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Finger Pointing Belizeans pay for costly blame game

By Benjamin Flowers
Staff Reporter

In the wake of the Caribbean Court of Justice’s (CCJ) recent ruling, which straddles Belizean taxpayers with a mammoth $90 million bill for the secret UHS loan guarantee, Prime Minister Dean Barrow and Opposition Leader John Briceño have done little more than point fingers back and forth.

The Prime Minister’s two-hour press conference Wednesday saw government Senator Godwin Hulse chronicle the entire history of the UHS saga, starting in 2004 when the Musa PUP Administration signed a loan note between Belize Bank and the privately-owned UHS, as the primary guarantor for $29 million.

According to Hulse, the PUP then contravened the Finance and Audit Reform Act by diverting US $20 million, gifted to GOB by the Venezuelan and Taiwanese governments for the benefit of the people of Belize, to settle the UHS debt. Hulse also went through the arbitration and court rulings leading up to the “disappointing” CCJ decision last Wednesday.
Senator Dr. Carla Barnett also gave a testimonial, detailing her lack of inclusion in the decision as the country’s Financial Secretary at the time.

Sharing the blame, Briceño pointed out that if the UDP had just paid the original $37 million award when the London Court of International Arbitration had ruled in the first instance, and not repeatedly slept on its responsibility to show up to arbitration hearings, the award would not have amassed over $50 million in interest alone.
“He was the one that has created this problem, and has created this crisis and as the saying goes: you broke it, you own it, you fix it,” Briceño said.

“How can you pay on the basis something that was declared not just by the people of Belize but by the courts of the country to be illegal?” Barrow contended, defending his government’s decision to unsuccessfully battle the case in court.

Barrow said he would wait until the Bank has served GOB with the necessary paper work before he tables a motion as to whether or not to pay the debt. That paper work should be filed within 21 days after the ruling, no later than December 13.

Barrow said he does not know how his fellow ministers will vote, but will direct them to vote their conscience, adding that if parliament votes ‘No’ to paying the money, it doesn’t cancel the debt, and that the interest keeps accumulating. He also said that as long as Cabinet votes against making the payment, the court cannot compel the government to vote ‘Yes’.

The Belize Bank issued a brief statement shortly after the Prime Minister’s press conference, saying that it does not concur with Barrow’s interpretation and that time would tell whether the bank or the government is right. And while there is much uncertainty regarding the way parliament will vote with regard to settling the UHS debt, what is not uncertain, is who will ultimately pay for the debts made by and inflated by the past and current governments – the Belizean people.

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