BELIZE CITY, Mon. Dec. 4, 2017–On Wednesday, November 22, Belize’s highest court, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), issued a ruling on an arbitration award to the Belize Bank, which amounted to 90 million dollars (which, the court said, should be paid by the Government of Belize). That decision of the CCJ has sparked a national discussion in the country and leading political figures from the two main political parties, the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) and the Opposition, People’s United Party (PUP), are at odds with each other over the payment of the judgment debt to the bank.
Although the political representatives on both sides of the fence are at odds over paying, the social partners are not splitting hairs over the matter and are urging the government to pay the bank the $90 million.
Today, Monday, the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) issued a press release which urged the government to begin paying the 90 million-dollar debt, by installment.
The NTUCB release said, “The National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) believes the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Judgment against the Government of Belize and in favor of Belize Bank Ltd. should be paid in installments.”
The release added, “NTUCB adopted this position at the meeting of its General Council on Saturday, December 2nd, where it unanimously approved a resolution which states: Whereas in the matter of the Government of Belize versus the Belize Bank Ltd. over the Universal Health Services (UHS) issue the Caribbean Court of Justice has ruled in the favor of the Belize Bank Ltd; and whereas the NTUCB accepts the CCJ as the final Court of Appeal for Belize; And whereas the judgment will require the Government of Belize to pay in excess of $90 million; Be it resolved that in consideration of this huge debt and the state of our country’s finances, the Government makes payments to the Belize Bank Ltd. in installments over a projected period until the debt is fully satisfied. Be it further resolved that a Special Investigating Body be set up to inquire into and report on all the transactions and circumstances of the acquisition of the UHS facility (from inception to present), including questions of ownership and payments made to the Belize Bank Ltd. and also including pertinent actions to be taken.”
Belize’s most active trade union, the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU), also weighed in on the issue. Today, BNTU president, Elena Smith, in an exclusive interview with Amandala, said the government must pay the bank the judgment debt.
We asked Smith to further outline the union’s position regarding the payment of the 90 million dollars that the CCJ awarded to the bank.
“As BNTU, we have decided that you must honor the judgment. We are not right now looking back at how it transpired, and who was right and who was wrong. We are aware of what happened and it should not have happened. But a judgment was made and it should be honored,” Smith said.
Smith said perhaps the government can get into a discussion with the bank on the best way forward.
“What do you make of the Prime Minister’s pronouncement that the debt is immoral?”, we asked.
“That may be so, but the fact of the matter is that there is a judgment. I don’t know how we can get around the fact that more than one court has made the same decision and they have said to us that we must pay. So while it is, might be a question of immorality, we must pay,” Smith said.
Amandala asked Smith what are her thoughts on the UDP parliamentarians who have indicated that they will not vote in support of the motion to pay the bill.
“I think some of those persons should realize that what we now have to pay is a result of decisions that they have made. Remember, they are the ones who decided that they would not pay, and that the matter would be going to court. They had a part to play in the amount that we now owe,” Smith said.
Amandala asked Smith what would be her union’s position, if as the Prime Minister indicated, he would allow his parliamentarians to vote on their conscience and the measure is voted down.
‘We would have to have our members come together and then make a decision. It’s not going to affect those persons who would be voting no. It is going to affect us, the taxpaying public and the population at large. And you know, BNTU stands for accountability and good governance. We would have to sit and discuss the matter thoroughly to show the government that we are not satisfied, and then decide on what course of action we would take,” said Smith.
The president of the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Nikita Usher, said on Friday that the 90-million-dollar debt must be paid.
“From the Chamber standpoint, it is a bill that has to be paid. It is a bill that will not go away. You can’t be saying that the CCJ is your final court and not honor a judgment. So, when the Prime Minister is saying that if the Parliament votes no, it will not be paid, that doesn’t stop a future government from paying,” Usher said. “It is a bill; it is a liability to the country that will not go away. We took a legal gamble and we lost,” he said.
Usher’s message to the Prime Minister is that if he (the Prime Minister) wants to leave a legacy, now is the time for us to sit around the table to make the reforms possible.