Outgoing Central Bank Governor, Glenford Ysaguirre, had signaled via letter to the Financial Secretary after the demand was made to the Government in July, that drawing that volume of funds from Belize’s foreign reserves, when it is faced with mounting demands and declining export earnings, would spell trouble for the Belizean economy.
Ysaguirre told AMANDALA that things have gotten much worse after Hurricane Earl hit Belize last month, “and we know that Hurricane Earl impacted some of the export industries like banana and citrus …”
“I don’t know how we will manage (paying those US dollars). It will tax the reserves,” Ysaguirre told us.
– from the headline story by Adele Ramos in AMANDALA of Sunday, October 2, 2016
Last September, when Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow announced two months before the general elections that he had reached a compromise with Ashcroft, the Government paid an initial deposit of 72 cents US currency per share, amounting to $65 million.
The matter was then left to a foreign arbitration panel to resolve after the companies invoked the UK Investment Treaty, to which Belize is a party. That panel handed down its decision on June 28, and the Government of Belize was given 10 business days to come up with the second tranche of payments, which it did by the specified date on July 13, paying $29.5 million in US dollars and $134.9 million in Belize dollars in compensation, plus $27,000 British pounds in legal fees and 33,000 Euros in arbitration costs.
However, the Ashcroft group demanded that the portion paid in BZ dollars should be paid in US dollars instead.
Last Thursday morning, September 29, word reached Belize that the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) had ordered Belize to pay Lord Michael Ashcroft a total of US$67.3 million in United States dollars. Attorneys for Lord Ashcroft had told the CCJ last week that their client has over BZ$130 million they can do nothing with, and they demanded that money in US currency, which would allow them to repatriate the money from Belize.
Editorially, this newspaper has not been focusing heavily on the dispute between the Government of Belize, on the one hand, and companies owned by Lord Ashcroft, on the other, over the compensation due for Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL), which Prime Minister/Minister of Finance, Rt. Hon. Dean O. Barrow, nationalized in 2009.
At the time of BTL nationalization, this newspaper supported the Prime Minister. We believed that the relationship between himself and Lord Ashcroft had become adversarial, because Ashcroft companies, led by BTL, were using various legal excuses not to pay taxes to the government and people of Belize. On a personal note, Ashcroft’s control of telecommunications in Belize meant that the Kremandala television station was being victimized in various ways, especially where our ability to broadcast nationally was concerned. At the time of Mr. Barrow’s nationalization of BTL, moreover, Belizeans had been experiencing more than 15 years of cruel telecommunications rates which had enabled the Ashcroft-controlled BTL to earn excessive profits. Belizeans received no reasonable breaks from the Ashcroft BTL; BTL’s continued refusal to allow the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) was a particularly large bone in Belizeans’ throats.
As the years went by without the nationalization compensation package being settled, a concern grew in Belize that a return of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) to power in Belmopan would mean that Lord Ashcroft’s call for an $11.00 per BTL share compensation would be honored. The United Democratic Party (UDP) government of Mr. Barrow was offering something like $3.00 per share to Mr. Ashcroft. Even though the Prime Minister’s law firm, Barrow & Williams, continued to have Lord Ashcroft as a client at his Belize Bank business, which represented a lucrative relationship for Barrow & Williams going back to 1989 when Mr. Barrow and his law partner, Rodwell Williams, had first incorporated it, Belizeans appeared willing to ignore that strange, continued, stubborn relationship.
At Kremandala, when we had been savagely attacked by the aforementioned Lord Ashcroft in March of 2007 with concocted threats, the attorney who presented the threats in writing was the said Rodwell Williams. Mr. Barrow, at that time only the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, quickly sent his good friend, attorney Michael Young, and his first wife, attorney, Lois Young-Barrow, to defend Kremandala pro bono.
In 2005, the SpeedNet telecommunications company, which we all know today as Smart, was activated by Lord Ashcroft, with close relatives of then PUP Deputy Prime Minister, John Briceño, owning a significant amount of shares. In contrast to the ill-fated Intelco, SpeedNet/Smart had been quickly granted the indispensable facility of interconnection by and with the Ashcroft-owned BTL.
In February of 2008, the voters of Belize swept Mr. Barrow’s UDP into power, former Prime Minister Said Musa almost immediately resigned as PUP Leader, and the aforementioned John Briceño was elected as PUP Leader in the following month – March 2008.
Early in 2009, the former PUP Leader, Said Musa, began attacks on Mr. Briceño’s leadership in The National Perspective, a special agenda newspaper he financed, which eventually led to Mr. Briceño’s resignation as PUP Leader in October of 2011. By the time Mr. Barrow’s UDP government nationalized BTL in 2009, however, the new Speednet/Smart, well positioned by the Ashcroft BTL and focusing on the more modern wireless and cell phone systems, had been making large amounts of money for years. Indications are that it is Mr. Briceño who is Lord Ashcroft’s major partner in Smart.
The complications involving telecommunications in Belize have become convoluted ever since Lord Ashcroft became the dominant player in 1993. There are world class attorneys and accountants involved in all these telecommunications shenanigans, not to mention the most powerful PUDP politicians. It is all quite confusing to the masses of the Belizean people. The bottom line was that, even though Mr. Barrow continued to enjoy financial largesse from Lord Ashcroft through Mr. Barrow’s law firm, Mr. Barrow had positioned himself as the nationalist champion of Belizeans against the attacks of the predator Englishman, by virtue of his nationalization of Ashcroft’s BTL.
So that, to make a long story short, in September of 2015 when Mr. Barrow went to a Miami hotel room one-on-one with the English billionaire, and told Belizeans that he had negotiated a substantial portion of the BTL compensation package on terms favorable to the Belizean government and people, this was a flashy feather in the Barrow cap when his UDP sought a third consecutive term of office, unprecedented in Belize’s post-independence era, just two months after that Miami hotel conversation.
It now turns out, with Thursday morning’s CCJ ruling making the declaration final for all the world to see, that it was Lord Ashcroft for whom that deal proved favorable, not for Belize. So that today, Monday, October 3, 2016, there are questions which the Belizean people would like the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister himself to answer. And, last Thursday morning’s CCJ ruling will likely be one more of the reasons why the industrial action of Belize’s teachers, scheduled for a few hours after this editorial is being written, will be supported by the Belizean people.
Power to the people.