BELMOPAN, Fri. June 26, 2015–In the recent months, there has been much public debate and commentary from social partners over the controversial Petrocaribe Loans Amendment, and in response to concerns raised by social partners since the bill was approved by Parliament in March, an amendment was tabled in the House of Representatives today, as well as a set of supplementary appropriation bills to cover unbudgeted spending for the last fiscal year and for the first quarter of the 2015-2016 fiscal year, as well as proposed spending for the next quarter.
Whereas it was expected that the debate on the Petrocaribe amendment and supplementary appropriation bills would have been the highlight of today’s House meeting, a walk-out by the Opposition People’s United Party at 11:20 this morning—over the ejection of Senator Patrick Andrews, who laughed aloud while United Democratic Party Collet area representative Patrick Faber was talking—stole the show.
It all unfolded after Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow introduced a supplementary appropriation bill, amounting to $15,958,604, for the fiscal year 2014/2015.
While Barrow said that the purposes for which those monies were spent are all listed in the schedule to the bill, and he identified the source of the spending as funds from Petrocaribe, Opposition Leader Francis Fonseca rebutted that, “This is absolutely not satisfactory.”
Fonseca said that it was absolutely not the case that all the details had been provided, because they had merely been provided with large headings under which the expenditures were made.
“We don’t know who got the contracts. Did we get value for money?” Fonseca probed.
Fonseca said that they did not have a problem with the Petrocaribe program, per se, which he said was initiated under the People’s United Party government, but, he said, the problem is the use and abuse of monies without accounting for what was spent, and putting the spending under such broad headings.
Fonseca questioned where in the figures is there an accounting of the money spent by Faber on the Consejo Shores family day for Collet.
Faber rose to respond, first by saying that Fonseca’s request was absurd, since he is fully aware that on no occasion when supplementary appropriation bills are presented are such details provided.
He said that as for the family day expenditure, there is a way that Fonseca could have brought the question properly to Parliament, just as another member of the Opposition had properly posed his questions at the start of the House meeting, but Fonseca, he said, simply wants to “misguide people …”
Barrow also replied to Fonseca, noting that the family day is accounted for in the second supplementary appropriation bill for $51.8 million for fiscal year 2015-2016, which would have been tabled next.
Faber went on to explain that the family day held a few weeks ago was financed out of the $50,000 which had been allocated out of PetroCaribe funds for the Mother’s Day Cheer. According to Faber, they did not hold a Mother’s Day event for his constituency. He said that they had held a Senior’s Day on the 15th of June, on which they spent $10,000 from the funds, providing a $50 gift to 200 elderly persons, and out of the remainder, $36,000 was used to charter buses for the family day and $4,000 was spent on food.
During Faber’s presentation, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Michael Peyrefitte, ordered that Senator Patrick Andrews, PUP standard bearer for Belmopan, be put out of Parliament.
“If [you] remove the Senator, we will walk out of this meeting,” Opposition Leader Francis Fonseca said, charging that the Speaker had been treating members of the Opposition unfairly.
Fonseca said that Andrews, whom he described as one of the most well-behaved persons, did nothing but laugh. Fonseca later conceded to the media that Andrews, who was in a front-row seat in the gallery, relatively close to where the Speaker sits, did laugh “fairly loudly,” but added that the Opposition side has been subjected to all sorts of jeering from the gallery, with which they have had to contend.
Speaker Peyrefitte said that Andrews, being a Senator, should have set an example but instead, “he acted that way, as if he was daring me …”
Peyrefitte said that Andrews had dared the wrong person: “It doesn’t matter if you’re a Senator or a Governor General … You will be removed by me if you can’t follow my rules.”
The Speaker did not flinch at the PUP’s threat that they would walk out: “If you choose to go, that’s your choice,” he said, before he ordered the removal of a second member of the Opposition from the National Assembly from the gallery.
Just before the walk-out, Fonseca said that the removal of Andrews reflects “the arrogance and tyranny” of the Government that the people of Belize are starting to wake up to and stand up against.
Initially, Senator Patrick Andrews refused to budge, but he later complied after a verbal exchange with police and left the National Assembly.
Andrews subsequently told the media that at the last sitting of Parliament, UDP chairman, Alberto August, had refused to comply with the Speaker’s order for him to leave the gallery of the National Assembly, and although the Speaker had asked, in like manner, for August to be taken out, “no one could have taken him out.”
When it came time to present and debate the Petrocaribe loan amendment, Barrow cried shame on the Opposition for not being there to participate, saying that their walk-out was “a gross dereliction of duty.”
“They will walk out and leave the nation and those that support them and those that are interested in democracy and debate hanging,” Barrow commented.
For its part, the PUP has maintained its stance that it will only support a full repeal of the Petrocaribe Loans Act.
Barrow said in Parliament that the PUP had spent $42 million from Petrocaribe funds when it was in power and Parliament has yet to be presented with a supplementary appropriation bill for those expenditures.