By Marion Ali
One week after the People’s United Party suffered massive defeat at the polls, it called a meeting of its National Executive and standard bearers to discuss explosive revelations by its former Leader, Johnny Briceño.
In a taped 65 minute conversation, Briceño laid bare some of the most intimate secrets of the post-Price PUP which made stunning front-page news in Belize.
Briceño did not try to deny authorship of the information on the tape, which was recognizably his own distinctive voice, but he said he was betrayed by a trusted party lieutenant, who later turned the information loose.
The topics touched are far-ranging, from the BTL/Ashcroft/Prosser imbroglio to then Minister of Finance, Ralph Fonseca playing the money market with public funds and allegedly losing US$5m…and includes Briceño’s reason for stepping down as Party Leader in 2011. And every step of the way, Briceño lashes out at the then leadership structure of Said Musa and Ralph Fonseca and of the current leader, Francis Fonseca.
After a four-hour meeting of the party’s executive, Fonseca spoke to the media which had taken up its position outside the PUP Headquarters.
He said the party had discussed the many allegations contained in the recording and had decided to treat it as an internal matter. There would be no public comment on any of the allegations contained on the tape.
“It’s an internal party matter,” Fonseca said. “We have discussed it, we are dealing with it in that way. As I said from the very beginning, we will deal with it in a responsible way, in brotherly way.”
The recording, mostly an earnest monologue by Briceño, cataloguing the faults of the PUP and its leaders, was made apparently without his knowledge and consent.
In one startling excerpt from the conversation, conducted mostly in Spanish, Briceño refers to senior PUP officials of the past as cancers, claiming that “that’s the cancer that we have. That cancer that came and stole millions and millions and millions and millions of dollars from the people…I’m not talking about a little bit of money…millions, tens of millions of dollars they stole, that had this been another country they would have been in jail right now!”
In it Briceño revealed that while he was party leader, he spent $3 million of his own money to finance the party, and also secured a loan for $1 million, which he is still paying back.
Briceño was at one time party leader of the PUP and before that, he was Deputy Prime Minister under Prime Minister George Price and Prime Minister Said Musa.
The following excerpts from the tape tell something about the range and scope of past PUP activities and administrators. About his financial role in the party, Briceño revealed:
“… I had already spent $3 million out of pocket – something that Said nor Ralph nor George Price- nobody has done for this party … on top of that I made a loan of $1 million for the Town Council elections for 2009. Right now I have to donate $14,800 to the PUP every month for a loan they made.
On the subject of leadership, Briceño had this to say:
“…If it had been another leader we would have won … from the time he came in what did Francis do? Francis is king and only wants us in the back bench.
“Francis has not been working to get the support of the people … so, right now, the party is in disarray…
“Why do you think that throughout the country all the people want me to take over the leadership? Because they see that they are not getting anywhere with these people…They see that these people are the problem.
“I haven’t decided yet. All along I am not paying it any mind, but now I’m thinking about it. I will decide if I win. I will decide it if I win.”
On the subject of vote-buying, “Julian” had these interesting comments:
“They came to me and said: ‘You have the Melchor list?” I said yes. But this Melchor list, people are asking for $100. That is all that Melchor asks for- $100 to come and vote in General Elections. For Cayo Central we had 55 persons. Cayo North East we had 45. Cayo West and Cayo North are the bigger ones which have the most voters. When I told …….. here the list $5,500 we want to give these people…No we don’t have money, so I took back the list because I knew they were going to do foolishness. Because the Melchor people had already told me: Mr. Chell, if it is not you who come for us with Mr……. we are not coming out. They always promise us $100 and they only give us $30 or $25. I give them $100.
On the PUP Cancer:
“I will give you one example. You know what Ralph did one time? When government sold those assets… he took 10 million, they call it derivatives, against the Japanese yen. If the Japanese yen went up we will make so much money. The Japanese yen will go down. What business we have to do that to begin with? But he did it.
“One year later we discovered that we lost US $5 million. Five million got lost just like that!
“Then, on top of that now when Said tells Michael (Ashcroft): I want you to buy the tower, the Intelco infrastructure, because Intelco owes Social Security $20 million.
“Michael says OK, I’m going to take it, but I want you to guarantee me a 15 percent return on my investment, and if I don’t make that 15 percent return on my investment I’m going to deduct it from my taxes until I get back my $20 million…
That is the agreement that Ralph what’s his name made. And that’s why we are like this. And then the IMF was on us, telling us we were spending money we don’t have.
“We talked to him (Said) and we talked to him, until finally, I tell you, we come as a group and told him if you don’t fire him, we will step down. And that’s how they removed him from Ministry of Finance.”
Briceño blames the PUP loss in 2012 on Fonseca, stating, “He kicked out Mark and Cordel. Maybe long term it was a good thing but short term, it was a stupid mistake. I could have done that to Mark and Cordel but I know how it would hurt the party because they had a section of people.”
The recording includes a lot more allegations, including another former PUP minister, but a lot of the information is considered libelous.
Briceño also reserved particular attention for his former close advisor and current Deputy Leader of the PUP, Julius Espat. Espat has called on the party to suspend Briceno, we understand, but he didn’t get majority support on that move.
So can the PUP survive the latest allegations of corruption? It says it can. On Wednesday Fonseca told the media that the recording will be handled internally, and the party is now more united than ever, going forward.
But there is a large fraction within the party that trusts Briceño’s leadership, pointing to his G7 days and vocal opposition to corruption as strong points, and are lobbying for a by-election. If gained, Francis Fonseca could be dethroned as leader – forming a new People’s United Party yet again.