BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Apr. 2, 2015–At an emergency meeting held last night, the General Congress of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) unanimously voted to reject the recently introduced PetroCaribe Loan Act, which has also been rejected in this week’s vote in the Senate by the private sector, the churches and the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP).
The law contains provisions which allow the executive arm of Government to borrow unlimited amounts from Venezuela, under the PetroCaribe fuel accord, and also to spend those funds without prior approval from Parliament, providing an exemption to the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act which requires prior parliamentary approval for any government debt of $10 million or more. The Barrow administration has defended the law by saying that the peculiar nature of the transaction, under which 50% of Belize’s fuel bill for petrol imports from Venezuela is automatically converted into a 25-year loan, is not provided for in existing law.
When the bill was tabled for approval in the Senate this Monday, Ray Davis, the senator for the NTUCB, which had not yet met to formulate an official position on the law, abstained from casting a vote, but the other social partners registered their disapproval of the bill with a “no” vote.
It was a unanimous vote by senators of the ruling United Democratic Party which carried the bill, enabling it to be signed into law.
The Opposition PUP has called the PetroCaribe Loan legislation “unconstitutional” and “scandalous;” however, no announcement has yet been made of any plans to challenge the constitutionality of the law before the courts.
Cayo South area representative Julius Espat had last year filed a suit in the Supreme Court against Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dean Barrow, over the PetroCaribe financing and spending, but that case has yet to be heard in the Supreme Court. The Opposition contends that the new law was made to counter the suit filed by Espat.
Meanwhile, the NTUCB, which is also concerned that the new law runs afoul of provisions in the Belize Constitution, plans to meet again next week to decide on the steps it will take to agitate for an amendment or a full repeal of the PetroCaribe Loans Act.
When we spoke with NTUCB president Martin Mora today, he told us that he could not disclose the suggestions for follow-up actions which were put on the table at last night’s meeting.
Mora said that apart from the constitutionality of the new law, they are also concerned about provisions which make it retroactive to September 2012.
They are also concerned about the manner in which the bill was moved through Parliament in a matter of days, without any consultation with the unions and other social partners.
“We do believe that probably the best thing that could have happened was to do consultations before the bill was passed through all its stages without sitting down with stakeholders – the Chamber and other social partners as well as the Opposition, so that we can see that there is a room for transparency and that the issue of accountability be addressed properly,” Mora told us.