The Prime Minister of Belize, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, looked perplexed, perhaps a much used adjective in his case, when Amandala journalist, Mr. Rowland Parks, suggested to him that his government, having landed in yet another scandal, should consider “new elections to get a fresh mandate.” The Prime Minister, after furrowing his brows and glancing around, then skyward, as if nonplussed by the question, responded that every government will get embroiled in controversies, especially one that has been in power for three consecutive terms.
We could be afflicted with amnesia, but we don’t recall having our previous United Democratic Party (UDP) governments being embroiled in chain controversies of this kind during the periods when the present Prime Minister’s boss, the Hon. Dr. Manuel Esquivel, was at the helm. If we recall rightly, serial scandals of this kind only became a thing under recent People’s United Party (PUP) governments, governments our present Prime Minister described as “whited sepulchers” and, borrowing from CCJ coinage, “malignant tumors.”
The Prime Minister said that the most recent controversy, the Sanctuary Bay Enterprise (SBE) scandal, could not be considered as a stain on his government because it involved Americans defrauding Americans, and it was just unfortunate that the bank they used in Belize, Atlantic International Bank Limited (AIBL), was hauled in as a defendant in the case.
We used to think that we Belizeans deserved to expect transparency and accountability: a fully functioning back-bencher system; an independent Senate; an accountant general’s office with all the information to do their work; a contractor general who vetted all tenders so that the tender that served Belize best won the bid; and a Police Department that respected an order from the court.
We were once a tranquil haven, but now we are one of the five most murderous countries on the globe. Our governments keep getting embroiled in controversies, and the gap keeps widening between the rich and the poor. We used to wonder how our leaders slept at night, but not anymore. In Belize, chain controversies, violence, and unequal wealth distribution are par for the course.
The Prime Minister was perplexed that Belizeans were asking why our authorities didn’t get involved in 2016 when then Central Bank governor, Mr. Glen Ysaguirre, formally communicated to the head of the Financial Intelligence Unit, Ms. Joy Grant, that all might not be legitimate at SBE.
The Prime Minister said that anyone who knows our system knows it made no sense to suggest that our authorities could have intervened because “The Central Bank is the regulator of financial matters and financial institutions, not real estate development.” PM Barrow said: “This is not an allegation of criminal conduct such as that would get us to move the police authorities to bring charges. This is a civil complaint. If you pay a man to build a house and he doesn’t do so, you take him to court. You don’t go to the police to get back your money. There is no kind of criminal fraud alleged.”
The former Central Bank governor, Mr. Glen Ysaguirre, might not have grasped the technicality there.
The former Central Bank governor, who was having sleepless nights over what American operatives might have been doing to innocent American citizens, must feel like a real fool for running a sweat over a matter that wasn’t his concern. It is not impossible that he was looking beyond his fiduciary obligations; it is not impossible that he is a responsible person and he knew that if what he was hearing was true it would look bad on Belize, and the sometimes unfair Americans might look around for a fall guy, and their eyes might land on us.
The stewards of our nation really need to get their heads screwed on right. Even if the Americans were our enemies, we would still have responsibility to keep a close eye on whatever business they have here, to make sure they don’t do anything bad to us, or use our country to do bad things to others, including their own.
The PM is perplexed that anyone would question the virtue of Barrow and Williams (B&W), when a court in Maryland did not disapprove of the law firm. At the press conference the PM said: “How is it that court [the court in Maryland] appointed a receiver to take charge of Sanctuary Bay and its assets in Belize and that receiver with the approval of the court retained the self-same Barrow and Williams to act on behalf of the receiver who is in turn acting on behalf of the victims?”
It is not likely that anyone here will now question the virtue of B&W, having been warned that they might be facing massive lawsuits, but we have to point out that the PM’s explanation for Barrow & Williams being the lawyers of choice in this case does not make them the saints in this saga.
The Prime Minister has expressed verbally how eager he was to get the SBE situation settled, and his actions don’t contradict that. He has been to Miami, at least once, and he has met with the boss of the United States Embassy in Belize.
Could there be better legal services anywhere in the world for hire than a law firm that is linked to the Prime Minister of the country? All our heads would have to be empty of grey matter if we don’t see the possibilities, the advantages that exist when the law firm that is linked to the Prime Minister is in your employ. It certainly hasn’t hurt a certain foreign businessman with interests in Belize to have this law firm in his employ. We have proof. The B&W law firm is still in his employ.
The Prime Minister is surprised that the Americans don’t trust our justice system. That country’s present president recently referred to countries like ours in the most derogatory terms.
Our present prime minister, to our detriment, seems to never be in the know about things that are going wrong in his government. It has been said that he does not read newspapers or listen to radio/television stations that are not in his control. That would explain his ignorance. He gets his information from sycophants.
He didn’t know that his Ministers were not acting properly in the passport office, that they were into various land scams, that they choose very unsavory friends, that the Petro Caribe funds were being spent without proper authorization. The present prime minister doesn’t know that when handling a country’s finances, leaders of government are called to a higher standard, that what they do must not only be legal, it must be moral too. He did so know, when he was in Opposition, but not now.
There is one thing the Prime Minister knows well. He knows his enemy, the PUP, well, so well he never forgets to discuss their various controversies at every House meeting, and it is not impossible that maybe he can help his party win a fourth consecutive term in office by means of what he knows that the PUP did going on eleven, and fifteen, and twenty years ago.
We are told that none of our Belizean people are defendants in this SBE scam and we are happy about that. We are not happy that some years ago we had a strong whiff that some Americans were perpetrating fraud on our soil, and we chose to bury our heads in the sand.
Oh, what nefarious deeds we breed when we practice governance that shuns transparency and accountability, and victimize citizens when they ask hard questions. It is a tragedy, this reaction by the PM and his friends when serious journalists seek the truth. It is stunning, these threats of lawsuits.
A lot of bad things are happening in our country. It is for sure that there are many good things too, but the bad things are a ponderous weight, sapping the spirit of our nation.
(NOTE: Quotes in this article were taken from transcripts published by News5 Belize and 7News Belize.)