This Friday, May 18, 2007, the nation may finally get to know where their elected representatives in the National Assembly stand on the issue of the guarantee for Universal Health Services (UHS), and subsequent agreements by the Government to settle a $33 million debt for the private hospital, but the bottom line question is: Will taxpayers end up footing the multi-million-dollar bill?
The Opposition, United Democratic Party (UDP), has strongly opposed the guarantee and a loan note signed by Prime Minister Said Musa in March to pay off the UHS debt, but while the Opposition has challenged the legality of the agreements, they won’t be able to stop the ruling Musa administration from approving the payment of the debt. So then, the nation’s attention will be on those area reps on Musa’s side of the House, to see who will be among the vocal dissenters. There are 29 reps in the House, and only 8 are Opposition members. Seven from Musa’s camp will have to dissent to stop the payment of the UHS debt.
While the Opposition hopes to rally as many as 1,000 protestors to Independence Hill on Friday morning to strongly oppose the Government’s move to settle the debt, Opposition Leader, Hon. Dean Barrow, told Amandala today that he strongly suspects that Musa will be able to rally his troops and prevail in the House on Friday, though he expects that some Ministers – and particularly Albert Division area rep, Hon. Mark Espat, and Lake I rep, Hon. Cordel Hyde – will not support the payment of the UHS debt.
In the meantime, organizations representing tens of thousands of Belizeans – the Association of Concerned Belizeans (ACB), the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), the Medical and Dental Officers Union of Belize, along with private sector senator and businessman, Hon. Godwin Hulse – will maintain their claim before the court, also challenging the guarantee and subsequent loan to pay the debt, or any attempt of the Government to settle the debt.
While the ACB, the NTUCB, and the other parties have numbers on their side, Hon. Said Musa, who single-handedly committed Government to paying the debt, has the very powerful empire of Michael Ashcroft and the Belize Bank establishment in his corner, and while those private parties may not have a direct say in the National Assembly, they are taking on the ACB and the other parties in the courtroom.
Today the Belize Bank joined as an interested party in the case the ACB and the other parties have filed against the Prime Minister and Attorney General, and the bank has made it clear, in a letter to the ACB dated May 10 that, “The bank has a clear and obvious commercial interest in the outcome.”
The bank maintains that its dealings with the government “are entirely lawful and constitutional,” and it furthermore goes on to claim, in a letter to the ACB’s attorney, Lois Young, that “…it is unnecessary for the Government to go to the National Assembly on the settlement of the UHS debt.”
It seems, however, that at least the Prime Minister has been willing to concede that it is necessary to get National Assembly approval, because he told the media last week that any proposal for final settlement of the debt would have to be taken to the National Assembly before the deal is closed – this despite the fact that he, Musa, penned a deed of settlement and a loan note with the bank on March 23, 2007, without the National Assembly’s approval, notwithstanding the stipulations of the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act 2005.
Today the Solicitor General told the Supreme Court that Government would not pay any money towards the UHS debt, despite a May 2 letter the bank sent to Musa demanding payment. Last Thursday, the bank wrote the ACB a letter saying, “…the bank is prepared to agree that no payment should be made from the Government to it for either principal or interest…for a period of 14 days from the date of this letter.”
The bank presumes that with the approval of the UHS debt by the House, the ACB’s claim “will be redundant,” and it tells the ACB that if the claimants do not drop their Supreme Court case, the bank will ask the court to strike it out.
However, the ACB and the other claimants are still not bending, and on Friday, May 11, their attorney, Lois Young, replied to the bank.
Young told Marshalleck: “…it seems to be that you are intent on besmirching the legitimate and constitutionally guaranteed right of my clients to seek redress in the Courts of this country, with your own political agenda.
“Obviously, your client operates in Belize by using threats, judging from your current letter and that of 2nd May 2007. But…public sentiment is firmly in favor of my clients’ claim as evidenced by the 1,537 persons who sought, in one weekend, to be represented in this claim. In addition, two of the claimants have a hefty membership base which also supports the claim.”
Attorney Young contends that the ACB’s case stands independent of anything that will happen in the House on Friday.
The order papers for that meeting have already gone out, and we are informed that the Government has not included any item on the UHS issue. However, Opposition Leader, Hon. Dean Barrow, has applied to the Clerk of the National Assembly to introduce two motions in Friday’s sitting.
The first calls on the members of the House to state their “disapproval of the conduct of the Prime Minister in having entered into loan agreements and having signed without prior approval of the National Assembly, a loan note on the 23rd March 2007 with the Belize Bank with respect of a debt in excess of 10 million dollars.”
The second asks members to “…disapprove the Government of Belize’s December 9, 2004 guarantee of the UHS debt to the Belize Bank on the basis that the said guarantee was signed by the Minister of Finance without the approval or even knowledge of the Cabinet of Belize, and on the basis that the guarantee is fundamentally against the economic, social and political interests of the nation.”
Barrow expects, however, that even though the Government has presented only some routine bills for reading on Friday, Government will very likely lay a proposal before the House intended to put the whole UHS matter to bed once and for all. He said that if Government and the bank reach an agreement by Friday, that will, in effect, stamp “paid” on the transaction.
He also said that he has submitted three questions to the Prime Minister, one of them asking him to list all the guarantees entered into by his administration, which should cover the recently disclosed put options for three Glenn Godfrey related companies, but for now, he said, they would like to maintain focus on the $33 million UHS debt.