BELMOPAN, Fri. Feb. 5, 2021– The Government of Belize passed a bill to amend the Finance and Audit Reform Act so that a contingency fund can be created. According to Prime Minister Briceño, this will allow the Government to utilize these funds in times of unforeseen emergencies. In presenting the bill, Hon. Briceño said that this will also allow the Government to stay within the purview of the Finance and Audit Reform Act and avoid unauthorized spending of state funds.
The Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Patrick Faber, said that the amendments are redundant, since provisions already exist in specific areas of the legislation to remedy the issue which the new amendment to the act seeks to address. “This particular insertion establishes the contingencies fund, and if you study the Finance and Audit Act, you will see that there are already some funds established in somewhat the same format like what is established here.” Hon. Faber countered.
According to Hon. Faber, the amendments merely mirror some of the provisions that already exist in principle in the act.
The contingency fund would contain monies that have been set aside for public emergencies under section 18 of the Constitution. Public emergencies can be declared in Belize in three scenarios: at a time of war, by a force declaration of the Governor-General, or if there is a force resolution from the National Assembly, triggered by the subversive restriction of democratic institutions.
In his remarks, Hon. Faber asserted that the amendment would allow the Government of Belize to divert any grant donations to the contingency fund. “What [part c] does basically, it says that, yes, you can use grants, as long as they are not earmarked for public emergencies, disaster management, and relief. Let’s say, Taiwan or another friendly nation to Belize decides to give a grant for general purpose, not necessarily for disaster management and relief and such matters. They can then decide to put that in this contingency fund, Madam Speaker, and then they can remove it.”
The amendment outlines that the contingency fund will not be contained within the Consolidated Revenue Fund and will be kept in a separate account overseen by the Accountant General. The Leader of the Opposition also claimed that too much discretionary power is being given to the Ministry of Finance in connection with this amendment.
In his response, Prime Minister Briceño explained that the massive rains and extended drought seen over recent years are considered unforeseen circumstances. He asserted that if the UDP administration had such a mechanism in place, they would have been able to assist the farmers affected by the unpredictable climatic conditions.
The PM also mentioned that all warrants issued to spend monies from the contingency fund will have to be reported at the next House of Representatives meeting after the warrant was issued. He also said that, as Minister of Finance, his office is tasked with the responsibility to issue and oversee all warrants issued from the contingency fund.
“We want to ensure that those special warrants that are given illegally, and as we just saw when the honorable member from Cayo South, and I took your Prime Minister [to court] for spending over 1 billion dollars…we want to see to stop that action, and the way you do that is by setting up the contingency fund, and with the necessary rules on how we are going to manage it. The most important thing is, is that when we spend that money because there is an emergency, in the next House meeting we have to come and report to all of you in this House.” Prime Minister Briceño said.