“Fishes don’t swim on land! Look around where you are, do you see any fishes swimming around? Bet not. You know why fishes don’t swim on land? Because the environment on land is not supportive of marine life.
“Every day we complain about our corrupt politicians but the fact of the matter is that WE have created the environment that attracts the kind of politicians we have. Politicians come and politicians go but the PEOPLE remain.” — Major Lloyd Jones, Facebook post November 16, 2017.
“Where a person crosses the floor under the circumstances referred to in section 59(2)(e), the leader in the House of Representatives of the political party as a candidate of which that person was elected shall, within seven days of such crossing of the floor, so notify the Speaker in writing of such member having crossed the floor.” — Section 59 A (2), the Belize Constitution, Chapter 4 of the Laws of Belize (as amended).
The UHS debacle has finally come to a head and as usual the Belizean people have been left holding the bag. The UDP blames the PUP and the PUP blames the UDP. One thing is for certain, none of those who presided over this unconscionable mess will feel the brunt of this $90 million payout; they are multi-millionaires, never mind what the Integrity Commission filings say.
The ruling by the CCJ has real and dangerous implications for Belize’s finances but it also has real and dangerous implications for the nation’s body politic. The CCJ ruling has conclusively put an end to the ongoing political debate about the legality of the UHS loan note. The people of Belize, says the CCJ, owe not just the original BZ$33,545,820 but more than $57 million in interests alone.
One of the reasons why Mr. Barrow has been so successful politically is because he has been able to convince the masses that he always acts in their best interest. However, BTL and now the UHS affair have demonstrated that perhaps Mr. Barrow miscalculated on both counts. Mr. Barrow’s grandstanding with respect to BTL and UHS may have been good politics but some argue that it constitutes extremely reckless behavior with the finances of this nation. They have thus charged him, whether fairly or not, with the abdication of his fiduciary duties in the name of partisan politics.
The CCJ’s ruling, apart from the severe risks to our finances, has threatened to launch Belize into its first real constitutional crisis. It has threatened to pitch the CCJ against Parliament. The CCJ has ruled that the loan note is legal and therefore must be settled along with crushing interests of $57,099,787.20. The CCJ also pointed out that the proper way to make payment is for Parliament to pass a Supplementary Appropriation Bill pursuant to Section 115 (3) of the Constitution.
If Parliament meets and votes not to settle the UHS matter, despite the ruling of the CCJ, it would present a constitutional crisis. Whereas the CCJ can’t tell Parliament what laws to make, Parliament must not be allowed to thwart the work of the highest court of the land. The Supplementary Appropriation Bill is but a formality!
The constitutionally mandated requirement of separation of powers is an essential element to our democracy but it must be built upon mutual respect. The judiciary has fulfilled its role by interpreting the legal matters related to the UHS loan note, Parliament must therefore be mature and respectful of the Judiciary and fulfill its own obligation to pay a debt ruled as lawful by the highest court of Belize.
In fact, if one looks closely at the ruling, the CCJ rejected a petition by the Belize Bank that it makes “orders pursuant to section 25 of the Crown Proceedings Act directing the Minister of Finance to pay to the Bank the amount ordered.” The CCJ was of the view that such an order was premature and that the petition “anticipates that the Government will not honour its commitment without such an order”. If this is not a clear signal of respect by the Judiciary for the Legislature, I don’t know what is.
On the flip side, in light of the CCJ’s judgment some members of the Legislature, who also happen to sit in Mr. Barrow’s Cabinet, have been downright rude and disrespectful to the CCJ. This is so because since September 1981 we have come to learn that politics trumps everything in Belize. I caution however, that a Legislature that thumbs its nose at the Judiciary does nothing to strengthen a democracy, especially one such as ours that has been under assault as of late.
I doubt if Mr. Barrow anticipated the political mine field in which the UHS matter has propelled his administration. The way forward is likely to expand the fissures already present in the UDP. The once mighty Mr. Barrow was served with notice, by at least ten members of his Cabinet, that if the matter is brought to the House they will vote against it.
Those so on record, according to Channel 7 news, include Michael Finnegan, Patrick Faber, John Saldivar, Boots Martinez, Tracy Taegar-Panton, Hugo Patt, Frank “Pawpa” Mena, Pablo Marin, Sedi Elrington and Dr. Angel Campos. What really is the motive that underpins such unprecedented signals sent to the Prime Minister by the aforementioned ten members of his Cabinet?
For some time now there has been talk about the discontent inside the UDP caused by Mr. Barrow’s “arrangements” with the Lord; especially the BTL settlement. It would appear that the Saldivar faction inside the Cabinet is emboldened and may be prepared to challenge Mr. Barrow over the UHS matter. Mr Barrow is thus in a bind, he can’t move a motion and risk ten members of his own party voting against it.
But he is out of legal options and any further obstinacy will surely hurt Belize’s finances. At his press conference held Wednesday November 29, 2017 Mr. Barrow bought himself some time to soothe the malcontents in his Cabinet by declaring that he will wait out the 21 day period granted to him by the Crown Proceedings Act.
Mr. Barrow, it appears, is terrified of the political rumblings in his own Party and under pressure he has agreed not to table a motion for payment in the House just yet; in fact he cancelled the House meeting scheduled for December 1, 2017. If Mr. Barrow tables a UHS motion in the House those Members of Parliament already on record as being against payment, would have to vote “no” if they are to not look like buffoons.
However, Section 59 (2) (e) of the Constitution, amended in 2001, makes it a political crime to vote against your party and any member who does so may be deemed to have vacated their seat by virtue of having crossed the floor. Mr Barrow has given the 10 members a stark choice: vote “yes” and look like a buffoon or vote “no” and risk crossing the floor thus vacating your seat.
The fact of the matter is that politically Mr. Barrow has nothing to lose and neither do Boots and Finnegan who have all signalled an end to their political careers. If the remaining seven members were to vote against the UHS motion, thus vacating their seats, it would mean the fall of the Barrow administration and fresh elections. Unprecedented in Belize’s young history!
2017 Politics in Belize makes for interesting times. One thing that is for sure; few people in the House seem to really care for Belize. In law they often argue about crimes of commission and crimes of omission. The original sin: a crime of commission cost us $33+ million; the second sin: a crime of omission has converted that original sin to $90+ million.
As if the burden on the Belizean people was not bad enough, Mr. Barrow committed yet another sin of omission on Wednesday by hinting that he will not pay as ordered by the CCJ. In effect, he granted the Belize Bank another $44.6 million of interests (calculated up to November 2020). The Belize Bank has no problem with this of course, because at 17% interests (compounded monthly) the UHS loan note may very well be its best performing asset.
In 2017, no Belizean should be laughing at this national insult. Well, save for the Belize Bank, the lawyers and the politicians. I have often heard people say that Belize is a poor country, but by the looks of it, that can’t be true. Who plays around with $134.6+ million as if it were chicken feed?
Like I said, PUP come and PUP go. UDP come and UDP go. But the PEOPLE remain! So let me remind you once more: fishes don’t swim on land! We have gotten exactly what we voted for.
Major Lloyd Jones
(Ed. NOTE: The letter writer’s views are his, and not those of this newspaper.)