BELMOPAN, Fri. Mar. 13, 2015–The main business item on the agenda for today’s House meeting was the presentation of the proposed national budget for the fiscal year 2015 to 2016, but before that budget presentation got underway, Prime Minister and leader of the ruling United Democratic Party, Dean Barrow, called on Opposition Leader Francis Fonseca to address “immediately, fully and publicly, the comprehensive wholesale indictment of the [People’s United Party – PUP] by its immediate past leader,” Orange Walk Central area representative Johnny Briceño, who spoke of members of the former PUP administration “stealing” tens of millions of dollars from Belizeans during their tenure in office, which ended in 2008.
Fonseca and then Prime Minister during that tenure, Said Musa, told the media Friday that Barrow was trying to divert attention from the corruption which they allege is rampant in his own administration by rehashing allegations that have been around for as many as 10 years.
“I say to the Prime Minister: he has been the Prime Minister of Belize for almost 8 years; he is completing, I believe, 7 years. If there is any evidence of corruption, bring it to the Belizean people or shut your mouth. That is my response to him,” Fonseca told the press.
He said that Barrow was “grandstanding” with political rhetoric on the issues which had been discussed on the Briceño tape, which, he said, have been widely and publicly ventilated for many, many years.
In Parliament on Friday morning, Barrow called the leaked Briceño secret recording, taped and put in the public domain by a PUP insider, “a confession as to the massive corruption and unmatched thievery of the Musa/Fonseca administration of 1998 to 2007.”
Barrow noted that Fonseca had, when asked by the media for comment last week, called it “private PUP business.”
“Mr. Speaker, how …can the robbery of millions and millions from the public purse be private PUP business? Those tens of millions were for the people,” Barrow said.
Barrow added that Fonseca’s response to the taped confession by Briceño shows that “the People’s United Party has not changed one bit… since being booted from office. For they speak now in exactly the same way they behaved then.”
He went on to say that during its 10 years in office, the PUP acted as if the nation’s business and money were exclusively the PUP’s business and money, and “carving up and parceling out the country’s wealth was indeed an internal party matter.”
He went on to call on Fonseca to “stop the stonewalling, to halt the cover-up,” and to address the comments made by Briceño on the tape.
“Belizeans demand answers to the specifics of all the charges,” Barrow said, noting that the charges have been made by a man who was in the highest ranks of government.
“It is not as though the member for Orange Walk Central is estranged from his party. He has not been kicked out and suspended, and it is not as though he is bent on revenge,” said Barrow, adding that Briceño, despite being accused by the ex-prime minister of being mentally ill and called a liar by another member of Parliament in a Facebook post, “has not retracted one iota, and he remains a key executive of the party – number three in the hierarchy and cannot be sanctioned because he is telling the truth.”
Barrow told the Opposition Leader, “Do not further dirty your office… either discharge your obligation and do your duty, or stand condemned forever before the bar of Belizean history.”
Rising in Parliament in response to Barrow, the PUP’s member for Fort George, former Prime Minister Said Musa, said that Barrow had been focusing on “old, tired allegations of wrongdoing,” which, Musa maintained are “phony.”
Musa added that “…the reason why he should know is because he was the one who instigated the malicious prosecution against me and Mr. Ralph Fonseca, and what became of those charges, those phony charges of theft and all that? They were dismissed even before trial—without a trial. This is old hot stuff, going back almost 10 years.”
However, Barrow replied that the court charges were not brought in relation to the allegations made on the Briceño tape, but because of the diversion of $20 million which Venezuela had gifted to Belize’s poor, which was not what Briceño was talking about on the tape.
“He is specific about all that you did, in terms of DFC [Development Finance Corporation] money, in terms of Galleria Maya, in terms of the Yen swap, in terms of SSB [Social Security Board]; and Mr. Speaker, you see, I don’t know why you [Musa] didn’t sit down and keep your mouth shut. When I spoke, I never called your name, except to talk about the Musa/Fonseca administration. I never levied any accusations about you,” Barrow said.
As we reported in Amandala’s Sunday edition, the comments which Briceño made have been interpreted in some quarters to be a stunning accusation of mass fleecing from the public purse – particularly his references to a “cancer” which the PUP has, a cancer which “came and robbed millions and millions and millions and millions and millions of dollars from the people.”
Briceño added in that taped conversation: “I’m not talking about a little bit of money! Millions—tens of millions of dollars—they robbed. Had this been another country, they would be in jail right now.”
Today, Briceño continues to resist media requests for interviews, reaffirming that he had a private discussion with people he trusted and does not wish to publicly discuss any of the contents of the tape.