign market with foreign direct investors that you are mal pago? What signal are you sending?"
Jules Vasquez "How would you vote sir?"
Hon. Julius Espat "I am of the opinion that we have to be responsible and if you owe somebody you have to pay them and we have to pay them back. It has been proven in the past that by not paying we are now incurring serious additional costs going up to, I'm looking at the numbers, close to $700 million that we have to pay because we refuse to pay from the initial stages. You have to understand, you make an agreement with a man, he has all the protection of the courts as is quite obvious to us. He went to the London Court of International Arbitration and he won. He went to the Supreme Court of the United States, he won. He went to the Privy Council, he won. And now he went to the CCJ and he has won. Guys, I've said it before, we have to get this boggy man off of our shoulders, it's too burdensome for the people of Belize. And what games are we saying now? That we won't pay again? You know, in two years' time when supposedly the PUP comes in to government and in they don't pay this, you know how much that will incur in interests alone? Approximately $30 million on top of the $90. But I can guarantee you Jules that in the House of Representatives when the time comes for the vote all of those UDP will get up and raise their hand and say 'I.' they don't have a choice."
Jules Vasquez "So you are saying all of this is diversion and gamesmanship."
Hon. Julius Espat "It has always been."
Jules Vasquez "But sir, if they don't vote with the Prime Ministerâ€¦"
Hon. Julius Espat "Jules, I am telling you, don't change the whole scenario. They will have to vote what Dean Barrow tells them to vote."
Jules Vasquez "If they weren't to vote, will it be like a vote of no confidence?"
Hon. Julius Espat "Well then we have to change government and we go to an election. You understand the situation that they are in? They don't have any way out of this. They could say all they want. They are trying to preach to their constituents and say, 'O, I'm not with that.' They don't have a choice and I will be proven in the House of Representatives in December and I hope that you are there to witness it."
Jules Vasquez "As a business minded individual, it has to pain you reflexively when you see that $90 million has to be paid but there is no asset. The asset is happily owned and operated by other persons working for a profit with no benefit whatsoever to the government."
Hon. Julius Espat "Yes, that's painful but that doesn't stop the fact that you have to pay. Boss, if you make an agreement with the bank and you make a wrong business plan and you erred in your business plan, the bank doesn't care. It's a cold life out there. Once you sign an agreement, you have to pay. Those are the rules of engagement, why are we fooling ourselves? Let's make it clear, Dean Barrow has painted that he is a nationalist from 2008 and all the decisions that he has made has us in the whole $700 million. Is that being a nationalist? Let's be real Jules. It's a game but it's a game with your money not their money. If it was Dean Barrow's money you wouldn't be here in the hole."
Jules Vasquez "But is it the unified position of the PUP that the debt is owed, it must be paid and be over with it?"
Hon. Julius Espat "I would like to think so and I will fight for it to be so but we haven't met to make a final decision on it yet but I can nearly guarantee you that it will be so."
Somewhere in that wide-ranging, occasionally rambling 35 minute press conference, we did ask Espat about the original sovereign guarantee that former Prime Minister Said Musa gave to Universal Health Services - which has now led to this 90 million dollar award:
Jules Vasquez - Reporter "These people are PUP's sir. That is why they gotâ€¦If you can't get a sovereign guarantee for your business..."
Hon. Julius Espat "No, and I would not sue for either."
Jules Vasquez "Of course, so it is immoral for that to happen."
Hon. Julius Espat "I have never said that the sovereign guarantee is a positive thing. Listen to me, I have always said that I would not have done it, I would not advise for it to be done, but I was not there either so I have nothing to do with it. But you have to understand before the United Democratic Party took government, that was settled. It was settled. Good or bad, it didn't have a financial burden as it right now has on the people of Belize. It was Dean Barrow's decision, when he came in, to open the ants' nest."
Notably, while the press conference happened at Leader John Briceno's office, he was not around, so we don't know for sure what his vote would be.
Four More UDP Reps Say Nay to 90 Million
And so while Espat says he will vote in favor of a motion to pay out the 90 million dollars and extinguish the debt, tonight, there are four more UDP Representatives who are saying emphatically that they will vote against it.
7News polled Corozal Bay Representative and Minister of Health, Pablo Marin, Belize Rural North Representative, Edmond Castro, Corozal North Representative, Hugo Patt, Dangriga Representative Frank Pawpa Mena, and Corozal Southwest Representative Dr. Angel Campos by phone today.
We asked them by phone if they would vote for or against paying the 90 million. Here's what they said.
Pablo Marin said no. He explained that to have the past government invest in a hospital that the poor people of Belize cannot visit is the worst case scenario ever - so he would have to vote against.
Edmond Castro said he'll wait and see what the Prime Minister says and go with the Cabinet decision.
Hugo Patt said his constituents have told him to vote against paying, and that is what he must do.
Frank Pawpa Mena said he would never vote for that and that he would rather go home and sit down. He asked, "how can i explain to my daughter?"
Dr. Angel Campos told us that he will also vote against, explaining that he could use just a portion of that money to roll out NHI across the country.
So now that amounts to 8 UDP Representatives who have said unequivocally that they will vote against a motion to pay out the 90 million dollar award. As we mentioned earlier, the 90 million dollar payout must be approved by parliament.
Cabinet met today in Belmopan - and according to unofficial reports - members decided unanimously that the UDP Representatives in the House will vote "no" to paying 90.6 million dollars to the Belize Bank. The Prime Minister will outline the formal position tomorrow at a press conference.
As we have reported, the CCJ granted permission for the Belize Bank Limited to enforce a 2013 arbitration award against the Government of Belize. That was 6 days ago, and since then, 9 UDP Representatives have gone on record to say they will vote against paying. Today, when they left Cabinet we asked if they had been persuaded otherwise - and while they all deferred to the PM - it's clear that, coming out of that meeting, the hardline was firmer than ever. We start with Wilfred Elrington who had told us over the weekend that he would vote against paying:...
Hon. Wilfred Elrington- Pickstock Representative "The Prime Minister is going to be giving a press conference, he is going to go into detail along with the other members of the cabinet I am sure tomorrow."
Jules Vasquez - Reporter "But is it safe to say that after today's cabinet meeting your position remains the same?"
Hon. Wilfred Elrington "It's not going to change, it has only become more firm."
Jules Vasquez "They had a big meeting, a cabinet meeting, you went in with a very clearâ€¦"
Hon. Michael Finnegan- Mesopotamia Representative "I feel the same way."
Jules Vasquez "You said that you could be persuaded otherwise."
Hon. Michael Finnegan "I feel the same way. I will go to my grave before I change."
Jules Vasquez "We spoke to you last week and you said that your position was a fixed and unalterable no. Have you heard anything in the cabinet meeting which would make you say that perhaps I need to revise my position?"
Hon. Tracy Taegar Panton "My position was not only based on my personal views but the views of members of my constituency. Tomorrow we will have a press conference and government's official position will be tabled."
Jules Vasquez "But your position on behalf of your constituents remains the same?"
Hon. Tracy Taegar Panton "It remains the same."
Jules Vasquez "When this matter comes to the House of Representatives, how will you vote as a representative for Orange Walk East?"
Hon. Elodio Aragon- Orange Walk East Representative "Well if this matter comes to the House you know I stand for the people of this country. I stand for what is right and definitely I would not support that."
Jules Vasquez "But what is right, theoretically, if a debt is owed then it must be paid."
Hon. Elodio Aragon "Right but my whole thing here Jules is that we have to understand the big picture in this. My simple answer is that I am here for the people I am here to ensure that we protect the Belizean people."
Jules Vasquez "Hugo, we spoke last week and you said that the people of Corozal North have told you that you should not support this and as a representative you are duty bound to not support it. Is there anything in the cabinet today that would make you change your mind on that position?"
Hon. Hugo Patt- Corozal North Representative "We will have a press conference tomorrow Jules and all the questions that you want to ask you will have umpteen amount of opportunities to ask and you will get the responses there."
Jules Vasquez "But for the people of Corozal North only."
Hon. Hugo Patt "For the entire country."
Jules Vasquez "For the people of Corozal North, your position remains the same?"
Hon. Hugo Patt "Tomorrow we will address that issue, Jules."
Jules Vasquez "When we spoke to you last week minister you were hard-lined."
Hon. Anthony Boots Martinez- Port Loyola Rep. "Well my commitment remains the same sir, that's all I'm saying. For me as a representative my no remains the same."
Jules Vasquez "So, no one in the cabinet prevailed upon you?"
Hon. Anthony Boots Martinez "I don't know about nobody, the Prime Minister will have his press conference tomorrow."
Reporter "Can you give us an idea of the atmosphere of the meeting this morning?"
Hon. Anthony Boots Martinez "It was very good. It was good and sensible. The atmosphere was good man. Feel good in a relaxing country mood right now."
And while Martinez strode off listening to country music - the spotlight shifts to the Prime Minister who holds his press conference at 10:00 tomorrow morning.
As an aside, we must note that we are very aware of the separation between the Legislature and the Executive - meaning that a Cabinet meeting is not a parliamentary caucus - but there's just no getting around the fact that the members of the House also make up most of the membership of Cabinet. Right now, the effect of the court's order is that the Executive, through the Minister of Finance must take the 90.6 million dollar appropriations motion to the Legislature for approval - so the line is very blurred between executive and legislature.
Belize Bank Says Central Bank Would Frown On Non Payment
And, defending its own position, today, the Belize Bank issued a three page press release, tracing the entire history of the debacle, right back to the start of the Universal Health Services project back in 2001.
The bank says, quote, "the current administration has adopted a belligerent approach to the Bank's debt from the beginning."
It concludes, quote, "the Bank Looks forward to the government now settling this debt after years of unnecessary litigation to recover the funds, which at the end of the day were lent from funds deposited with the Belizean Bank by Belizean depositors. The Central Bank of Belize would take a very stern view indeed of any licensed bank not seeking to recover such a debt." End quote.
The Bank's 1,500 word release release does not discuss how the Hospital has ended up in the hands of another private owner without any relief to the guarantor.
Former AG Says He Wouldn't Recommend CCJ to Other Nations
And there's one more dimension to this ongoing ordeal. Yes, the UDP members are going to reject the payment, but there's also major shade being thrown at the highest court in the land, the Caribbean Court of Justice. Last week it was Party Whip Michael Finnegan and today it was former Attorney General Wilfred Elrington. Now, Elrington just lost a case involving a personal business dealing at the court earlier this month - and he said he got a raw deal from a court whose competence he clearly was not impressed with:...
Hon. Wilfred Elrington - Minister of Foreign Affairs "It is ironic that it is under our administration that we signed on to the CCJ."
Jules Vasquez "You voted for it, you were UDP."
Hon. Wilfred Elrington "I voted for it, I advocated for it but I had personal experience with them and I can tell you that the decision that they gave against me was wrong both in law and in fact. And I am not afraid to say that. I am bound to honor it but it is completely and totally wrong. I thought they were very hostile to me and I said that from the time I came out. I had never seen a more hostile court than this one. And they simply continued to repeat the arguments that Courtney was making to them. So, that has turned me off tremendously from any support I had for the CCJ. I am really very disappointed."
Jules Vasquez "So, if you had to make the decision again today to advocate and vote in the parliament to go to the CCJ what would be your vote today?"
Hon. Wilfred Elrington "I would not encourage anybody to do so. You have five judges sitting at the CCJ but only one writes a decision. And they hardly have any work to do as far as I am concerned. To my mind, the least that they could do is have each one of them write a decision."
The CCJ is the court of final appeal for Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana. The court has failed to win over the confidence of other CARICOM member states who still keep their ties to the Privy Council.
UDP’s 90 Million Dollar Nightmare - Will They Pay?
The UDP Government won't pay the Belize Bank 90.6 million dollars. That's not the officially stated position, but it's the only conclusion anyone could reach after listening to today's press conference by Prime Minister Dean Barrow.
Before a room full of Cabinet ministers and senators along with leading party personalities, The Prime Minister said it would be all up to parliament - who he made clear would be completely justified in voting against paying what he called an immoral debt. The PM said he took one week to speak on the judgement because he wanted legal and Cabinet advice:
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow- Prime Minister "Now we are confronted by this thunderbolt of a loss coming from the CCJ, the most unkind cut of all. The short question is what happens now? I have kept personal silence since last Wednesday; I didn't want to speak until I had carefully considered all the ramifications, done my own research and sought legal advice. The first point to make is that while the bank won the case the CCJ refused to make the particular order or one particular order that the bank sought. The bank had specifically asked the CCJ to compel the minister of finance to straightaway pay to the bank the full amount of the award. The court refused to do that and it refused, in my view, principally for the reason that even the CCJ is not bigger than our constitution and that constitution as the CCJ recognized and accepted, is clear, that no money can be taken out of our consolidated revenue fund, out of the consolidated revenue fund of this country, for any purpose including to satisfy a judgement unless that money has first been appropriated by Parliament for this specific purpose. This government believes in the rule of law and though bitterly disappointed in the CCJ we recognized the judgment that it has handed down. Accordingly, we will follow scrupulously the process set out by the CCJ, the Crown Proceedings Act, and the Constitution. That is, we will await the service of the certificate that the bank must procure from the registrar after 21 days and then I will propose a supplementary appropriations bill to parliament. What has to be made crystal clear, however, that there is no certainty that such a bill will pass and if it doesn't pass, in my view, that is in no way in violation with the rule of law. The court, no doubt, expects the parliament will vote yes but the court can expect anything. What the court cannot do is to compel parliament to vote in any particular way. Governments, usually, which as a matter of honor and responsibility, pay debts; usually but not invariably. And when it comes to the particular matter of a law to provide for the payment of a judgment debt which though legally valid is morally reprehensible. It is the essence of a country's sovereignty and parliaments authority that a decision can be made not to approve the law, not to pay the bill. And in the absence of any vote from parliament, your judgment debt against the government and against the crown runs the risk, in this case, I would say the extremely high risk, of remaining unsatisfied, remaining unpaid. Our history in Belize is such that 9 times out of 10, 99 times out of a 100 without any difficulty at all we will satisfy a judgment and we will pay a debt but there is that 10th case and that 100th case you see. So, it is my thesis, it is my case to you today that there is a spectrum of perfectly supportable indeed compelling reasons why our parliament when this matter comes to a vote might or might not go a certain way. What I will tell you is that each member on the government's side of the house will be directed, when this bill is presented, to vote his or her conscience. So that conscience vote will apply equally to 'moi,' equally to me even though I am the one who is going to move the bill."
Opposition Leader Says UDP Must Pay: “You Break It, You Buy It”
The Press conference lasted almost two hours - and we'll have much more from it coming up - especially regarding the issue of the interest which will start to compound in the next few weeks.
But, first to the PUP. They held their parliamentary caucus today at party leader John BriceÃ±o's office suite in the Charter House Building. It finished an hour ago and the press spoke to the party leader who said that they didn't take a decision on how they would vote - instead they discussed the facts of the case:...
Hon. John Briceno - Leader of the Opposition "We are not at the point of making a decision as to whether it is going to be a yes or a no or whatever. It is important for us to be able to get the facts."
Jules Vasquez - Reporter "For the UDP they have said or the party leader has said that it is a conscience vote and that you can vote your conscience. Will you exercise that sort of latitude with your members?"
Hon. John Briceno "Well, that is a cap out. That's a coward's way. We are in this situation today because of Prime Minister Barrow, because of his spitefulness, his vindictiveness and bad-mindedness decided that he was going to undo a settlement. This has been a pissing contest between Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Barrow and unfortunately, that [#%!] is falling on us because we are bearing the cost of that. So, Mr. Barrow is being a coward when he is saying, 'O, we are going to be doing a conscience vote.' He as a lawyer knows what he is supposed to do."
Jules Vasquez "Would the PUP, if they had the majority in parliament, support paying it?"
Hon. John Briceno "Well, let us put it this way, we would have never been in that position because we had solved it already. So, there is nothing about speculation if we would have voted or not. We would not be in this situation where we are today. And now he has to pontificate as if he is fighting for the Belizean people. Give me a break. He is the one that has created this problem and created this crisis and as the saying goes, you broke it, you own it, you fix it."
Jules Vasquez "They won't, they want you to fix it."
Hon. John Briceno "Well, then that is their problem. That is their problem."
Reporter "Respectfully, though, there is a possibility that the PUP can take office in 2020. By then the interest would have continued to compound. What would your administration do then should you be in that position come 2020?"
Hon. John Briceno "Well, let us put it this way, when we get in there we are going to deal with that issue."
Jules Vasquez "I have asked 12 representatives how they will vote, 9 UDP, all UDP, they have all said they will vote against. The Prime Minister is one of those who said I don't know yet, well he didn't say that he said to wait and see. What do you say, sir? How will you vote?"
Hon. Jon Briceno "Wait and see."
Will UDP Leave Interest To Keep Compounding?
And while the Opposition Leader won't say how he plans to vote - neither did the Prime Minister - although you can clearly catch his drift.
But, they're in very different positions. As The Minister of Finance, PM Barrow has the duty to take the motion to the house to request payment. And, as Prime Minister he has a duty to manage the country's affairs judiciously. So, what can be said to justify simply not paying a debt on which interest is compounding monthly? The PM says that it can run to a billion dollars - they just can't do anything without Parliament's approval:..
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow- Prime Minister "If parliament doesn't vote to pay the money it doesn't cancel the debt. The judgment is a judgment of the court and that remains intact and invalid and the interest will continue to run. It could run until it reaches a billion dollars as long as parliament doesn't vote the money it can't be paid. If we don't pay, interest continues to run but I don't make light of it. I have to say though that if you can't collect how does that help you? Ultimately if they find a way to collect we are in the soup but how will you find a way to collect except, and in this case it's not just changing the Crown's Proceeding's Act, except some succeeding Government will have the ganas and the numbers to change the constitution because it is the constitution that says you can't take money out of that consolidated fund to pay for any purpose including the satisfaction of a judgement unless parliament votes it. Now, it may well be that a different government puts up an appropriation bill and is able to pass it. I don't see how anyone would have the nerve."
The “Irresponsibility” Issue
We pressed the Prime Minister on that point of whether it is responsible to move forward into the future with an ever growing debt:..
Jules Vasquez - Reporter "If you could speak more specifically about the concept of irresponsibility, that it is irresponsible to leave a debt hemorrhaging and accumulating interest. Inevitably, the bank, operating as all banks do, must eventually get their pound of flesh. There is a debt and at some point it must be paid; it is owed."
Rt. Hon Dean Barrow "But why do you insist that it is a debt that must be paid. I am telling you, history is replete with debts that have not been paid, that have never been paid. If parliament were to vote not to pay this debt parliament could never be accused of being irresponsible. On the contrary, there are those who would wish to crown parliament with laurel wreaths."
PM Ready To Go To “Da Bak” With His Bad Back
Bur instead of laurel wreaths - the Belize Bank would want to see the Prime Minister in bangles - and we're not talking about "escalavas" - we mean handcuffs!
The Bank's position is that if the Minister of Finance does not pay - the Bank would then commence proceedings in the court for his imprisonment.
Now, once the Minister of Finance does his duty to take it to the House, it can be argued that he's done his job and he cannot be jailed. But, the PM conceded that the Bank may come up with other angles to appeal:..
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow- Prime Minister "It must not be doubted that a court can, in fact, fashion a particular new remedy dealing with breach of constitutional rights. The suggestion being that if the minister of finance is ordered to pay and he doesn't pay the court can visit the sanction of imprisonment on the minister of finance. I don't think that can happen in this case. If parliament doesn't vote it how can a court say to the minister of finance, 'you must still find a way to pay it,'? The court would then be going against the constitution. So, in my view there is not much chance of that happening but if it is to happen well, bad back and all I am going to jail."
PM says Belize Bank Behaviour Will Not Dissuade Investors
Our first segment was all about the 90.6 million dollars that the government of Belize owes the Belize Bank.
You heard Senator Godwin Hulse say that - according to the Privy Council - there was no loan. But that's the kind of shading of meaning about a court's judgement that may put off investors. So will this episode dampen the investment climate? The Prime Minister says anyone who knows the facts will not be dissuaded:
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister: "Any such persons who is a potential investor, if that person will say well I have reservations about coming to a country and investing unless I can be sure that even if I make a corrupt deal - you see what's happening in Brazil, all over the world - if I make a corrupt deal and somehow I get a court to justify it, I will be discourage because I know I run the risk that the government or a succeeding administration will not honor a corrupt deal. Anybody who things like that, they are welcome not to come and invest in Belize."
P.M. Says ‘Extremely High Risk’ That Payment Will Not Go Through
According to the PM, the mandate of the CCJ does not extend to parliament so it can be struck down by a majority vote. In this case, he says the debt will remain unpaid because the CCJ cannot compel parliament to pay. This scenario will be a first for Belize for government to table a motion to fail.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“Implicit in the very action of going to parliament is possibility that a bill, any bill, may not pass. Parliament is free and indeed mandated to pass fair and correct laws, but it is equally free and just as mandated not to pass laws that aren’t fair and aren’t correct. And when it comes to the particular matter of a law to provide payment of judgment debt which, though legally valid, morally reprehensible, it is the essence of a country’s sovereignty and parliament’s authority that a decision can be made not to approve the law, not to pay the debt. Indeed, that is a principle inherent in the very constitution which prohibits the payment of any money, for a judgment or otherwise, from the Consolidated Revenue Fund without a positive parliamentary decision and approved allocation. When we had the settlement with B.T.L. in which we agreed that in turn for their dropping the claim to get back the company, we would honor the arbitration panel’s decision as to the amount of the compensation. They insisted that we pass a law making it plain that the tribunal’s award would form a charge on the Consolidated Revenue Fund because they knew from then that in the absence of that and in the absence of the any vote from parliament, your debt, your judgment debt against the government and against the Crown runs the risk, in this case I would say the extremely high risk of remaining unsatisfied, remaining unpaid.”
The People’s House Has Final Say; Cannot Be Challenged
With most ministers already saying no, the PM says that a conscience vote will end with U.D.P. parliamentarians voting against the bill. In this instance, interest will admittedly continue to accrue past the ninety million dollars, because the debt will not go away from the Government’s balance sheet and in essence, he is kicking the can to a future government. He laid out the scenarios that can unfold once the proposal is tabled.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“It is my thesis, it is my case to you today that there is a spectrum of perfectly supportable, indeed compelling reasons why our parliament when this matter comes to vote, might or might not go a certain way. Not for me to say, not in advance of the vote. So let me not get ahead of myself, let us wait and see, even though some of you might think that the facts point unswervingly in a certain direction. What I will tell you is that each member of the government’s side of the house will be directed when this bill is presented, to vote his or her conscience. So that conscience vote will apply equally to moi, equally to me, even though I am the one that’s going to be moving the bill. We could also get into what happens in the scenario where parliament does not approve the money. But all I will say on that score is to repeat my conviction and advice that parliament is immune from coercion, so that any decision it makes in that regard is unchallengeable. If the vote is no, people say well the interest has run for so long that’s why it’s thirty-eight million dollars to ninety, what happens? There is a separation of powers. Parliament doesn’t vote to pay the money, it doesn’t cancel the debt. The judgment is a judgment of the court and that remains intact and invalid, and the interest will continue to run. But it could run until it reaches a billion dollars. As long as parliament doesn’t vote the money, it can’t be paid.”
C.C.J. Cannot Compel Bill Authorizing Payment to Pass
The Prime Minister is duty-bound to table a proposal in the House of Representatives at its next sitting requesting the appropriation of that eight-figure sum from the Consolidated Revenue Fund based on the ruling of the CCJ. In tandem with the Crown Proceedings Act and the Constitution of Belize, the process that government now has to adhere to, according to the PM, will be executed but it does not mean the motion will pass. The explanation offered began with a recognition that there has to be a separation of powers.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“This government believes in the rule of law and though bitterly disappointed in the CCJ, we recognize the judgment that it has handed down. Accordingly, we will follow scrupulously the process set out by the CCJ, the Crown Proceedings Act and the Constitution. That is, we will await the service of the certificate that the bank must procure from the registrar after twenty-one days, and then I will propose a supplementary appropriations bill to parliament. What has to be made crystal clear, however, is that there is no certainty that such a bill will pass, and if it doesn’t pass, in my view, that is in no wise any violation of the rule of law or the separation of powers between the court and parliament. Our constitution mandates adherence to the rule of law and the separation of powers. But this is how the separation of powers works, the court, the CCJ, in the fullness of its power gives a judgment against the state. So far, so good. The court’s power also extends further so as to compel the executive to seek to satisfy the court’s judgment by asking parliament to vote the money to pay. So far, also so good. That is what I will do. But that, as I conceive it, and as I am advised, is the end of the court’s power. The separate power, that is why there’s a separation, the separate power of parliament is what then comes into play by way of its decision whether or not to vote the money; whether or not to satisfy the judgment. The court no doubt expects that parliament will vote yes, but the court can expect anything. What the court cannot do is to compel parliament to vote in any particular way, that is what would trample on parliament’s authority and violate the constitutionally mandate separation of powers.”
Belize Bank ‘Does Not Concur’
This afternoon, the Belize Bank issued a brief release in response to the Prime Minister’s statements. It reads: “The Belize Bank does not concur with the views expressed by the Prime Minister and Government of Belize representatives at today’s press conference concerning the decision of the CCJ and the Bank’s ability to enforce payment of the LCIA Award. Time will tell whose interpretation of matters is the correct one.”
Since last week Wednesday's 90 million dollar judgement from the CCJ, the Belize Bank has been rolling out two and three-page press releases defending its claim to those millions.
But after the Prime Minister's two hour press conference yesterday the Bank had surprisingly little to say. Today's terse press release says, quote, "The Belize Bank does not concur with the views expressed by the Prime Minister and Government of Belize representativesâ€¦" end quote. And then, it closes ominously, "Time will tell whose interpretation of matters is the correct one..."
PM To Chamber: “What duplicity, what hypocrisy, what dishonesty”
And while the Belize Bank is keeping its cards close to its chest, the Prime Minister didn't hold back even a little with the Chamber of Commerce. They put out a release yesterday chastising his administration for what the chamber calls "reckless legal gambling." The chamber urges against what it calls, quote "deliberate defiance of the country's highest court." and warns parliament, quote, "a 'no' vote may score political points, but will not erase the liability brought upon Belize by two governments."
So they paint the PUP who secretly undertook the guarantee for UHS, and the UDP who watched the interest grow - with the same dirty stick.
And that doesn't sit well at all with Prime Minister Dean Barrow. He says, quote, "amazingly and against all logic, reason and good sense, you chastise the UDP for (1) 'its reckless legal gambling' in refusing to pay the illegal PUP guarantee and loan note; and (2) its 'costly litigation' in resisting the effort of 'the investor' to collect."
He continues, "What duplicity, what hypocrisy, what dishonesty on your part: the Chamber (together with others) that first went to court to challenge the PUP guarantee and loan note. So, it was right for the Chamber to resist, and win, but not right for the UDP to do the same after "the investor" got an international award? A foreign award that was resorted to by "the investor" precisely because their deal had been struck down by our courts. And since, according to your crassly revisionist position now, the UDP should have paid this illegal PUP debt, allow me to ask when that should have been done. Were we to pay after our Supreme Court said the whole deal stank? Or should it have been after our Court of Appeal said the same?
You and the public would have had our heads if we had ever done that."
And that's not the end of the rant. The PM continues, quote "...perhaps your contention is that we should have stopped resisting and caved as soon as "the investor" got the international arbitration award. That, of course, would mean that you are so anti-nationalist and colonial, that you would have had us cut and run merely because foreign arbitrators had come to a conclusion different from our two local courts." End quote.
But it isn't all just a tongue lashing, the PM says, quote, "We do concede that the end of the judicial road having now been reached, your strong point of view that the 90 million should be paid is an arguable position to adopt."
But to that, the PM adds a peppery rejoinder: "Thus, only one last question for you: in view of your principle would you agree to recommend to your membership an increase in taxes on the business sector to raise the moneys for what you now see as a debt of honour?"
Can US Supreme Court bring penalties against Belize?
Before the Caribbean Court of Justice ruled that the Government of Belize pay the Belize Bank Limited more than ninety million dollars for Universal Health Services debt, the US Supreme Court had denied its request to review a lower court’s decision. In its petition, the Government of Belize argued that the ruling of the District of Colombia Circuit was incorrect because Belize is not a party to the New York Convention. However, the court still ruled that the debt is enforceable. Yesterday, Prime Minister Dean Barrow was asked if the possibility exists that the US Supreme Court could levy penalties if the Government does not pay the debt.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“What the court says is that you have leave to attach any assets of the government of Belize that may be in the US jurisdiction in order to satisfy the judgment so that if Belize has no assets that’s not much of practical effective remedy if Belize ever gets and is holding assets in the states then at that time they will be able to attach those assets. You can’t attach assets here in this country, you can attach crown assets, the Crown Proceedings Act is the only way you can satisfy a judgment and as I said that comes up hard against the constitutional requirement that in order for payment under the Crown Proceedings Act to take place parliament must vote the money.”
The Caribbean Court of Justice ruled that GOB must pay the ninety point six million dollar debt with the approval of parliament. This means that an appropriation bill must be proposed at a Sitting of the House of Representatives for parliamentarians to either vote yes, no or abstain from voting on the matter.
How Government Lost Key Plank of U.H.S. Case Senior Counsel and constitutional attorney Magali Marin-Young discussed the ins and outs of the Caribbean Court of Justice’s decision in favor of the Belize Bank Limited to enforce payment of [...]
Is Parliament or Constitution Supreme? No less than nine members of the Government, the United Democratic Party, have indicated that if and when the Appropriation Bill makes it to the House of Representatives they would [...]
Should the government pay the 90.6 million dollars to the Belize Bank? All across Belize, views are very divided on this - and the sense we get is that most regular folks just don't know.
Indeed, it's a complicated situation with no easy answers - not even for the PUP - who still haven't said how its parliamentarians will vote!
But for the UDP - with the exception of the Prime Minister - it's almost a matter of doctrine now: they cannot pay the 90 mil.
And that's why the party has publicly bristled at the statement from the Chamber of Commerce. That private sector umbrella group blamed both political parties and said that the UDP should honor the debt. That's a complete reversal from 2007 when the Chamber membership vowed to stage a shutdown and withhold business tax payments if the then Musa government used public funds to pay Universal's private debt.
Godwin Hulse was the president the chamber at that time - and, now as a UDP Minister, today in Corozal he told CTV-3 that he doesn't see the sense in the Chamber's position:..
Hon. Godwin Hulse, Former Chamber President "To be honest with you I am downright surprise at the chamber, because the chamber initiated this process at the time and we've walk through it. Actually Godwin Hulse, that's me, put my name on the, and I was the senator at the time, past president, but senator and I put my name on as one of the claimants against the government at the time, because I thought that it was totally and completely wrong. And it was not me alone who thought that. The NTUCB thought that, the Chamber thought that. The Chamber issued a very strong resolution. I mean really to say that the government of the day should have paid. On what basis, through what instrument? How would we have said well okay the courts are looking at this, but let us settle this and be done with this. That would have been totally irresponsible. But I do think they should have at least consulted with the past presidents committee which they have, which would have been not anymore me, but the other senior past presidents and get a very good understanding of all the details before they issue such a statement. It's just my belief."
And, what most people are concerned about is that 17% compound interest that will just keep growing once the debt goes unpaid. And that the bill - will eventually come due - and will have to be paid at an astronomical cost at some point in the future. Hulse has a different spin on that though. Through what we can only regard as a kind of perverse optimism - he said that once the loan is written off - interest stops accruing:...
Hon. Godwin Hulse, Former Chamber President "And I am saying to you that the only reason government's money can be voted is for a goods or a service. Whichever way you take it. I don't know what it would be voted for now, so that bill would stay there and the government may say I can't find that money at all. There are other more pressing things and I don't see what I am paying for and that to my mind would be where it ends."
"The issue of interest running, I am yet to verify this, but my understanding is that all banks have to declare a bad debt at some time and when you declare a bad debt the interest is frozen and eventually you have to write it off. It doesn't mean you can't collect it in the future at some time if the system is good, but that is what they do with everybody's debt. I don't see why it would be different with this debt."
In a statement earlier this week, The Belize Bank said quote, "the fundsâ€¦at the end of the day were lent from funds deposited with the Belizean Bank by Belizean depositors. The Central Bank of Belize would take a very stern view indeed of any licensed bank not seeking to recover such a debt." End quote.
There was a House Meeting in Belmopan today - but for all those of you who expected a drastic showdown on the vote for and against the 90.6 million owed to the Belize Bank - it didn't happen.
That's because this house meeting had been scheduled from before the CCJ judgement was handed down on November 22nd. So today's sitting was the regular final house meeting of the calendar year. To vote on the 90 million - the Prime Minister will have to call a Special Sitting. But he will only do that after the Bank has formally served him with a certificate for the amount that is due on the award. That must be done within 21 days of the judgement, and we are at day 16.
The PM today told the press that the dramatic meeting featuring the vote on the 90.6 million dollar award will probably come in the first week of January:...
Jules Vasquez- Reporter "This is usually the last House meeting before Christmas but will we have another because the Special Sitting for the $90 million needs to also be held eventually."
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister "Quite possible but I'm not sure. We clearly are waiting until we get the certificate which can only be issued 21 days after the judgment but once that certificate comes, I think, we will want to have a special meeting as quickly as is practical."
Jules Vasquez "But is there a timestamp? Once you get the certificate is there a timestamp or risk imprisonment?"
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow "I don't think so. We are quite clear that the monies have to be voted by parliament, there are all sorts of arguments for the other side as to whether Parliament's vote in a certain way is obligatory. We've announced to you and to the world that once we get the certificate we will come to parliament with the supplementary allocation. I don't see that there is any risk that if we take a couple of weeks before we, in fact, summon a meeting that that could be misinterpreted as a desire or determination on our part not to call the meeting at all. The meeting will be called."
Jules Vasquez "So, probably early in the new year?"
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow "Not later than, I would say, the first assuming that the certificate comes as early as it can come; certainly, not later than the middle of January, I would think perhaps the first week in January."
And while the Prime Minister has his own timeframe, the Belize Bank is pushing for immediate payment. The Bank's Attorney Eamon Courtney has sent the Attorney General Mike Peyreffite a letter saying that a soon as government gets the certificate, the Bank expects payment. The PM says the Bank can want all it wants, he must go to the House:
Reporter "I believe the Attorney General is in possession of a letter where he is asked to make it clear that this is going to be dealt with when they are ready to issue the notice, one, and two they've raised concerns where your statement on the 29th of November and the statements from other members of your party could be seen as contempt of court."
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow- Prime Minister "Well, first of all, that's not his business. And in terms of my statement or my statements, I am very much aware of what I said and I was aware when I was saying what I said. So, I dismiss that out of hand, certainly, with respect to myself. In terms of his saying to the Attorney General that he wants matters dealt with as soon as he comes up with the certificate, I am repeating, matters will be dealt with but not in the way he wants. There is clearly not going to be any payment unless and until the House votes to appropriate the money. He and, Allen and Overy can hauler until the cows come home. I am satisfied that the state of the law, the state of our constitutional and statutory arrangements is such that that money cannot be paid, cannot be extracted from the consolidated revenue fund unless and until parliament votes to so appropriate it. There is no doubt in my mind that depending on how parliament goes, we clearly will be back in court and I would say nothing about that."
Time’s Up! Belize Bank, G.O.B. Prepare for U.H.S. Showdown
Has the time come for repayment of ninety million-plus Belize dollars to the Belize Bank Limited in respect of the Government’s sovereign guarantee of a defaulted loan by Universal Health Services Limited? Under the Interpretation Act, the twenty-one day limit before the Bank applies for certificate to enforce the judgment expires today, Wednesday. The Bank, according to Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte, can now apply for the certificate and serve it on the government, but until it does, Belmopan is standing pat. Meanwhile, the Bank’s attorney, Eamon Courtenay, says G.O.B. knows what it has to do next and the Bank is awaiting that.
Eamon Courtenay, P.U.P. Senator
“I suspect we are probably there. But I haven’t been counting them, because the Government knows what it should have been doing from the day the judgment was handed down.”
“Would you comment on what Mr. Salazar said?”
“Mr. Salazar, as I understood it, has a problem with the Chamber; he’s a member of the Chamber and he should have taken whatever issues he had to a meeting of the Chamber. None of us were interested in his personal opinions and how the Chamber should behave and should not behaved.”
Michael Peyrefitte, U.D.P. Senator
“We are waiting to see what they will do; we believe that they know the process that has to be followed, and we are seeing no indication that they are following that process. So until we have a certificate from the court saying that that is an official judgment and order, then we can’t do anything.”
“I think the timeline is twenty-one days. But I think what I’m not clear about and more or less what I’m asking is, is that the twenty-one days inclusive of weekends, is it just working days?”
“Under the Interpretation Act, if a certain time is given and that time is more than five or seven days then you count weekends. So it is twenty-one days from November twenty-second that the Belize Bank had to wait, that twenty-one day period before they could apply for the certificate.”
“So there still has to be an application?”
“In my humble view, but I dah no Senior Counsel; in my view.”