The Settlement Deed – 2005
On the 22nd of March 2005, then Prime Minister Honourable Said Musa signed a “Settlement Deed” by which he assured (purportedly) the Carlisle Group of companies (associated with Lord Ashcroft) that (a) they would be treated as having made all filings and paid all Business Tax or Income Tax as at up to 31st March 2005 (b) Business or Income Tax for the Carlisle Group for the future from 1st April 2005 would be calculated in the particular way set out in the Settlement Deed.
So, by the Settlement Deed, Honourable Said Musa as Prime Minister of Belize sought to create a special tax regime for the Carlisle Group. No end to this regime was stated in the Deed. And it was expressly “Confidential,” which is a fancy legal and business word for “secret”. But the Settlement Deed was signed not only by Honourable Said Musa. It was also signed by then Attorney General Francis Fonseca, now Honourable Leader of the Opposition. So secret was this tax regime document that not even the Commissioner of Income Tax knew about it when it was signed. He learnt of it years later. Certainly it was never brought before the National Assembly and it is believed that even the PUP Cabinet did not know of it. And it contained hefty exemptions because in arbitration proceedings in London in 2009 the Tribunal awarded BCB Holdings and Belize Bank a whopping $44 million in damages and costs.
Sugar Industry and Cogeneration Project Incentives Act 2012
Let’s then fast forward to 26th September 2012. The UDP Government, under Honourable Dean Barrow, introduced the Sugar Industry and Cogeneration Project Incentives Act, which is an integral part of the foreign equity investment to save the Belizean sugar industry and, by extension, the livelihood of thousands of Belizeans, including cane farmers and BSI workers. In the House debate the Opposition Leader thundered in a strident voice: “There is no need for us to rush through this bill today. Our farmers need to be properly informed on what is taking place here today”.
But Francis, where was this loud voice when you signed the secret Settlement Deed in 2005? In fact, there was no convening of the National Assembly, and there was no Bill, no public information, much less discussion.
But undoubtedly it is Said who took the cake on Wednesday, the 26th of September 2012. Honourable Indefatigable Said rose (even tiptoed) to the full height of his royal righteousness and in stirring tones uttered that the comparison by the Government to the PUP Belcogen Co-generation Project Act of 2005 was a “fabrication” and that Honourable Minister Godwin Hulse “did not disclose the full truth to the Belizean people that the Act today, is covering exemptions for the entire cane industry as it affects BSI, BELCOGEN and American Sugar Inc.”
Imagine Honourable Said Musa speaking of disclosing the full truth when the 2005 Settlement Deed is now public evidence of his deliberate hiding of a special tax regime for the Carlisle Group from the tax payers and people of Belize. It is a brazenness that defies explanation. And speaking of disclosure, today, Honourable Said Musa and Francis Fonseca have never looked the Belizean people squarely in the eye and explained: (a) Why was this special tax regime given to the Ashcroft Group? and (b) Why was it not tabled and passed in the National Assembly for all the world to see? and (c) Why was it done with the utmost secrecy?
As I mused and watched the TV news, I thought that Honourable Said carried out perhaps the most honourable public act he has performed for a long time – he walked out of the House. Because, seriously, for a Prime Minister to have done to the Belize nation what he did should disqualify him from being in the House and taking part in its august proceedings altogether. This then, is nothing less than a case of Wondrous Hyprocrisy.
On the other hand, the UDP Government has done what it has done to save the sugar industry. ING Bank (which has financed BSI for decades) had declared to BSI that it would no longer finance the company because it was pulling out of doing business in this area of the world. But BSI has established a record (recognized in the Caribbean) of good management both in the factory and in administration.
ASR was attracted to Belize, carried out a comprehensive diligence exercise and decided to invest in BSI and thus in Belize. Its representatives met with all stakeholders, including representatives of the farmers and the BSI staff. The BSI staff approved the investment with a vote of approximately 99%. American Sugar has invested in Vera Cruz, Mexico and all indications are that the farmers and Mexicans are happy with the investment. ASR has capital and knowledge that should lead to expansion of the sugar production to levels which are unprecedented. Undoubtedly, this project is very good for BSI, the workers, the farmers and for Belize.
But I suppose the PUP pantomime in the House is all politics and if the public (and in particular the cane farmers) buys it, then for them it is all good and the PUPs will be back slapping in their private meeting room . But knowledge and understanding give X-ray eyes to see through hypocrisy. Knowledge is power. And with people power, hypocrisy cannot prevail.
(Ed NOTE: The above article is clearly favorable to a UDP government initiative. On Sunday morning last, a guest panelist on KREM Radio’s “Sunday Review” launched a broadside against that exact same initiative. At Kremandala, these things even out over the long run. We have no brief in this matter. Why should we? There is not even the possibility of an election in the near future. So, we operate as a free and independent media system, founded by the people of Belize, as the historical record has proven, in the year 1969.)