Leader of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), Johnny Briceño, made a controversial statement at a National Party Council meeting of the People’s United Party (PUP) held on Saturday, October 1, which many observers say is in line with public suspicion of multimillion-dollar fleecing of the public purse under the last administration, and government authorities say his statements ought to be investigated.
“I want to ask where are those millionaires, those people that made millions of dollars over the 10 years when we were in government? Where are those people that benefited? …I could give unu names, but ah no wah call out names,” said Briceño, in comments carried live on PUP’s Vibes radio and rebroadcast on 7 News on October 4.
Briceño’s remarks were provoked by statements made by Immediate Past Leader of the PUP, Said Musa, who, Briceño told us, was asked to address the gathering on the legacy of Leader Emeritus Price. Instead, Musa criticized the current PUP leadership, and called it out for crying broke.
“They [the millionaires] need to bring [that] money back to the PUP…. That money does not belong in foreign bank accounts! Bring it yah, so we could fight once again and … tek down Barrow and the UDP!” Briceño retorted in answering Musa.
Police Minister Doug Singh told our newspaper that Briceño’s statements should be investigated, but he said that would be a matter for the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU). Singh said that nobody was named and the persons in question could have gotten those “benefits” legally as contractors.
Head of the FIU, Marilyn Williams, told Amandala that the question will have to be asked whether the benefits Briceño spoke of were gotten legally or illegally. It is an investigation that the FIU can initiate on its own without a complainant, Williams indicated: “Gimme some names,” she said.
Williams commented that Briceño, probably acting on legal advice, left his comments broad enough so as not to explicitly make any criminal allegations.
She also noted that corruption is a precedent to money laundering and that in his comments, Briceño was pleading for those who benefited to help his party—not the country.
Speaking with Amandala today, the Leader of the Opposition said it was very clear that over the 10 years the PUP was in power (1998 to 2008), the economy of Belize was growing and “things were happening.”
A lot of people made money over the course of those ten years, said Briceño.
“Help the party out,” he added.
The Leader of the Opposition now narrows his statements to “business people” who, he said, have been “talking so much” about the state of the economy under the current administration.
“Help we, unu mi di benefit,” said Briceño.
We noted to Briceño that when he made his comments on Saturday, they were not at all specific to “business people” – but pointed to people who had allegedly hidden funds in foreign bank accounts.
Briceño insisted, however, that he was really not casting any aspersions when he made the comments on Saturday.
Private sector Senator Godwin Hulse told Amandala, when we spoke with him concerning Briceño’s statement, that “…we wound up in a whole, big, serious foreign debt we are still strapped under—so many projects we didn’t get a lot from.”
Senator Hulse pointed to the formal investigations into the alleged misuse of funds at the Social Security Board and the Development Finance Corporation, which probed questionable multimillion-dollar transactions. We note that recommendations for investigations into possible financial crimes have still not been pursued.
As to the state of the PUP’s party finances, which has been a source of great contention within the high ranks of the party, Briceño said that the party does need finance going into the elections – the municipals planned for 2012 and nationals for 2013. The party’s financial reports, said Briceño, are due to be tabled at Friday’s national executive meeting.