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Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline OP
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Government Resolves Registry Debt at a Discount

The Government of Belize announced earlier today that it has reached a discounted settlement for the financial damages payable to Belize International Services Ltd. (BISL). This is a result of the unlawful nationalisation in 2013, by the then UDP Administration, of the ships and companies registries, and the subsequent judgment by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in July 2020 against the government.

Following a comprehensive Cabinet review of the matter and Cabinet's decision to resolve this outstanding public debt and uphold the rule of law, the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Hon. John Brice�o has today signed a Settlement Agreement with BISL, which caps damages at the equivalent of US$38.25 million. Previously, BISL had sought compensation in excess of US$70 million.

For context, in 1993, the Government of Belize entered into an agreement for the development and management of the International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize and the International Business Companies Registry. That agreement was extended in 2003 and in 2005. In 2013, the then UDP Administration took control of the registries on the basis that the 2005 extension was illegal and, therefore, invalid. As a result, BISL sued the government claiming a breach of the Management Agreement and seeking financial compensation.

The 2020 CCJ judgment was harshly critical of the UDP Government, referring to the abrupt seizure of the registries as "constitutionally immoral" and "failing to meet the standards set for compliance with the value of the rule of law." The judgment decried the then government's lack of good faith, fairness, justness, reasonableness and inconsistency with the standards of good governance. The judgment stated, "Using State power arbitrarily, unreasonably and/or unlawfully in the commercial sphere erodes trust and confidence in doing business with government. Such actions impair the credibility of the State and undermine public, private and international faith and assurance in the political and economic conditions for doing business in a jurisdiction. They are injurious economically and developmentally."

In opposition at the time, the PUP, expressed serious concern over the massive financial damages to which the arbitrary 2013 UDP decision to assume control of the registries exposed the Belizean taxpayer, as well as the assault on the rule of law represented by the seizure. Resolving this outstanding government liability, and doing so at a deep discount compared to the potential claim upon the public purse, is the foremost rationale for the settlement.

The resolution removes a significant and swelling liability, potentially as large as BZ$182 million, with accumulating daily interest of some BZ$17,000 or over BZ$6 million more per annum. Contrasted with the maximum possible damages claim, the settlement represents a discount of some 58%.

The government underscores that compensation is set against revenues already directed from the registries to the Consolidated Revenue Fund during the 2013 to 2020 period. The discounted settlement represents 39 cents of every dollar collected by government from the registries during the seven-year period. In the normal course, BISL would have collected 64 cents of every revenue dollar.

In addition to financial closure and a reduction in the public debt, the settlement represents the fulfilment of this government's pledge to restore confidence in the rule of law and for the government to lead by example. In the coming weeks, the government will seek a Consent Order for the settlement from the Supreme Court. The National Assembly is expected to consider bills authorising the settlement terms and funding later this week.

Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,400
Marty Offline OP
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Another Ashcroft Settlement, This One: 38M USD, GOB Says It's 58% Discount

Prime Minister Briceno today signed a 76.5 million Belize dollar settlement deed with the Ashcroft Alliance. It's payment for the Belize International Services Ltd, which comprises the international ships and companies' registries which the Barrow Administration nationalized in June of 2013. The Ashcroft Alliance. and a Panamanian Law Firm had controlled the registry from its inception in 1993. That was under the Price Administration, and it then got a pair of extensions under the Musa Administration in 2003 and 2005. But, the Barrow administration believed the second extension was illegal so it acquired the registry.

As with all things Ashcroft - it ended up in court - and in June of 2020, the Caribbean Court of Justice found that the government had acted in breach of contract, and is liable to pay BISL damages. Another loss, and the only question is how many tens of millions this one would cost. It was sent back to the Belize Supreme Court for the assessment of damages.

And that's where the Briceno Administration came in seeking to work out a settlement rather than face another costly courtroom entanglement.

Months of negotiation ended up in a settlement price of 38.25 million US dollars BISL had sought compensation in excess of US$70 million. Like we said, a whole lot of money but government says it could have gone up as high as 90 million US dollars with accumulating daily interest in the thousands of dollars. That's why tonight it's being called a "deep discount" - and when we caught him at another event in Belmopan today, the Prime Minister explained why:

Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister
"The point is that it has to be paid and it was sent back to the supreme court to be able to be dealt with expeditiously. We agreed to pay 38.25 million US dollars of which 11.5 million is going to be paid in Belize dollars. So I think approximately a little of 32 million dollars is going to be paid in US and the rest 11.5 million is going to be paid in Belize dollars."

"I know the question is why settle now? well if we don't settle now, we can look at the history with the previous government, we'd be paying a lot more. If we were to proceed going back to court and going all the way to the ICJ, we could see a potential settlement as high as a 180 plus million dollars. The interest rates is going to be around $17,000 per day and we cannot afford in good conscience as a country to continue to go down this road."

And while it was the most judicious course, the fact is the BISL registry is wholly owned and operated by the government and generates tens of millions of dollars in revenue annually. Today, the Prime Minister says that while the 38 million US may seem steep, BISL's earnings in the past 9 years have far surpassed that:

Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister
"Since the acquisition in the past 7 years, we've collected as a government a little over 95 million US dollars in revenues over 7 years and of that it cost the government a little under 9 million dollars US to run those operations. So, in effect about 85-86 million dollars US profit. So when you subtract the payments and everything from those profits, we would have enough money to be able to pay. It was unfortunate that the previous government spent all the money. They did not save any money, they did not put anything in a sinking fund, knowing full well that it will have to be paid."

"We believe that it is in our interest to be able to settle it and settle now and move on."

Jules Vasquez
"The government always ends up paying through its nose for an entanglement with the Ashcroft Alliance. The broad contours of this as you have explained it, seem to somehow escape that inevitable trap that we often fall into with the Alliance. What is the difference in this case?"

Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister
"I think it has to be with approach, that we were approaching it strictly business-like, accepting that we have a debt that has to be paid, accepting that if you continue fighting in court, you can't win. The CCJ have said that Belize was guilty and that they have to pay. So, we have to be realistic and to negotiate and we negotiated hard."

Government has 60 days to pay the former owners of BISL.

A Government Release says "the settlement represents a discount of some 58%". It will go to the House of Representatives for debate on Wednesday.

Channel 7


Government will Borrow From Itself to Cover B.I.S.L. Debt

The decision handed down by the C.C.J. two years ago disparaged the Barrow administration, describing the appropriation of the registries as, "constitutionally immoral and failing to meet the standards set for compliance with the value of the rule of law". Furthermore, it continued to criticize the absence of good faith, fairness, and practicality exercised by the previous government.� While B.I.S.L. sought a hefty sum in return, the maximum possible damages, the discounted settlement represents thirty-nine cents of every dollar collected by government from the registries during a seven-year interval.

Prime Minister John Brice�o

"B.I.S.L. was asking for as much as, if we were to proceed going back to court and going all the way back to the I.C.J., we could see a potential settlement as high as hundred and eighty-plus million dollars.� The interest rate is going to be running around, the interest is going to be around seventeen thousand dollars per day and we cannot afford, in good conscience, as a country, in good conscience, to continue to go down this road.� And we felt that we had a pretty good, a reasonable settlement with the officials of B.I.S.L.� I wish we don't have to pay but the reality is that pay we must."

Reporter

"In the cabinet briefing, first it's a steeply discounted settlement.� When people hear thirty-eight million U.S., they start to pull their hair out because the country is in such hard times.� But are you able to speak about B.I.S.L. as a going concern since the government owns it and has been earning money for the past seven years?"

John Brice�o

"Well if there is an upside to it and the government could have gone around a different way, if they wanted to take over the B.I.S.L. Certainly if we were in government we would have done it differently.� But by strong-arming and illegally acquiring this asset, the damage that it does to us as a country is incalculable. We felt it's important to be able to get it over quickly. Cabinet agreed to the terms last week Friday, today we signed the settlement deed and then on Wednesday we go to the house to be able to vote, to approve the settlement and also the supplementary budget to be able to pay them off.� I think it's sixty days, I think we have until the first of November to pay them off in full.

Reporter
"Where are you going to get the money?"

John Brice�o

"We are going to get it from, it's easier for government to borrow from itself than to be able to pay the six percent that the court mandates you to pay.� So government pays three and a half percent so it's a no-brainer."

Channel 5


Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,400
Marty Offline OP
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Opposition Supports BISL Settlement

As we've been reporting for the past two nights, the Briceno Administration has reached a settlement with the Ashcroft Alliance for the 2013 nationalization of the ships and companies' registries - collectively called BISL - Belize International Services Limited.

The Caribbean Court of Justice found that it was unlawful and that the government had to pay BISL compensation and damages in the tens of millions.

Today, the 76/5 million Belize dollar settlement figure was taken to the house for approval - and the opposition didn't put up too much of a fight:

Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister
"The highest court whose judgement is final, determined that the UDP government was in fact the law breaker, not BISL nor the previous government. The damages were due for the 7-year extension and that the supreme court should determine the amount government would have to pay. The CCJ underscored that damages payable to BISL should be quantified by the court and paid by the government on an expedited basis, their words, not mine. So, the obligation to pay BISL damages is a public debt that my administration inherited from the United Democratic Party government."

"Let me repeat, there is no question that government must pay, only a question of how much it will pay and after months of arduous settle negotiations, government today proposes to settle all liabilities related to BISL for the equivalent of US38.25 million dollars of which 11.5 million dollars will be paid in Belize dollars."

"The claim was for over 65 million US dollars or 130 million Belize dollars. The BISL claimed, I must stressed grows everyday with daily interest depending on the eventual core compensation of between BZ$4,000-$17,000 a day and so after the proposed settlement government will still net US48,615,000,789. Simply put government pays this now so that it can avoid paying a whole lot more at some time in the future."

Hon. Shyne Barrow, Leader of the Opposition
"Mr. Speaker, I just like to give the prime minister a round of applause for that outstanding performance. Mein, I've never seen someone sing for their supper that way. I have to take my grammy award and give it to you, I retired."

"Who are in desperate need of economic development, the prime minister accused me singing for my supper, but the same owners of Waterloo own BISL and my goodness, you are weeping and moaning and it begs the question, because I know you are business partners with the owners as well - you or your brother or your family, but the Belizean people really need to see you for what you are. But Mr. Speaker as far as this appropriation is concerned, I agree that we must follow the rule of law and we must pay our debts."

"For 23 years this corporation to the tune of 200 million, maybe less than that has had the benefit of managing doing a profit share with the government, unnecessarily so and it was the PUP government that gave our corporation to a foreign entity, Mr. Speaker.

"And during their management time there were all kinds of nefarious activities taking place; ships with Belizean flags with 5,000 kilos of cocaine, ships with Belizean flags with Russian missiles and all types of illegal arms, Mr. Speaker, this is what was happening. So when the Barrow administration came in in 2008, the contract was still there. The Barrow administration respected the contract that we knew about, because what the prime minister did not mention is that no one knew about the 15-year extension that then Prime Minister Musa gave to BISL. I don't even think the cabinet at the time knew about this secret agreement."

"Prime Minister Barrow and the UDP did the right thing. It was Prime Minister Musa who behind the back of his cabinet, behind the back of the Belizean people made a secret agreement with the owners of BISL which led to the litigation."

Hon. Tracy Taegar-Panton, UDP Albert Rep.
"In one payment we can settle a 38.5 million US dollars, 76 million dollars [Belize] on the backs of the Belizeans. Wasn't it just the last house meeting when the government coerce the churches to say we will put a hold on the referendum on marijuana because we can't afforded the 5 million, but yet Mr. Speaker we can find 76 million dollars to meet this debt obligation in one payment, not through a payment plan, not in instalments that would be less burdensome for the Belizean people - in one payment. We were so good at evaluating the quantum of the settlement, but we paid no attention to how we could ease that burden for the Belizean people. Food, we playing politics with the distribution of food to families who are marginalized. So, I do agree that we owe the debt. I do agree that as a sovereign nation we ought to pay the debt, but I also want the full transparency and accountability in this process."

PM Says Says BISL's Former Lawyers, Now Ministers Not Involved in Settlement

And after the House Meeting, the prime minister committed to ensuring that all the agreements made during the settlement will be made public. And while 38 million US dollars is a hefty amount for any government, Briceno celebrated the fact that there will be no surprise fees. He also addressed the concerns regarding the conflict of interest as it related to Courtenay and Coye law firm's involvement in the case. That firm represented BISL in court up until 2020.

Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister
"We would make everything public, we just had to come to the House first. We're going to give you the first agreement that was signed, the second, the third. We are going to make everything available to the public for them to look. We have nothing to hide. The point that I like to make is of the $38.25 billion US, of which 11 and a half billion is going to be paid in Belize dollars, is is final and that's it. We don't owe them anything. They are not going to come later, oh you owe me court fees, lawyer fees. That's it. We will settle there. From our end, we have not received the bills from from Dr. Ben Rossovich Senior Queen Counsel and and also from Hallmark Advisory from what I understand and I need to get more clarity. I don't think we're going to get a bill from them. They just want it to help to settle this, did this issue and felt that it was, you know, we just had to do trying to save money for the Belize people."

"Whatever Belize Bank and Morgan and Morgan want to be pay Courtenay and Coye or anybody, that is their business, that is being paid out of the $38.25 million US. As I said, it's final. And what I can tell you is that Courtney and Coye did not participate in the settlement. They participated in going to court up to 2020. But since we've come into office, they had no participation in this and Minister Courtenay walked out at midday before this issue came up to Cabinet and Minister Coye was out of the country with his family."

Channel 7

Channel 7



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