BELIZE CITY, Fri. Nov. 24, 2017–The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruling in favor of Lord Michael Ashcroft’s Belize Bank, a 90-million-dollar judgment against the Dean Barrow-led government of Belize, has generated defiant comments from government ministers, who are insisting that they will vote against the government making the payment.
A ranking leader of the People’s United Party, Hon. Julius Espat, commented this week on the government’s claim that they would resist the payment of the government-guaranteed loan from the Belize Bank to the then Universal Healthcare Partners Limited now operating under the name of Belize Health Care Partners.
“Under the Finance and Audit Act in 2010, that the Prime Minister did himself, it says it’s a criminal act if you don’t follow the rules and regulation. So if he doesn’t go to Parliament and he doesn’t get it passed, he is doing an unlawful act and the punishment is jail.
“So his ministers are saying that they want their Prime Minister to go to jail? That’s in effect what is happening with their statement,” Hon. Julius Espat told reporters today at a press briefing at the PUP leader’s office, located on the ground floor of Charter House, opposite the Best Western Biltmore hotel.
Hon. Espat added, “I am of the opinion that if you owe somebody, you have to pay them. It has been proven in the past that by not paying, we are now incurring serious additional cost. I am looking at the numbers, close to 700 million dollars that we have to pay, because we refused to pay [in the beginning].”
Hon. Espat went on to say that “if you make an agreement with a man, whoever that man is, and that man formulates in his contract that you signed on, he has all the protection of the courts. It’s quite obvious to us now; he went to the London Court of International Arbitration, he won. He went to the Supreme Court of the United Sates, he won. He went to the Privy Council, he won. Now he went to the CCJ, he has won. We have to get this bogyman off our back; it’s too burdensome for the people of Belize.”
Hon. Espat said he can understand why the then Prime Minister, Said Musa, signed the agreement, but “that doesn’t mean I agree.”
He commented, “I can understand maybe why, [but] that doesn’t mean that I agree. I’ll tell you why. The initial concept was that the government at the time, under the leadership of Said Musa, had, I think, a positive proposal which was National Health Insurance (NHI). National Health Insurance was designed in such a way so that the Belizean people could have access to health services at minimal, or no cost at all. I think that basic concept is a good one. What I am not in agreement with is that DFC kinda, em, decided that dehn wahn back up the loan. I think that was an error.
“And so when the managers of Universal Healthcare failed, and they did fail because if they would have done good, yoh noh mih wahn default on your loan payment. So if it was mismanagement, if it was misappropriation, I don’t care what it was, it was a problem, and then you went to DFC and DFC was what, it was broke at the time, I assume, and so government had to then make a decision and the Prime Minister at the time, I assume, made a decision to be able to save the NHI program.”
Prior to the 2008 general elections in which the PUP was voted out of office, the then government’s aim was to channel the NHI program through Universal Health Care Partners. At least that was the rationale for government guaranteeing the loan to the hospital.
Universal Health Care Partners was initially owned by a group of Belizean doctors, but the facility changed ownership and was bought by Dr. Vinny (Muthugounder Venugoupal and his group of foreign investors and doctors). Dr. Vinny had worked as a surgeon at the La Loma Luz hospital in Santa Elena, Cayo.