Tonight, the government is breathing a big sigh of relief after a surprise judgement from the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice today ruled that the court cannot force the Government to pay the 95 million dollars it owes the Ashcroft Alliance for Universal Health Services.
We are told it was a preliminary ruling on whether Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dean Barrow is in breach of his duty to pay the UHS debt. The CJ Kenneth Benjamin today ruled that he is not, because the National Assembly did not approve payment. The CJ agreed with government that only the Parliament could appropriate monies and, without that, he could not issue an order which would have forced the Minister of Finance to pay up.
At a House Meeting in August of 2018, the ruling UDP made history when they voted down a bill bought to the house by the Prime Minister. Every member on the UDP side voted against the supplementary appropriations bill for 95.6 million dollars to pay the Ashcroft Alliance compensation for the Universal Health Services debt.
And, now, the Supreme Court confirms that without an affirmative vote of the house, that money cannot come out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund. It's an interim victory and one the government is elated about - because for the first time in a very long while they are off the hundred million dollar hook. The Attorney General discussed the significance today:
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte - Attorney General
"The Chief Justice didn't give a written judgment as yet. He gave a background to the case, and he read for his notes. But, essentially what the Chief Justice is saying is what we have been saying. No member of the executive can get engaged in any transaction or any business with anybody for an amount of money that must be first voted for by parliament. So, what the Chief Justice said today is that the Ministry of Finance is not in breach of any law or duty to pay the monies owed to the UHS situation because the parliament simply has not voted for that. And neither the courts nor the Minister of finance is in a position to tell parliament what to do. And so, since parliament has not voted for the money, you can't then tell the Minister of finance to pay the money, because essentially, you'll be telling the Minister of Finance to defy parliament. You'd be telling the Minister of Finances to break the law and spend money that was not voted for by parliament. And so, where we are is that the debt is still there. The debt is still owed to Ashcroft. But at the same time, until parliament votes for the money, it can't be paid."
"We know that Ashcroft is an extremely stubborn and patient strategist. We know that this is round 2. So, quite possibly, there will be an appeal, so, we wait for that."
For the Ashcroft Alliance, it's now back to court. Tonight, an attorney for the Alliance is saying that it is only a preliminary judgment and they will now move forward with the substantive trial before Chief Justice Benjamin of whether they can force GOB to pay.