Gov’t Wins Case on Reduced Interest for U.H.S. Payment…
The Caribbean Court of Justice this morning issued judgment on the first part of a three-part application and counter-application by the Government of Belize and the Belize Bank Limited. The Bank is seeking that the Court enforce its judgment of November, 2017, in its favor for re-payment of a thirty-six million dollar loan initially granted to Universal Health Services, guaranteed by the Government. Last week, the two sides were in Port of Spain arguing their case at the C.C.J. headquarters. G.O.B. sought a reduction of the post-judgment interest rate from seventeen percent compounded to the statutory rate of six percent, which the C.C.J. panel gave. But according to the Bank’s attorney, Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, there was an offer made to Government in February to pay in installments and at a lower interest rate than offered today. The Government’s attorney says it is all moot, but is it possible the total payment could have been kept down? We have both sides speaking after the panel handed down its judgment.
Eamon Courtenay, Attorney for Belize Bank Limited
“I don’t know why you describe it as a loss. I think one of the things that people should realize is that on the first of February, the bank wrote to the Government of Belize offering two things: firstly, to accept payment over term, over a period of time in installments, and secondly to accept payment at the rate of Treasury Notes that were issued by the Government. My information is that the rate that was payable on those Treasury Notes was about three point seven-five [percent] to five point seven-five [percent]; so the offer that we had made was at a [lesser] interest rate than the court is now enforcing. So once again, I believe the Belizean people are paying a higher interest rate, six percent, than the Bank was prepared to accept. To your second question, I don’t think that the question of interest has any indication at all as to the court’s decision on the jurisdiction issue.”
Nigel Hawke, Solicitor General
“The court agreed that since it was now at leave to enforce the award, it should be at the rate of six percent, so our position has been vindicated.”
“And then as to the case itself, where the “Ashcroft Alliance” was hoping to press the Government or the Prime Minister to pay up immediately – how has that matter been handled?”
“The court has expressly said that this is just a partial judgment in relation to the aspect of interest; they have not come to a conclusion in the aspect of enforcing the award, so we have to await the judgment of the court on that.”
“Sir, however on the first point about the six percent, the other side is saying it’s not a victory for the Government; they’re saying that they presented a three-point-something percent and what the court is now indicating is six percent.”
“I wouldn’t get into that argument here; I would simply say is that our position has been vindicated; that we’re saying in terms of the post-judgment interest, it is now at six percent and not seventeen percent compounded.”
“So you won’t say if the other side did submit a proposal for it to go down below the six percent and that wasn’t accepted by the Government?”
“What I’m simply saying is I don’t want to try the case in the media, that’s all I’m saying. The court has ruled that it’s now six percent, so going here or there doesn’t matter at this point.”
What Will G.O.B. Do to Settle Debt?
But what happens to the rest of the case? That is still being deliberated by the C.C.J. panel. A large part of it has to do with how Government reacts during Thursday and Friday’s Budget Debate and afterward – but at the moment, according to Bank attorney Eamon Courtenay, no one, including himself, knows what the Government’s plans are.
Eamon Courtenay, Attorney for Belize Bank Limited
“We have argued already. We are awaiting to see what Parliament is going to do; I get the impression the Court is waiting to see what Parliament is going to do, and we will get a decision after the Budget Debate, which is, as you know, this week. We had indicated to the Court that after the Budget Debate, if the court wanted to hear from us, we would be available. So we are waiting to see if the Government will respect the decision of the C.C.J. or whether they will reject it.”
“So what form would that take? Someone would just have to bring it up in the debate and see how the Prime Minister responds? Or how would that work?”
“I don’t know what the Government intends to do. Remember that there is the Supplementary Appropriation Bill that was tabled on the fifth of January to meet this judgment. Nothing has happened with that; I don’t know whether that is going to be debated as part of the Budget, or whether the main Budget itself, which was read on the ninth of March by the Prime Minister, will be the bill that they use to deal with the judgment. I think what we are all waiting for – and when I say “we are all” I mean the client and the Court – we are waiting to see what the Government’s position is: judgment of the C.C.J.”
News Five has been informed that the interest accrued to date on the ninety-one point five million Belize dollar judgment since December seventeenth, 2017 amounts to approximately one point nine million Belize Dollars.
“Judgement Day” Anticlimax: CCJ Gives Partial JudgmentToday was supposed to be judgement day for the Government of Belize in the 90 million dollar case with the Belize Bank - but it turned out to be not such a momentous judgement after all. That's because the court only gave a partial decision on the rate of interest added unto that 90 million. It did not make any pronouncement on what the bank asked for, which is an enforcement order against the Minister of Finance and the Attorney General, forcing them to pay the judgment debt.
So, while everyone waits on that, in the matter of the rate of interest, Government wanted the CCJ to reconsider whether the judgment should have a running interest of 17.6% compounded, or a simple interest of 6%.
Today, via teleconference, the CCJ gave the government a rare win: conceding that the 17.6% rate of interest was not correctly applied. Justice Adrian Saunders read out the findings from the seat of the court in Trinidad - while the attorneys tuned in via video conference here in Belize at the Supreme Court:
Hon. Adrian Saunders - Judge, Caribbean Court of Justice
"This is the application made by the Government of Belize in relation to the post-judgment interest. In the circumstances, this application succeeds. The applicable post-judgment interest is the statutory rate of 6% simple interest from the date of the certificate. Given that the 3 applications were heard together, and we have not yet formed a view on the other 2 applications, the issue of cost is reserved."
Solicitor General Nigel Hawke and attorney Eamon Courtenay were at the Supreme Court to hear the judges deliver the partial judgment, and after the hearing, we got a comment from both:
Eamon Courtenay, SC - Attorney for Belize Bank
"The court decided today that the interest rate that is applicable is 6%, which is set out in the statute, and not the 17% that was stated in the award. So, that that run from the date of the certificate, which was in November of 2017."
Nigel Hawke - Solicitor General
"We made an application on the issue of interest, post-judgment interest. We were arguing that it should be at the rate of 6%, instead of at the rate that was agreed in the award, which was 17% compounded, and the court agreed that since it was now leave to enforce the award, it should be at the rate of 6%. Our position has been vindicated."
"Sir, this one loss for your side. Do you think that this is any indication as to how the other 2 may go?"
"I don't know why you described it as a loss. I think one of the things that people should realize is that on the 1st of February, the Bank wrote to the Government of Belize offering 2 things: firstly to accept payment over a period of time in installments, and secondly, to accept payment at the rate of treasury notes that were issued by the Government. My information is that the rate that was payable on those treasury notes was about 3.75% to 5.75%. So, the offer that we had made was at a less interest rate than the court is enforcement. So, once again, I believe the Belizean people are paying a higher interest rate, 6%, than the Bank was prepared to accept. To, your second question, I don't think that the question of interest has any indication at all as to the court's decision on the jurisdiction issue."
So, as you heard, this is 1 of 3 applications heard last week, and still outstanding is the big issue of whether or not to enforce the judgment against Belize. No date has been announced for that - and we'll tell you when it is.