BELIZE CITY, Mon. July 6, 2015–When the Petrocaribe Loans Act was presented in Parliament in March 2015, Senator Rev. Noel Leslie, who represents the church community in the Senate, voted “no” to the legislation, and he had told us back then that at the very least, there should be some changes to the Petrocaribe Loans Act, for which he said Belize could face some wider repercussions down the road.
After Parliament passed the new Petrocaribe law, both the unions and the private sector called for its repeal, and it was revealed in a statement released this weekend, on Saturday, July 4, that the Roman Catholic Church, the largest Christian denomination in Belize, is also in favor of its repeal.
Leslie told Amandala today that the position against the Petrocaribe legislation was affirmed in a meeting held in June by several members of the church community, including representatives of the Anglican, Methodist and Salvation Army denominations, but the group, which consisted of the major Christian denominations in Belize, had said that they would like to meet with the Prime Minister to see what could be done about the concerns.
That firm “no” position seemingly changed a few days later, when the group had a sit-down with Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow. Leslie said that at that meeting, held in June, the Prime Minister presented to the leaders of the church the set of amendments to the Petrocaribe Loans Act which he had proposed and which have now been approved at the recent meetings of Parliament.
Leslie said that the church leaders believed that the amendments are an improvement to the original law, and they indicated to the Prime Minister in that meeting, in what he described as a sort of consensus view, that they would support the amendments.
We asked Leslie whether the Prime Minister was apprised of the position of the Roman Catholic Church, that it wants a repeal of the legislation, and he said that this was not explicitly communicated to Barrow.
Leslie underscored to us today—just as he did in his presentation in the Senate last Wednesday—that everything is not perfect, as there are still concerns over the original Petrocaribe Loans Act.
Whereas the private sector and the unions both voted “no” on the amendments to the Petrocaribe Loans Act and two supplementary appropriation bills for 2014/2015 and 2015/2016, financed by Petrocaribe funds, the church senator voted in favor of all three.
“I am obligated to vote in accordance with the majority decision of [the Belize Council of Churches and the Evangelical Association of Belize] …which I represent in the Senate,” said Leslie, in the statement released over the weekend.
He added that, “The Roman Catholic Church of Belize, which shepherds 40% of the Belizean population, respectfully holds a different position from the one I presented in the Senate on the 1st of July 2015. I am on record as having opposed the PetroCaribe Loans Act 2015 on Monday the 30th of March 2015.”
He said that the Bishop of Belize and Belmopan, His Excellency Bishop Dorick Wright, joins him in calling for a repeal of the PetroCaribe Loans Act 2015 and its amendments and for a return to the adherence to the principles outlined in the Finance and Audit Reform Act 2005.
“The Roman Catholic Church of Belize and Belmopan holds the view that the Petrocaribe Loans Act 2015 was devised to correct transgressions in the borrowing and spending of public funds. The church has a duty to denounce any legislation that violates the Rule of Law, the Spirit of Democracy and the Constitution of Belize,” Leslie said.
He said that the key message, embodying what they would like to see, is the call for “…greater transparency and accountability in the management and use of public funds.”