BELIZE CITY, Mon. June 4, 2018– In the never-ending stream of litigation by the Ashcroft Alliance, the Government of Belize registered a victory when the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruled on Friday not to issue an enforcement order against the government for the payment of the more than BZ 90-million- dollar Universal Healthcare Service (UHS) arbitral award.
The Belize Bank had filed an application in March, after the CCJ had ruled that the government must pay the bank, asking the CCJ to enforce its ruling on the award, but the court ruled that it would wait for the Belize parliament to first act on the court’s judgment.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow had said that the government accepts the court’s ruling, but only parliament can approve the disbursement of the funds for paying the UHS debt out of the consolidated fund.
The bill for the UHS court award was tabled in the House of Representatives earlier this year, but no vote was taken on the bill, which, since its introduction, had not been brought back to the House.
Several members of Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s Cabinet had indicated that they would vote against the paying of the UHS debt by the government.
It is against that backdrop that the Belize Bank’s attorney, Eamon Courtenay, S.C., filed his application to the CCJ, requesting that the court make an order for the government to pay the award to the bank.
In its 5-page judgment, the CCJ said that the bank had alleged that the government was allowing its members to have a free conscience vote, instead of whipping them in line to vote for the Appropriation Bill to pay the debt.
“While we could understand these fears, courts have to presume (in the absence of evidence to the contrary) that Governments will act in proper fashion to accord due respect to judgments of the courts and not deprive successful litigants of the fruits of their litigation against Governments. Thus, the Bank’s application was premature: one has to wait and see what actually transpires,” the CCJ judgment said.
The UHS debt is the result of a BZ$35-million loan from the Belize Bank that was issued to the original owners of Universal Health Services (UHS) — a loan for which Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Said Musa had signed a government guarantee in 2004. UHS defaulted on the payment of its loan, leaving the government on the hook for the 35 million dollars in 2007.
When the United Democratic Party took over the reins of government in 2008, the Dean Barrow-led administration refused to honor the government’s guarantee to the Belize Bank. The government’s refusal triggered protracted litigation going all the way to the London Court of International Arbitration, which ruled in the bank’s favor.
The government, however, refused to budge, and the award from the London Court of International Arbitration was litigated until it eventually reached the Caribbean Court of Justice, which ruled that the government must pay the debt, but the court stopped short of making an enforcement order, and instead placed the matter in the hands of Belize’s parliament, which is the only body that has the power to vote to pay that amount of money.