BELIZE CITY, Mon. June 29, 2015–The Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) leader, Hon. Francis Fonseca, invoked an old mantra of the Party, “touch one, touch all,” on Friday at the House of Representatives meeting when the Speaker of the House, Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, decided to eject PUP senator Patrick Andrews from the gallery. Because they walked out of the House meeting, the PUP parliamentarians did not take part in the debate on the amendment to the Petrocaribe Loan Act that the government side passed on in March.
At a press conference this morning, Fonseca, flanked by PUP Deputy Leader, Hon. Julius Espat (the member for Cayo South and chairman of the House Public Accounts Committee), explained the PUP’s position on the amendment to the very controversial Petrocaribe Loans Act.
In opening the press briefing at the PUP’s Independence Hall headquarters, Fonseca said, “The Petrocaribe Loans Act and the amendment act passed last Friday are insults to the Belizean people. These laws are not worth the paper they are written on. In every corner of this country, the call has been loud and clear: The Petrocaribe Loans Act must be repealed, not amended, repealed; it must go.”
Fonseca said that the call is not just coming from the Opposition PUP, but it is coming from the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) and the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU).
“Just last week,” Fonseca continued, “the BNTU held a public discussion by distinguished speakers, panelists, and the overwhelming conclusion is that the Petrocaribe Loans Act is a bad law for Belize and it should be repealed.”
Fonseca added that the government actually sent “thugs” to that forum to try to intimidate the panelists and the teachers, and members of the public who had gone to try to gain information.
“So we condemn that in the strongest possible terms,” the PUP leader declared.
“The call against the Petrocaribe Loans Act has also come from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Council of Churches, and the umbrella environmental organization, APAMO,” Fonseca said.
He went on to state, “The Petrocaribe Loans Act and the amendment is an insult to all of these organizations and those they represent. At our Party’s request, a team of legal advisors, headed by Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck, have examined this very important issue of the Petrocaribe Loans Act and have come up with a draft Petrocaribe Revenue Management Fund Bill 2015.”
Fonseca explained that this bill was not drafted from scratch: “It is fashioned from Belize’s Petroleum Revenue Management Fund Act, which is turn was based on recommendations from the Commonwealth Secretariat, petroleum advisors to Belize,” he said.
“The PUP’s proposed bill has an oversight committee that is built into it and has contingencies for exceptional borrowing from the fund, an independent oversight board drawn from a list of esteemed organizations, transparency and public access to information,” Fonseca explained.
“Our proposed bill,” he went on to remark, “is therefore based on a product designed for Belize and which is already in effect and has been demonstrated to work in other territories.”
He said, “We reiterate that we fully endorse acceptance of the Petrocaribe Funds, but we insist that there must be transparency, accountability and compliance with law in the use of these funds.”
“We cannot and do not support these acts which seek the opposite of what we would like to see,” said Fonseca.
“The Petrocaribe Loans Act and the amendment to it are all about avoiding transparency, avoiding accountability,” he said.
Fonseca described Prime Minister Dean Barrow as a “power hungry individual,” according to former UDP Stann Creek West standard bearer Melvin Hulse, who “is only concerned about winning a third term so that he can go down in the history books as the only person to do so [be prime minister].”
“ The Prime Minister is out of control and is taking Belize along with him and he now sees himself above the law,” Fonseca said.
Fonseca ended his remarks by remarking that the UDP government has covered up corruption committed in the Immigration Department by Elvin Penner, corruption in the Lands Department, and corruption at the Airport Authority.
Deputy PUP leader Julius Espat, who has led the charge with a lawsuit against the Barrow administration for borrowing monies from the Petrocaribe Fund, said, “They spent the money unlawfully, because you also have to go to the House to spend the money.”
“And by doing so, they boycotted what is called oversight, because they were spending this money in the dark of night and they wanted it to stay that way,” Espat said.
“There are accusations of people getting wealthy while in government,” Espat explained. He said that that is the reason why there is no Integrity Commission, because the Prime Minister said he does not believe in it.
“Belize is going in a direction that is dangerous for Belize,” Espat said, further noting, “And it is not Julius Espat alone saying this; all the social partners are saying this; the churches are doing it in their respectful way; the unions are doing it in their way.”
In addressing the PUP walkout on Friday, Espat said that the House of Representatives is not conducive to serious debate. “The Prime Minister has turned the House into something that I am ashamed of,” he said.
Fonseca said that the Speaker of the House overstepped his authority when he ordered Senator Patrick Andrews to be removed out of the House by the police.
“The standing order of the House makes it very clear that the Speaker can only order the summary removal of a stranger from the House. Under Standing Order 87 of the House, the removal of a member of the House cannot be carried out in the same manner as the removal of a stranger,” Fonseca stated.
In the question and answer session that followed, Fonseca said that the PUP is committed to the repeal of the Petrocaribe Loans Act and if the fight needs to be taken to the streets, the PUP will do so.
“This Petrocaribe Loans Act has become a symbol of what is wrong with this UDP government,” Fonseca said.