Chief Justice Benjamin has reserved judgment in the case
The legal disputes surrounding the government takeover of, and sale of shares in, Belize Telemedia Limited are manifold, and today, one of those spinoff cases was heard before Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin.
Media personality Glenn Tillett is challenging former Social Security Board (SSB) chairman Lois Young and chairman of the SSB’s Investment Committee, Net Vasquez, for their dual roles in the SSB’s purchase of shares in BTL – of which both Vasquez and Young were also substantive directors.
Vasquez had previously told Amandala that SSB’s deposits at the commercial banks had been yielding little or no returns, and that BTL would be a better investment, yielding much better returns on the dollar.
Speaking on the case today, however, Tillett told Amandala: “Whether BTL is a good investment or not is actually beside the point. The point is that Ms. Lois Young Barrow was both the chairman of the Social Security Board as well as a member of the board of directors of BTL as a secretary, and its legal representative. Mr. Net Vasquez is the CEO of BTL, as well as the chairman of the [SSB] investment committee. In my view, they can’t assess risk. If they were investing in something else, there would be no argument. And the precedent that that sets is a very bad one…”
Tillett, who was represented in court by Andrew Marshalleck, SC, and Godfrey Smith, SC, contends that “the directors should have recused themselves…” from the meeting where the transaction was voted on. He said that the votes were 4-4 at both levels (the investment committee and the board) and they, Vasquez and Young, the government appointees, were the ones who broke the tie
Tillett said that he is asking the court to reverse the decision by SSB, the third defendant in the case, to buy the BTL shares from the Government of Belize.
“I think the time has come when the management and control of Social Security funds should not be dictated by a political majority on the board. I think the majority on the board should be employers and employee reps who are the actual contributors to the fund,” Tillett said.
Ms. Young, who is now Belize’s Ambassador to the United Nations, was present for today’s proceedings before the Chief Justice.
Her attorney is Dr. Lloyd Barnett, a distinguished senior in the profession. Barnett is listed by the Caribbean Court of Justice as a member of the Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission.
In today’s hearing, Dr. Barnett challenged Tillett’s claim that Young and Vasquez breached their duty to Belizean contributors to SSB by voting for the investment, despite having indirect pecuniary interest in the investment – that interest allegedly being the promotion of BTL’s best interest.
He told the court that really, the transaction brought no gain or loss to either of the parties. The shares in question, he said, were actually owned by the Government of Belize – not by BTL.
He also told the court that, “…the proposed transaction was transparent, and carefully formulated so that the share purchase agreement contained important safeguards.”
Barnett told the court that there is no suggestion before it that reversal of the purchase is an option for the court to consider. He said that several persons would have bought shares in the public offering, and a declaration of invalidity would cause complications for shareholders. He also said that although the transaction could be reversed, it is not possible to substitute with a similar transaction for the SSB investment.
Dr. Barnett said that the share purchase transaction has been completed and share certificates issued to SSB. Those shares are now part of the SSB Fund and reversal would result in a chaotic situation and possibly financial loss to the fund.
He also said that the sale of the shares and the purchase by SSB would not affect the financial or the inherent interest of the first or second defendants: Young and Vasquez.
In defending his clients, he maintained to the court that, “The first and second defendants had no proven or potential interest in the sale.”
The SSB was represented by Agnes Segura-Gillett.
Chief Justice Benjamin has reserved judgment in the case.