PM Barrow, who is the Minister of Finance, and the Financial Secretary were sued for spending $1.3 billion illegally
BELIZE CITY, Wed. Mar. 6, 2019– Attorneys representing the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. John Briceño, and chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Representatives, Hon. Julius Espat, filed a fixed date claim at the Supreme Court Registry yesterday, Tuesday, naming Hon. Dean Barrow, Minister of Finance, and Joseph Waight, Financial Secretary, as defendants; as well as the Attorney General of the State of Belize, for the spending of $1.3 billion from the Consolidated Revenue Fund and the Petrocaribe Amendment Act 2015 without the approval of the National Assembly of Belize.
The lawsuit is contending that the monies were spent in violation of the Constitution of Belize and in violation of the Finance and Audit Reform Act.
The two claimants are seeking a number of constitutional reliefs from the court, including a permanent injunction to stop the Minister of Finance and the Financial Secretary from spending monies from the Consolidated Fund by means of “general revenue supplementary appropriation.”
In the court papers, 21 instances of the spending of monies under supplementary appropriation from the period of 2013 to 2018 are listed.
In an interview, Hon. Espat told us today that for some time now they have been communicating to the Prime Minister, through various means, that he has been violating the Finance and Audit Reform Act, the Constitution of Belize and the rule of law by spending monies without getting the approval of the House of Representatives.
Hon. Espat went on to explain that there was an initial claim about three to four years ago, before the last general election. That claim was in respect of the Petrocaribe funds.
“His response at that time was to pass a law to correct the errors that he had made. Subsequently to that, he won the general election and we said that we have to respect the will of the Belizean people,” Hon. Espat explained, adding that “despite all that fact, they still voted him in, so we withdrew the claim.”
“We continued to inform him that he is breaking the law and we studied it some more. We went back to 2008 to 2018 and we built a case, not on the amount of money that he was borrowing, but on the amount he was spending, with all the supplementary we have been able to get our hands on, and it amounted to 1.3 billion dollars,” Hon. Espat pointed out.
Hon. Espat said that every year a budget is read that is called an Appropriation Bill, but he opined that the budget has become meaningless, and is just a “copy and paste exercise” — “because every year, after the budget is read, they get these supplementary allocations.” “We think they are about 4 to 5 every year. Basically, the supplementary allocation is telling us that we need more money to pay for things”, he said.
“Once you have a budget in place, you cannot run your budget over 10 percent, or over $500,000. Once you do, it has to be under the auspices of emergency, like a natural disaster,” Hon. Espat disclosed, “In some cases he has gone over more than 40 percent of the budget; in the claim, it details all of that.”
“We have also studied cases brought in the Commonwealth, specifically Australia and New Zealand,” Hon. Espat said.
“There was a Senate hearing on this and the Financial Secretary has confirmed that he has done this, spent money on a warrant, knowing that he is wrong”, Hon. Espat explained.
“In essence we are asking the court that this never happens again. We are asking the court that they cannot do supplementary allocations after the fact, after they have spent the money. It is a matter of due process, of following the law. A budget is a sacred economic tool,” Hon. Espat stated.
He then added, “If you don’t adhere to the budget, you are going to get into financial trouble.”
We asked Hon. Espat if they are expecting any kind of legislative reaction from the Prime Minister.
“Me personally, I would think so, yes, because he has done so in the past,” Hon. Espat responded. “We are of the opinion that he only has two avenues he always gleams on — litigate or legislate his way out of problems. But both of them will eventually be his downfall. We have lost close to a billion dollars in litigation, and in legislation, we will test him, all the way to the Caribbean Court of Justice,” he said.
“We have to change the way that we do governance in this country,” Hon. Espat remarked finally.