When the Belize Court of Appeal announced in mid-May that it had upheld the nationalization of Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) and the Belize Electricity Limited (BEL), Eamon Courtenay, SC, attorney for Fortis Inc., the former owner of BEL, and British Caribbean Bank, whose US$22.5 million mortgage debenture was acquired in the BTL nationalization, had told the press the court’s decision would be swiftly appealed at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
Amandala has confirmed that the former shareholders of the companies and the bank have filed an application with the CCJ to have the Awich ruling set aside – and one of the claims which the parties challenging the nationalization are making is that there was the appearance of bias on the bench, in the majority decision handed down by Justice Samuel Awich.
Last week, we reported to you that the Belize Bar Association, of which Courtenay is also president, had issued a resolution, approved via consensus after a discussion of the exact wording, on the fact that Awich’s contract, initially given for two years, has been extended until he turns 75 only days after his decision in favor of the Government.
The resolution documents that “…on the said 15th May, 2014, the Court of Appeal delivered a decision in an important constitutional case relating to the nationalization of Belize Telemedia Limited and Belize Electricity Limited in which the lead decision for the majority in favor of the Government was written by Justice Awich.”
It noted that only four days later, Prime Minister Dean Barrow wrote to Opposition Leader Francis Fonseca, advising that he would like to retain Awich until he retires.
The Bar said that it “is very concerned that the above sequence of events gives rise to a real likelihood of an appearance of bias, which tends to undermine confidence in the independence of the Judiciary in Belize.”
At his press conference on Wednesday, Barrow commented on the Bar resolution, saying that, “One of the complaints or one of the things flagged by the Bar Association’s resolution was the fact that we were proposing to renew the appointment after the last court judgment, in which the leading decision was given by Mr. Justice Awich, and the Government won. Well, suppose we had given the extension of the contract before the decision came down; you’d have heard that we did it as an inducement.”
Barrow said that the Government decided to wait until after the decision was made by Awich, and the Bar has, nonetheless, complained.
He said that he had no obligation to consult with the Bar, but the Leader of Opposition did, and shirked his constitutional duty by merely advancing the position of the Bar.
Amandala understands that the applications to the CCJ challenging the Court of Appeal ruling were filed on June 6 and 9th, but no date has been set for the hearing.
The Government has also applied to challenge the Awich ruling, because the Government contends that the date of retroactivity applied in the Awich ruling to the BTL nationalization, July 4, 2011, should be 2009, when the Government first assumed control of the phone company.
At the time of the Court of Appeal ruling, we had asked Courtenay whether it is consequential that the court only ruled the BTL nationalization to be effective as of 2011, although the Government has had control of the company since 2009.
“It is a remarkable thing,” Courtenay told us, unsure of the reasons at the time.
Asked whether the decision declaring the acquisition valid only since 2011 and not since 2009 could make the Government liable for damages or costs, the Government of Belize’s attorney, Denys Barrow, SC, told us then: “That is puzzling for me, so it is something that I would have to work out… it is open-ended at this stage.”