UDP parliamentarians set to vote against the over $95 mil UHS bill in defiance of CCJ order
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Aug. 30, 2018– A new chapter is about to be written in Belize’s parliamentary history when the Universal Health Care Bill, which is over $95 million, goes to the floor of the House of Representatives tomorrow, Friday. Members from the government side have indicated that they will vote against the measure—despite a Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) order to pay the Belize Bank in line with the terms of a loan guarantee made by the Government of Belize on behalf of Universal Health Services (UHS).
Since the CCJ ruling, the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) has gone on record urging the Government of Prime Minister Dean Barrow to pay the UHS debt. If the government parliamentarians were to vote yes on this particular bill, this is one of the few instances where there would have been bipartisan support on the floor of the House, with the 12 PUP members voting the same way as the government members.
That, however, is not likely to happen with the voting on the UHS Bill. The game is already set for a showdown.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Barrow had gone on the record after the CCJ judgment, saying that he would allow his members to vote their conscience.
Last November, the CCJ issued a ruling on the much litigated Universal Health Services (UHS) loan note, and in that ruling the court ordered the Government of Belize to pay the Belize Bank the proceeds of the loan note. The figure has been growing from 2013 when the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) ruled that the loan note signed by the then Said Musa administration was valid.
The LCIA ruling caught the attention of an organization known as the Association of Concerned Belizeans (ACB), and they appealed the LCIA decision all the way to the Privy Council in London. The Privy Council, too, ruled that the loan note was valid, but the ruling Barrow administration has refused to budge.
The Belize Bank sought enforcement at the Supreme Court, but the court refused to issue an enforcement order against the government. The matter was appealed to the Court of Appeal, and it, too, refused to grant an enforcement order against the government.
When the matter was litigated at the CCJ, Belize’s highest court, the court issued what is called a declarative order, but stopped short of an enforcement order. The CCJ deferred the matter of payment to Belize’s parliament, and that is the showdown that will take place tomorrow on the floor of the House of Representatives.
When we called the Clerk of the National Assembly on Wednesday, August 29, to get details of the agenda for this Friday’s House meeting, we were told that such information wasn’t for the public.
This significant piece of information apparently wasn’t kept a secret from certain media houses, however, with both 7News and News5 declaring boldly on their headline news Wednesday night that the hour was indeed here, and the government’s very own newspaper, the Guardian, screamed in today’s headline, “UDP says NO to UHS debt this Friday!”
A page 3 article in the Guardian informed that come voting time on Friday, the Prime Minister “will be asking for a division in the House”, and declared in its final paragraph, with palpable anticipation, that this Friday “will prove to be a historic time as the individual representatives will be asked to vote in a situation where the interests of a single individual will be pitted against the interest of the entire nation.”
The “single individual”, we deduce to be Lord Michael Ashcroft, and the “nation” spoken about, we are certain, is us. What is not certain is whose “interest” will be served when the final vote is tallied.
It is all really quite intriguing and very unprecedented. The Prime Minister will introduce a bill for the government to appropriate funds to pay an outstanding debt (as determined by the CCJ) to the Belize Bank. If we are to believe the government’s newspaper, the nineteen members from the government side (possibly minus Hon. Gaspar Vega, who was demoted (and resigned) from the second highest office in our land for reasons unrelated to the matter which will be before the House) will resoundingly vote—NO!