By Alexis R. Milan
Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced on Thursday that he has had several amendments to the controversial PetroCaribe Loan Act 2015, drafted after considering the criticisms of those with legitimate concerns about the Act, and will take them to the House of Representatives in June.
The amendments will quell the noise from those who say that the original Loan Act enabled the government to spend wildly and without transparency and accountability. The Prime Minister intends to pass the Bill through all of its stages when he takes it back to the House.
The new draft is an amendment to Section three of the original Act, where subsection (2) and subsection (3) will be repealed and another provision, subsection (4) added immediately after subsection (3).
According to Barrow, the amendment to subsection (2) states that:
“The money borrowed from APBEL shall be kept in a fund at the Central Bank of Belize, which shall form part of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of Belize and may be withdrawn from time to time as the need arises.
The withdrawal and spending of the said money from the Central Bank shall be in full measure, subject to the Finance and Audit Reform Act and all other laws, regulations and procedures applicable to moneies forming part of the Consolidated Revenue Fund.”
The amendment to subsection (3) will read:
“The money borrowed from APBEL may be used to finance capital projects, provide social and community assistance to the poor, socially marginalized and other sectors of the community, pay compensation relating to government’s nationalization of BEL and BTL, assist with commercial and super bond debt buy-back and for any other similar legitimate purpose.”
Finally, the new subsection (4), according to Barrow will state:
“It is . hereby provided that all money borrowed from APBEL shall be reported to the National Assembly quarterly and shall require the passage of a retrospective supplementary allocation for any spending done in the reporting quarter that was not provided for in the annual estimates of revenue and expenditure.
At the time of quarterly reporting, a prospective supplementary allocation shall also be required for all spending proposed to be done in the following quarter, if such spending has not been provided for in the annual estimates of revenue and expenditure.”
While Barrow believes that his amendments will do much to satisfy the nay-sayers of the original PetroCaribe Loan Act, Section 4(1) would still read:
“Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing provisions and notwithstanding anything contained in the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act, 2015 or any other law to the contrary, the following agreement and the borrowings are hereby validated and confirmed retrospectively…”
That section goes on to validate the loan agreement between GOB and APBEL in September 2012, the borrowing of US $114,307,356 between August and September of 2014 and the borrowing of US $28,776,243.39 between September 2014 and February 2015.
Critics of the Act have argued that this section, in essence, attempts to make legal what was then illegal under the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act 2005.
The following Section 5, reads: “In the event of a conflict between the provisions of this Act and any other law, the provisions of this Act shall prevail.” T
This provision has been the cause of a lot of the contention, as critics have argued that this provision nullifies and supersedes all other pieces of legislation, including the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act.