BELIZE CITY, Thurs. June 30, 2022
Last week, it was reported that roughly $175,000—consisting of compensatory and vindicatory damages (totaling $145,000) as well as legal costs to be paid by GoB—was awarded to former deputy prime minister Hugo Patt by the Supreme Court, who, through his lawyer, former prime minister Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, brought a lawsuit against the Government of Belize for breach of his constitutional rights in connection with the January release of the Commission of Inquiry findings into the sale of government assets to persons affiliated with the government during the final months of the Barrow administration. This week, Barrow himself, who had brought a similar claim for a judicial review of the commission’s findings and who, through his lawyer, Naima Barrow, was reportedly seeking a payout of approximately $450,000, was awarded $185,000 in core damages, following the Supreme Court’s ruling on his case. Court costs, in this case, could result in an additional $30,000 on the bill to be paid by the government, although some media outlets have reported that only 50% of such legal costs are to be covered by GoB.
In total, almost $400,000 will have to be paid to the former ministers of government, who have challenged the manner in which the members of the Commission of Inquiry released their findings (in a report issued in January of this year). That report had alleged that the previous UDP administration had shown disregard for the country’s financial laws when it sold public assets at drastically reduced prices to government insiders or affiliates, and it had recommended an amendment to the Finance and Audit Reform Act to expand the laws regarding the handling of government assets.
When a 7News reporter asked Barrow—once a custodian of the country’s finances, responsible for seeking the best interest of Belizean taxpayers—about his seeming lack of qualms about further depleting the country’s funds through this payout, he reasoned that “the public loses and gains.” He claimed that the public can rest assured that any other Commission of Inquiry established by the government in the future will be conducted properly, and that the government has learned its lesson.
Notably, when speaking to reporters earlier this week, Prime Minister Briceño had stated, in reference to the damages awarded to Hon. Hugo Patt, that his administration would be awaiting advice from the Attorney General on whether GoB should appeal the ruling. He also noted that the Supreme Court’s ruling did not indicate that Patt or Barrow were not guilty of the allegations made against them, and that, instead, the two former Cabinet ministers were “getting away on a technicality.”
“As you know, after this case, the Attorney General will come to us and make a recommendation, whether we should appeal the case. I believe it’s excessive, but that’s as far as I will go. And I think what we are forgetting here that these people are getting away, not because they’re innocent but they’re getting away because of a technical issue, a technical process that was not followed. They’re not saying that they’re not guilty, you know; they’re saying, we were not given due process to come and represent ourselves. It is because of that technical error, they are being compensated…. What we’ll do, we’ll follow the process and we’ll listen to the advice of the Attorney General, and if the advice is for us to appeal that case, we will appeal it. I do hope that the recommendation is for us to appeal the case,” stated PM Briceño.
When asked to comment on the Prime Minister’s statement, Barrow said, “He is either a fool or naive. He is either a fool for not understanding the gravity of what has happened or he is naive for understanding it, but trying to dismiss it and cast it aside.” His response, though full of insults aimed at the current PM, did not include an explicit denial of Hon. Briceño’s claims.