Headline — 27 September 2013 — by Adele Ramos
Over $100 mil in write-offs go to House Friday

At a meeting of the House of Representatives, scheduled to begin at 10:00 this morning, over $100 million worth of old debt owed to the Government of Belize will be tabled for write-off.

An official source told Amandala that a $113.4 million “Write-Off of Old Loans Motion”—$17.2 million in principal and $96.2 million in accumulated interest—will be tabled for loans outstanding since the era after Hurricane Hattie. We were told that the move is in line with recommendations previously made by the Office of the Auditor General.

Also, a debt relief and write-off motion will be tabled for the Development Finance Corporation (DFC).

In his Independence Day remarks last Saturday, Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced that 361 persons would have their DFC loans written off.

“Government is arranging to forgive some 6.22 million dollars’ worth of DFC loans,” Barrow said.

He added that the loans are principally mortgage loans, but also include education and productive sector loans.

“For the most part, the loans have already been foreclosed on by the DFC and the borrowers’ collateral seized, but the sale of the collateral was not sufficient to liquidate the debt, and the borrowers were still on the hook for the balance,” he explained.

Barrow said that the debtors in question “will no longer be hounded by lawyers and bill collectors for the remainder of what they owe.”

Another major highlight of today’s House meeting is the introduction of a new High Seas Fishing Bill. (More on this in a separate article.)

Belize is also moving to implement a suite of laws categorized as anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism measures, in order to stave off sanctions the country could face for not meeting standards agreed to, under the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), which had listed Belize with Guyana and Dominica as countries which have been given a November 13, 2013, deadline to effect legislative reforms.

In a public statement issued this May, CFATF said, “If Belize does not take specific steps by November 2013, then the CFATF will identify Belize as not taking sufficient steps to address its… deficiencies and will take the additional steps of calling upon its Members to consider implementing countermeasures to protect their financial systems from the ongoing money laundering and terrorist financing risks emanating from Belize, and at that time, CFATF will consider referring Belize to the Financial Action Task Force International Cooperation Review Group (FATF ICRG).”

The suite of proposed amendments, which were introduced in Parliament at its last sitting, address the criminalization of arms trafficking; the creation of new offenses, such as piracy (including but not limited to piracy on the high seas), insider-trading, hostage-taking, and trafficking in stolen goods; the implementation of gaming control laws to mandate that every person with interest in gaming operations be disclosed at the time an application is made for a license; the drafting of amendments that would require NGOs to make their information public and accessible to people who pay the prescribed fee to get information on those organizations; and the drafting of amendments to give the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) the power to seek a court order to access communications information from service providers, rather than requiring that the application be made through the Director of Public Prosecutions.

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