BELIZE CITY, Mon. Sept. 28, 2020– The sitting of the House of Representatives held on Friday, September 25, 2020, was perhaps Hon. Dean Barrow’s last time standing as a parliamentarian in the lower house of the National Assembly.
Although a date has not been set for the 2020 general elections, there was a tone of finality in the subtext of a lot of statements from across both sides of the aisle. Also, a sense of an era ending and another starting was evident in the innuendos of the House members, as well as in the overall mood in the House. This sitting of the House was relatively calm for the majority of the day, over the course of which parliamentarians gave bi-partisan support for a number of the bills introduced, and, unsurprisingly, disagreed on others.
All in all, it was business as usual until the adjournment, when members from the Opposition’s People’s United Party rose to throw accusations and statements of condemnation across the aisle, forcing a battle-tested Barrow to rise continually in defense of his administration.
One such back and forth took place after area representative for Caribbean Shores, Hon. Kareem Musa, attempted to revive a debate on the infamous Brad’s boledo contract.
At the last House meeting, Cayo South area representative, Hon. Julius Espat, alleged that Anwar Barrow, son of the Prime Minister, is a shareholder of the company which was awarded the multimillion-dollar boledo contract.
Prime Minister Barrow, for his part, denied having any knowledge of the identity of the shareholders of the awarded company and added that he was not responsible for the vetting of the persons who vied for the contract, but that he deferred to the Lotteries Tender Committee.
Musa, in his comments, challenged the Prime Minister’s claims and said that as the Minister of Finance, Barrow was ultimately responsible for overseeing the contract as head of the Lotteries Commission.
Musa’s attempt to revive that debate, however, was futile, as the Speaker of the House and the Prime Minister argued that it had already been debated on numerous occasions.
This caused Musa to shift his focus to the wider issue of corruption in Government, specifically, nepotism.
“The Prime Minister once said, in an interview, that nepotism is not corruption; those were his words,” Musa stated.
Musa went on to say, “Since 2008, we know that the favorite attorney of the Government was Lois Young Barrow, that in the first term of Government, millions of dollars were paid out to the ex-wife of the Prime Minister, Madam Speaker,” Musa commented.
He added, “After Lois Young Barrow, it was brother Denys; again, I’ve seen wire transfers for up to five million to brother Denys, Madam Speaker, and other family members who are lawyers have benefitted from this administration.”
“Giving them private legal contracts, none of those were ever put out to tender,” he went on to say.
Musa said that he disagreed with Barrow’s position on nepotism: “Over the years, we have lost tens of millions of dollars unnecessarily, and I want to disagree with the Prime Minister when he says nepotism is not corruption; it absolutely is corruption; it has cost us so much money over the years.”
In his response to Musa, Prime Minister Barrow said that no act of nepotism or corruption took place when the government contracted his ex-wife and brother as legal representatives. His arguments were that his actions were in line with the best interest of the Government and people of Belize when he contracted two of the best legal minds in the country to take on those important cases.
Barrow’s assertions were that this would only amount to nepotism or corruption if the persons contracted did not qualify for the task or position afforded them.
Prime Minister Barrow even gave some legal history, pointing out that the issue of nepotism was once raised in the Court of Appeal after the Government retained his brother for a case while he (Prime Minister Barrow) was the Attorney General.
Barrow commented, “This is a matter that has been legally determined; there was, long before you ever dreamed of getting into politics, a time when I was the Attorney General of this country, and in fact, the government did retain my brother to do a case in court, and on appeal, that issue was brought up by the other side —whether something could be made of the fact that I was the Attorney General and the lawyer representing the Government was my brother, and the Court of Appeal said that was absolute nonsense, that he is a lawyer, he is a very good lawyer, the fees that were paid were in accordance with the professional schedule of fees, and that could not be nepotism.”
In further justifying his seemingly nepotistic actions, PM Barrow pointed to an example from the time of the Musa administration, when Yasser Musa was made the director of NICH.
“When your father made your brother the head of NICH, was that nepotism, Sir? I didn’t see it as nepotism; we didn’t complain, because your brother is an artist, he is a legitimate artist, he clearly is very knowledgeable about culture and art, and so he got that job based on merit,” Barrow said.
“You cannot have a situation in which you have a family member of a politician to be excluded from any chance of bidding for public contract simply because they are a family member of people in the Government; you have to look at each case,” Barrow went on to say.
While Barrow spoke in defense of the legal private contracts given to his close relatives to handle the BTL takeover, he made no reference to the appointment of his son as the Chief Executive Officer of that company after the takeover, or the allegations of his involvement in the company that was granted the Brad’s Boledo contract.