Headline — 10 January 2018 — by Micah Goodin
Debate and vote on UHS $91.5 million due in February

BELMOPAN, Cayo District, Fri. Jan. 5, 2018– Today, during a special sitting of the House of Representatives, Prime Minister Dean Barrow introduced a bill formally titled the “General Revenue Supplementary Appropriation (2017/2018) Bill 2018.”

The purpose of the bill is to confirm that Belize will pay the $90 million arbitration award to the Belize Bank which was ordered by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on November 22, 2017 in order to honour a guarantee that the Government of Belize (GoB) (under former Prime Minister Said Musa) had provided for a loan received by Universal Health Services (UHS) in 2004.

UHS had defaulted on the loan, however, and so the government is being forced to pay that entity’s debt. The Said Musa administration was able to cover the loan of an estimated BZ$35 million with grants from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the Republic of China (ROC) Taiwan.

However, when the Barrow administration came to power, it wrestled away the payments from the bank, thereby breaking the agreement and starting a new round of litigation.

From 2008 to the present time, the matter has been before various courts in various jurisdictions. The matter was first adjudicated in the Belize Supreme Court, which ruled that any decision to pay the loan would be against public policy. The matter was then heard in the Belize Court of Appeal, which sided with the Belize Supreme Court.

The case was thereafter taken to the London Court of Arbitration, which in 2013 ruled that the government should pay out US $18.5 million to the Belize Bank.

The administration of Prime Minister Dean Barrow refused to pay, and so in March 2017, the government applied for a re-hearing in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit).

The D.C. Circuit denied the request and so did the United States Supreme Court, which last November decided it would not review the ruling of the London court.

Still, Prime Minister Dean Barrow refused to pay and the matter went before Belize’s final court, the CCJ, which, at the end of November, 2017, also sided with the Belize Bank Limited and ordered GoB to pay the bank BZ$36,895,509.46, together with interest at 17%, and arbitration costs of £536,817.71, which brought the final amount to be paid to the Belize Bank to over 90 million dollars.

Yet the Prime Minister has been hesitating in making such a payment, although interest rates are further ballooning the amount owed. PM Barrow today announced that the bill to make the payment would only be tabled, while a debate about whether to make the payment will occur at a sitting next month.

In his presentation, he informed the nation that there would be more litigation in regards to the 17% interest accruing monthly on the judgement. According to him, Belize law makes clear that the rate should be lower, and so his administration will seek clarification from the CCJ.

“That 17 percent interest compounded monthly until payment is not the rate that should continue to run on the ninety-one million, five hundred and ninety-six thousand, thirteen dollars and twenty-two cents. As of the date of the CCJ judgment ordering leave to enforce the award as if it were a judgment of the Supreme Court, we are advised that the applicable interest rate, the sort of post-judgment rate, should be the six percent per annum, which is set out in the Supreme Court of Judicature Act as the statutory rate of interest to be carried by all judgment debts,” explained Barrow.

He continued, “In other words, in our view, that seventeen percent should have been capped at the time of the CCJ judgment, and whatever the total was, the award plus seventeen percent, from the date of the award until the date of the CCJ judgment, that should have been it as far as the factor of that seventeen percent interest rate is concerned.

“Thereafter, for whatever period the judgment remained unpaid, it should continue to attract interest, but only at the statutory rate of six percent. We are certainly going to go back to the CCJ to seek clarification on that.”

Barrow went on to blame the last PUP administration for the $90-million arbitration award.

“How we came to this is, of course, a story of perhaps the most remarkable piece of perfidy in a PUP history riddled with perfidy. It is a grotesquery of the worst sort, made even more grotesque by the insistence of the PUP that the CCJ judgment constituted a vindication of what had been done,” he claimed.

Barrow, in his presentation, explained that international precedence and even Belize law stipulates that money cannot be paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund unless there is parliamentary approval.

He said, “The country’s Finance and Audit Act and the country’s constitution make clear that no money can be taken out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to make any payment for any purpose, except such payment has been made a charge on the Consolidated Revenue Fund by law and except Parliament votes an allocation to pay any particular sum.

“The Crown Proceedings Act, which provides a procedure for the collection of judgement sums owed by the government mandates payment once the certificate of the Registrar confirming the amount owed has been issued.”

“But as was said in one leading case from the Commonwealth, the mandated payment can only be made from monies legally available. And monies can only be legally available if the House has voted such monies into existence and availability. Any number of judicial precedence in jurisdictions with similar arrangements to ours, with a written Constitution and a Crown Proceedings Act like ours, have held that if Parliament does not vote the money to pay a judgement, that judgement may never be satisfied,” the Prime Minister said.

He continued, “Distinguished judges from Australia and New Zealand in particular and even from the UK, who have dealt with this issue, have been clear that complete parliamentary control of public finances is a fundamental aspect of the rule of law and the separation of powers in our type of parliamentary democracy.”

However, nine United Democratic Party (UDP) area representatives have indicated that they will vote against any motion to pay the $90 million arbitration award.

According to PM Barrow, a non-payment cannot be seen as going against the rule of law and trampling the jurisdiction of the CCJ.

He explained, “I thought it important to make the point because a number of Belizeans I know are troubled at the notion that perhaps we are contemnors of the CCJ if Parliament votes not to pay. We would be acting as if we were in contempt of the CCJ and that’s troubling to people, but their doubts ought to be still because what I have set out makes clear that is not the case.”

“It is within the respected separate demarcated authority of Parliament to make this decision. That being the case, Madam Speaker, you take away this notion of any fear that you are disrespecting or trampling on the CCJ. All members of the House, I believe now, ought to see their way clear to doing what accords with justice in its largest sense, and doing with what in my view also accords with what indubitably is the overwhelming sentiment of the people of this country,” he continued.

After Barrow’s presentation the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. John Briceño, provided a comment to the media. He expressed concern that “there will be another round of legal wrangling.” According to him, UDP lawyers stand to benefit handsomely from legal fees.

He further expressed concern that the Prime Minister refuses to accept responsibility for the $90 million arbitration award. According to Briceño, despite the fashion in which it was handled, the debt had been settled by the former Prime Minister Said Musa.

However, the current Prime Minister, he said, in his “arrogance,” decided to break up the agreement.

The saga continues in the next sitting of the House of Representatives, scheduled for February.

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