BELMOPAN, Cayo District, Thurs. Dec. 7, 2017–The recent ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has pitted several social partners against the United Democratic Party (UDP)-led government, several of whose Cabinet Ministers have declared publicly that they have no intentions of honoring the CCJ-ordered payout of more than $90 million to the Belize Bank Limited.
Nikita Usher, the president of the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), and his predecessor, Kay Menzies, have both said that the Government of Belize (GoB) should respect the rule of law and honor the payment of the debt, which was originally $33.5 million, but which ballooned to today’s figures, and to which interest is being added with each passing day.
On Wednesday, Amandala interviewed Private Sector Senator, Mark Lizarraga, for his views on the matter.
“To be perfectly honest with you, my views are not dissimilar to those of the Chamber at this time. I’m still in the process of gathering information. I’m still in the process of listening-learning,” he said.
According to Lizarraga, if we are a society based on the rule of law, we must heed the ruling of the CCJ. He said, “The persons that we have entrusted for interpreting our laws at the very highest level is the Caribbean Court of Justice. They have looked at all the legal arguments… If we are going to be a society based on the rule of law, we have to at some stage listen to what the highest court of law in our land is advising, is suggesting, has written on.”
Lizarraga explained that those are his preliminary thoughts. He said he hopes to further shape his position after the debate on the matter, scheduled for Friday in the National Assembly.
We asked him if the matter will make it to the Senate for him and the other senators to further debate.
“By the looks of it, it might not even hit the Senate, because if the House does not approve it, then it does not have to come to the Senate, so I might not have to worry about that from that perspective,” Lizarraga said.
The Private Sector Senator went on to explain that if the motion to pay the debt is voted down, the debt will not magically disappear.
“It’s alarming to think that we can be less than responsible, somebody used the term ‘kicking the can down the road,’ fully recognizing that it is a debt, it remains a debt whether Parliament approves or not,” he said.
“It’s going to remain a debt, and at some stage, some new mechanism or some other mechanism may come to haunt us when it’s a billion dollars, or whatever it is at that stage, because the debt is compounding at an astronomical rate. It’s over one point two million dollars per month, the last I looked, that the interest keeps compounding. So that’s frightening,” Lizarraga said.
“The Chamber did some exercises and they were talking that in the next four, five years, it could be a hundred and sixty-odd million. Here we started out with ten million being taken from a debt that was already paid, and now it’s at ninety million. If we don’t address it, it will keep racking up. It’s a liability that remains. It’s concerning,” Lizarraga said.
The senator added that over the weekend, he will meet with an advisory committee and formulate the position he will take, in the event that the House acquiesces to the ruling of the CCJ. If that occurs, the bill will then go to the Senate.
The previous PUP administration had signed as a guarantor for a loan that the Universal Health Services had received from the Belize Bank Limited. For whatever reason, the PUP had to cough up loan payments which, according to Former Prime Minister Said Musa, were made using grants secured from Taiwan and Venezuela.
When the UDP took office in 2008, the administration of Prime Minister Dean Barrow took back the payments. This led to several rounds of litigation, with Belize losing in several international courts, which ruled that the agreement made by the PUP administration had been valid.
It was under Prime Minister Dean Barrow that the debt settled by the PUP administration was “unsettled”, and so grew exponentially in interest.