Features — 07 August 2016 — by Audrey Matura-Shepherd
The BTL farce with Barrow and Aschroft benefitting!

First let me apologize to readers for taking that unannounced break… but truth be told I enjoyed the silence and just looking on as s—t upon s—t hit the proverbial fan and then when it all piled up together it made s—t creek and I noticed we all up s—t creek without a paddle and some of us don’t even have dory. As I said to some who asked me what with the silence, I repeat, “What will I write? I told you so?”

Of course I did not know that my colleague in the struggle, Pastor Llewellyn Lucas, would be decapitated, but I knew that the criminal connection with public officials and nefarious characters would soon be unveiled. Also I knew that Ashcroft would take us to the cleaners with the acquiescence of the government and that eventually the Petrocaribe dollars and all the “hand-out” clinics would run out. We did not use the monies to empower people; rather our present political leaders used us to control power over people… big difference, bro!

People di suffer. Some can’t even eat and mothers have increased the prostitution of their children and the churches are fighting with each other because too many are in politics and are not about following the footsteps of the greatest revolutionary, Jesus Christ, who stood up for the widowed, orphans, blind, lepers, sick, prostitutes and the least privileged. Instead church leaders are forgetting they need to shepherd the flock.

BTL acquisition – the farce

From the Belize Telecommunication (Amendment) Act 2009 (herein 2009 Act), I was skeptical about whether we could get away with paying Mr. Ashcroft’s group a mere pittance and just knew he loved the challenge and would litigate us to death. I was also skeptical because I knew he and the three-term Prime Minister were “friends” or “associates” or supporters” (using the terms loosely) and that after Manuel Esquivel’s campaign, though Dean Barrow took Ashcroft’s campaign finance and Esquivel refused to dance to the tune of the Pied Piper, it was Dean Barrow who sought to mend fences. Then by 1999 to 2000 I knew that Dean was discussing further campaign financing from Ashcroft as he, like most in the UDP, believed they could never beat the blue machine without getting like finances from the PUP’s premier financier, Michael Ashcroft. So knowing that link, I knew too well that the old proverb “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” will prevail over the so-called rhetoric of nationalism and the people’s interest.

From 2009 to now, 2016 I waited to see how this would play out and never stopped addressing it and even more so predicating that there will be settlement. My theory, which may be totally off mark, has always been that for the public show or pappy show, both Dean and Ashcroft will read off their script and pretend they have become mortal enemies. Dean will make sure brother Denys’ law firm or even his, benefit from massive legal fees, while he takes the national podium to vilify Ashcroft and tell the people how hard he is fighting to wrestle the people’s asset from this villain. In the process he will make sure his family, and cronies, especially his son Anwar Barrow head BTL and earn an unprecedented salary and diminish the strength of the employees and union so there be no retaliation.

After this great spectacle and after winning the people’s hearts because we are taking away what is rightfully ours from Ashcroft, I did expect for the PM to turn around and say “you see I have fought hard and valiantly for you all, but now I got to settle this and give the Good Samaritan what he deserves,” the people who are blinded will say “see poor Dean, he tried his best to get back BTL for us, and to pay the least possible, but for our sake he is now settling.” Blinded by it all the people will feel sympathy not knowing it is for themselves that they must be mourning, because if they check the Barrows have benefited financially by this seven-year legal battle and we the people still had to pay, more than we can afford and in it all the lawyers get their fees, especially the private lawyers the government got, in the person of the PM’s brother Denys Barrow, walk away with their handsome reward. But the government has its own dozens of lawyers under the Attorney General Ministry, but instead opted to pay private legal fees, which could have been avoided.

Another secret BTL Accommodation Agreement

Now our people are either so exhausted by the constant political propaganda, or extremely blinded by political loyalty, or dying from exhaustion from corruption or just don’t care to bother analyze the stench in our governance system, that there is no call to accountability or transparency by the masses on whose behalf each government administration must act.

The present UDP mouthpieces were known to have denounced the secret BTL accommodation agreement between the PUP and the Ashcroft group, but when the Government likewise legalized an even more offensive accommodation agreement and even used the power of Parliament to cement it as a national burden on us the people, they just can’t seem to appreciate they got a worse deal. The only difference is that the PUP accommodation was secret, but the UDP one started in secret and then was openly legitimized. But either way, they both bad but the recent one is worse.

I say it is worse because we the people lost a lot when litigation spanned six years and we still had to pay more than we can afford. I say it is worse because we were made to believe we would win, Ashcroft would get minimal payment and we would not have to bend to the jurisdiction of an arbitration tribunal so our government never sent a lawyer there to defend our position. But the truth is, that on September 11, 2015, behind closed doors in a hotel room in the USA, under the guise that he was due for some medical appointment, the Prime Minister of Belize, the Right Honorable Dean Oliver Barrow clandestinely met with Michael Aschcroft , aka The Good Samaritan, and signed on behalf of this nation a new secret BTL Accommodation Agreement renamed “Bank Settlement Deed”.

This deed however, sealed our fate because Ashcroft in his infinite wisdom, did not only get Dean Barrow to sign this deed, but he got Dean Barrow to agree to make the deed a part of the law of our country and thus on Tuesday 15th September, 2015 in a rushed one-day sitting of Parliament, the Prime Minister of Belize Dean Barrow introduced the Telecommunication Acquisition (Settlement) Act, which went through all its readings in the House of Representatives and then the Senate and gazetted into law on that same day September 2015.

The people in this country bought this story and act “hook, line and sinker” as they would say and to date no uprising against it has taken place. GOB launched a publicity attack against Eamon Courtenay, attorney for Ashcroft, because he got paid millions in legal fees, but that was just going on the defensive, because GOB is yet to disclose how much in legal fees the PM’s own brother or his firm has benefitted from this prolonged litigation, which he ended up settling anyway and could have done earlier and save us at least $50 million in legal fees. Ironically, the said Dean Barrow referred to the very same Ashcroft as The Good Samaritan, so how come Ashcroft is the Good Samaritan but his attorney is not? The attorney represents the interest of the client… Isn’t that what Denys Barrow also did for his brother in government? I told you all that after this Wave Radio and Guardian newspaper nor any UDP mouthpiece would vilify Ashcroft… the deal was cut… so now it is best they go after Courtenay, who also now wears the political cap of senatorial appointee of the PUP. Yet the people remain silent and submissive.

Yet I am asked why I remain silent… what else is there to say? “I told you so… I have been telling you so and I will keep telling you so” but the time to talk is over: the time to act is upon us.

GOB and Ashcroft back in court

Then ironically, today Thursday July 28, 2016, while at Supreme Court to deal with a client’s matter I stumbled upon a case management hearing by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the same government and Ashcroft group are back in court because as I understand it, on July 13 the government was obligated to pay 50% of the monies agreed to as the price tag of BTL by the ruling of the arbitration tribunal. We all say that price tag is a total of US$500 million, but the breakdown is disputed or still unclear. However, our Minister of Finance, who also happens to be our Prime Minister, is reportedly unable to find the money to make the payment and is disputing what the 50% works out to. Also he is now saying through his attorneys that the country does not have the US currency to use to make the payment in US dollars as was previous legislated.

Of course Ashcroft will not have “no” for an answer. The Good Samaritan wants his money and so his attorney is taking GOB to court to demand an enforcement of the once Secret Settlement deed turned legislation under the Telecommunication Acquisition Settlement Act. Belizeans need to know what is going on.

You see that special law that was shoved down our throats after that secret Ashcroft/Barrow meeting states at Clause 4 dealing with payments as follows:

“4.1 – On the Business Day following the enactment of the Legislation, the Government shall pay or procure payment to the Bank of US$48,544,927.78, representing compensation, including costs, expenses and interest, in amounts specified in paragraphs 328 (h) to (m) and, in the case of interest, calculated according to paragraphs 328 (n) of the Final Award [This is the December 19, 2014 decision of the Arbitral Tribunal in which it found the government in breach of an old English treaty which applies to Belize and ordered payment.]

4.2 All payments made pursuant to clause 4 shall be: (a) exempt from and be made free from taxes, duties, charges, fees or imposts; and (b) made in United States Dollars directly, without any set off, deduction or counterclaim whatsoever …” [emphasis mine]

Conclusion

My people, the corruption has been legalized in so many ways… but I guess people are barely coping with finding something to eat, so cannot find time to even bother about these national issues. But until they can relate their strife, their poverty, their crime, their plight to the decisions made at the top by their political party leaders turned government officials, they will never be able to stand up and fight against the root cause of their desperate life situation. It is all related, but as one government official said, “Belizeans are not sophisticated enough” to connect the dots and see that the man on the street killing each other is not the enemy… the enemy is the same politician who pays you for your vote… gives nationality to immigrants for vote… enters into deals with foreigners to plunder your land and labor and has no respect for you but seeks you out for every election.

God bless Belize!

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