No other prime minister in the history of Belize has ever had the opportunity to govern our little Belize longer than PM Dean Barrow. A veteran politician who has never lost his constituency because he keeps the majority of his voters well-maintained and blindly loyal, Barrow is also a lawyer, thus it was assumed that he as a legal mind would know the law. He cannot claim ignorance of the law as a defence anyway, since under our legal system, “ignorance of the law is no defence” to anyone, and especially a lawyer!
In his 12 years at the helm, he has cost the Belizean taxpayers not millions, but billions of dollars either in litigation over matters he knew he could not win, or as a result of decisions badly and illegally made and contracts intentionally breached and even road contracts for streets, boulevards and roads that were poorly built (yet the contractors walked away with full payments). The name “Barrow” says a lot about him, since he has borrowed and borrowed and borrowed to the point that we are steep in debt. His level of borrowing makes the “super-bond”” of the Musa administration, look like chump-change!
My last estimate puts our loss to at least $3 billion dollars. It is that high, I say, and it will increase because in a recent press release issued 17th June, 2020, PM Dean Barrow made it known that his “intention [is] to seek the consent of holders of Belize’s U.S. Dollar Bonds due 2034 (the “Bonds”) to the capitalization of interest payments falling due on the Bonds through February 20, 2021″. Here he is telling us in advance that the interest he cannot pay right now will be added to the principal. This therefore means that with the principal increasing, the rate of interest on the new total will increase as well as the principal sum owed.
I hope Belizeans appreciate that children not yet born, will be paying this debt and, as such, when they come into this world in Belize, not only will they automatically get a birth certificate, but also an outstanding debt for billions of dollars borrowed and spent and mis-spent by Dean Barrow as PM and Minister of Finance. He knows that our people are generally financially illiterate and really he knows he can manipulate them by keeping them focused only on the now and on any little “chump-change” or handout, or pantry or little funds he throws their way. This will quickly placate them and make them feel appeased. If our Belizean people could only understand that they would benefit more, financially and otherwise, if our tax-dollars were properly spent and accounted for. I am sure, then, that they would demand better accountability and not demand or take those handouts that got them so enslaved! It is a sad reality that we accept such a low-level of governance, next to no accountability and absolutely no plan to change a system that is conducive to corruption.
Another sad reality!
Before I became an attorney, I was a journalist and dabbled briefly in politics, but then I opted to do law, as I realized that the lawyers always seem to know so much and wield so much power and influence. I saw them as people who fought for the helpless and looked out for the disadvantaged, but then I had my experience dealing with them and realized so many were unethical, corrupt and outright political beasts looking after their own self-interests. Nevertheless, as I pursued my studies as a trained attorney, I also learnt that the profession had ethics and that the ones I had to deal with in Belize whom were so corrupt and unethical, did not represent the standard of the profession, although sadly, most of those I saw as corrupt also happened to be in party politics (a different story for a different time). The lawyer-politicians have been able to craftily hide and double-talk and cover their unethical behavior.
However, none has so blatantly lied to, and misled, the Belizean public about the law, as Dean Barrow. I am ashamed to think I once supported him; that I once agreed to serve as senator at his request and under his leadership; that I once thought he was a good attorney; and that I lobbied friends and family to vote for his party so that the UDP could win the majority of seats and he could be the Prime Minster in the 2008 election. Twelve years later, he has been such a disappointment, and he and his party keep justifying his conduct and style of governance by measuring him and the party against the deeds of Said Musa’s PUP administration! Such a sad state of affairs, because to hold Musa/PUP as his standard of measurement says a lot about him! I know many, who like myself voted for change and held high hopes that once Musa and the PUP were out of office, we would NEVER again hear about secret accommodation agreements, bloated contracts, excessive borrowing, violations of the Finance and Audit Reform Act and the many things against which in 2005 the nation went on protest!
Those of us who so valiantly fought against those things and placed hope in the leadership of the UDP under PM Barrow have met such disappointment, that the word “disappointment” does not adequately express the deflation in spirit. We have to admit to ourselves that he is still worse than Musa’s PUP administration… we thought it could not get worse. As Dean said, “the best is yet to come” and that we should “imagine the possibilities,” yet none of us imagined that it was possible that we would find ourselves in billions of dollars in debt and losses, in countless litigation, all of which we have lost, and in an economic crisis where the PM finally admits we are broke — “bruk”! COVID-19 did not cause our economic crisis, it only unveiled it!
His conduct and blatant arrogance and unapologetic abuse of power, office and political standing is yet another sad reality.
The lies are just too blatant
Then, just when I could not get any more disappointed, I heard the most blatant and misleading lie uttered by the PM and then, any sliver of hope that he will at least leave office with some shred of dignity, totally vanished. According to the PM, in reference to the case won by the Leader of the Opposition and Julius Espat in which the then Chief Justice, Kenneth Benjamin, held that Barrow’s spending of $1.5 billion dollars was unconstitutional, he has gone on record as saying that said ruling is basically non-existent, like it never happened. Here are his words uttered in an interview at the Sitting of the House on Friday, 26th June, 2020: “He [CJ Benjamin] is functus. That is the end of it. The people can start [the case] all over again if they wish. But no, you cannot get anything from the ex-chief justice. The judgment doesn’t happen until it is reduced to writing, signed by the judge and it receives the sort of seal of the Supreme Court. I have checked myself personally.”
It is nauseating to hear a trained attorney even say he has checked the law on this for himself, so as to give credence to his lie. While the Bar Association of Belize has remained silent on this blatant lie, one attorney, who seldom speaks out and was a former associate at Barrow & Williams, fact-checked her former boss and wrote: “Just could not let the PM, a trained lawyer, and a leader of a country, whose written constitution enshrines the rule of law, get away with saying, as much, that, because a judgment is oral and was not yet handed down in writing, he does not need to comply with it. This is the same case where he was found to have spent public monies (Petrocaribe loan proceeds) unlawfully and in breach of the Constitution, and was ordered by the court to rectify it. Just incredible! The last I checked, a judgment takes effect from the day it is pronounced and must be complied with by every citizen of this country, even though the order has not been perfected.” She then cited the Civil Procedure Rules, which is where the PM should have checked if he really wanted to be honest about what the law says.
Here are the key provisions of Part 42; specifically Rule 42.2 states: “A party is bound by the terms of the judgment or order whether or not the judgment or order is served where that party – (a) is present whether in person or by legal practitioner when the judgment given or order was made; or (b) is notified of the terms of the judgment or order by telephone, fax, or otherwise.” [Emphasis mine]
PM Barrow and Financial Secretary, Joseph Waight, were represented by the Attorney General’s office, and thus not only was Waight present in person, but also the Crown Counsels of the AG Ministry, thus the Defendants were, in part, present by means of the presence of their legal practitioner. Further, Rules 42.8 and 42.9 speak directly as to when the ruling of the CJ takes effect. They state:
“42.8 A judgment or order takes effect from the day it is given or made, unless the court specifies that it is to take effect on a different date.
“42.9 A party must comply with a judgment or order immediately, unless – (a) the judgment or order specifies some other date for compliance; (b) the court varies the time for compliance including specifying payment by installments; or (c) the claimant, on requesting judgment in default under Part 12 or judgment on an admission under Part 14, specifies a different time for compliance.” [Emphasis mine]
Above the law
I fear that the masses are not understanding the seriousness of those instances where the PM and his cohorts and even his legal representatives seek to act above the law. These are signs of not only poor governance, but a pathway towards dictatorship and anarchy. Your highest political leader cannot believe or act as if the laws do not apply to him. The PM is to comply with the ruling of the then Chief Justice. For him to set a precedent to do otherwise, would therefore mean that law and order do not prevail and the common man cannot be expected to comply with court rulings either. This is a road we should never take or condone!
However, the legacy of the senior attorney Dean Barrow will now be that of a rogue PM and a violator of the laws, when he does not get his way. On the same day he refused to recognize the legitimacy of the ruling of CJ Benjamin (as he then was), PM Barrow in his arrogance wasted no time to likewise pronounce his take of the upcoming decision that was to be handed down by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on Tuesday, 1st July, 2020. In anticipation of said decision he had this to say: “If the judgement goes against us, you don’t need to ask me for reaction on Tuesday. I’m telling you from now — won’t pay, can’t pay. End of story.”
As PM Barrow very well had anticipated, the CCJ did rule against the government in the BISL v GoB case regarding the arbitrary takeover of the Company Registry from BISL, which had the contract to manage those. In its ruling, the CCJ wasted no time in condemning the actions of the PM and his outright violations and found there was a breach of contract. The CCJ stated as follows:
“The omissions by the Government to take any reasonable steps to try and resolve its issues with BISL collaboratively and amicably, together with its unilateral and high-handed actions to take over the Registries were contextually arbitrary, inconsistent with the standards of good governance, in breach of the duty of good faith, contractually unreasonable, fundamentally unfair, an abuse of State power, and therefore contrary to the rule of law. Taken together these all constitute a serious threat to, and undermining of, fundamental and core constitutional values and principles. They also weaken the integrity of the legal system, especially if the government is permitted to enjoy exemption from its failure to comply with its rule of law obligations in this case. And as well, left unaccounted for they diminish constitutional faith and public trust, and hence democratic legitimacy.” [Emphasis mine]
This is a serious indictment against a PM who is not ignorant of the law. He knows he cannot get away with these kinds of conduct, yet he keeps dragging the country into losing litigations and costing us MILLIONS of dollars. He knows the local judges may see it his way or not, but once the matter reaches the CCJ, that is the final court and that is the ruling that stays with us forever. I know he knows better. He is a constitutional law lawyer and knows the tenements of the Constitution and the principles of contract law, unless he is suffering from dementia, is schizophrenic or has opted to become a dictator and will keep on eroding the integrity of the legal system!