Even the UDP’s “friend,” Pastor Ashley Rocke, voted against the write-off
BELMOPAN, Thurs. Oct. 10, 2019– The write-off of Joshua Perdomo’s student loan in excess of $40,000 ignited fierce debate during yesterday’s Senate meeting. Perdomo, the son of Cabinet Secretary Carlos Perdomo, took paid study leave from his public service job in the Ministry of National Security to pursue a Master’s Degree in Forensic Genetics, but never returned to Belize after completing his studies in Texas and never paid back his student loan.
In late August, Prime Minister Dean Barrow introduced the motion in the House of Representatives to write-off Perdomo’s debt to the government as uncollectable, because he could not be located and the debt had become statute-barred, making it impossible for government to recover the money.
The motion went through all of its stages in the House of Representatives, but when it was voted on in the Senate, it was defeated by a vote of 7 to 6, with all four social partner senators voting no, along with the three senators of the Opposition, the People’s United Party.
The Senate defeat of the write-off motion means that it has to go back to the House of Representatives, where it will become law, because the no vote in the Senate can only delay a money bill for about one month. Nonetheless, the defeat of the motion is historic because of the vote of the Church senator, Pastor Ashley Rocke, who had established a pattern of voting along with the six Government senators.
Hon. Osmany Salas, the NGO senator, told the Senate that he has some major issues with the motion.
He stated, “The bond was signed on May 15th, 2011. The study leave period was for 27 months, which, if I am calculating properly, Mr. Perdomo should have started to pay in 2012, 7 years ago. In the motion, it states that no payment has been made and efforts to locate him have proved futile. The Solicitor General had advised, as the motion states, for Mr. Perdomo to do monthly payments of $1,000 until payment was made in full.
“Very reasonable, and yet no effort was made to make any payment. ‘The efforts to locate him have proven futile.’ Really? Futile! Do we really believe that? Bond agreements in this case there was a surety and I must say, looking through the bond agreement, I saw some instances where it was sloppily put together.
“In the section where in the preamble to the agreement were issued state surety, a street address was inserted and not the name of a person. How that was allowed to get through, or how nobody picked up on that? I don’t know what happened there. But the fact is that there was 7 years to try and collect at least for payments to start. So a lot of time has passed.”
“This went home hard with the churches,” the senator representing the churches, Ashley Rocke, said. “We talked and there were two main issues that haunted us, and that one being, the whole issue of morality, first of all, because, if nobody will stand for morality, the church has to. But then the statute of limitation was also an issue with us. I was given myriads of information to read and to try to understand. But in dealing with the matter of the statute of limitation, that Limitation Act 170, and I’m no lawyer, but I believe that I learnt to read when I went back to pursue my theological degree, and I read a particular one that was given to me from a Supreme Court case that had taken place in 1980. We were able to settle our minds relating to the statute of limitation that it wasn’t barred, and the gentleman in question is still liable to the Belize coffers and needs to come and pay his money, and I believe, with all due respect to my Prime Minister, he should make sure he collects that money from that man. With that submission I/we/the Church say no to that thing.”
Senator Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, who is also the Attorney General, declared: “Make no mistake about it, Mr. President, of the 6 money motions that we have here today, we will probably spend the majority of the day on this one, because make no mistake about it, the Opposition is clearly making politics off of this write-off motion.
“Strictly politics, because had this person been named Joshua Smith, we wouldn’t be analyzing it in such details and seeking outside competent attorneys in the giving in your network. This Joshua Perdomo is Carlos Perdomo’s son and Said Perdomo’s cousin. Make no mistake about it. That is the only reason why any of them are interested in this particular write-off. Mr. Perdomo’s son should not be treated in any special way simply because he is Mr. Perdomo’s son.”
“It doesn’t mean that Mr. Joshua Perdomo has gotten away scot-free. You think that Mr. Perdomo could ever work for the public service again or get any serious job in the public service again if he fails to make good on this? We can still get back the money, unless Mr. Perdomo has accepted that he will never return to Belize and never work for Belize again, which would be most unfortunate for both himself and for Belize,” Hon. Peyrefitte said.
PUP Senator, Hon. Michel Chebat, told the Senate, “How can the Attorney General stand before this Senate and say that his office advised that this is a contract and the limitation period has expired, when just before him, the Hon. Senator Rocke quoted a Supreme Court case that has specifically decided on a similar point and the Supreme Court has ruled in a previous similar instance that this is a specialty and the limitation period is 12 years?
“I don’t know what law school the Attorney General went to … this matter is not being raised only because it is Joshua Perdomo that is under the scrutiny. The fact is, if it were Joshua Smith; no Joshua Smith could get a forty-thousand dollar bond to go study nowhere. You have to either be a minister’s son or a political affiliate to be able to get things like this.”
“Why has the surety to the bond, signed by his sister, not been asked to repay this bond? Why is he getting preferential treatment when there are thousands of students across the country who struggle every single year to be able to pay their school fees? What puts him in a special position? The only thing that put him there is because he is the son of the Cabinet Secretary. That’s all,” said Hon. Chebat.
PUP Senator, Hon. Dr. Luis Zabaneh, commented, “The Belizean people are outraged, students are outraged by this … the fact of the matter is that the majority of Belizean students out there and parents do not have this privilege when they are going to attend UB, or any university or going abroad. They don’t have this privilege and that’s why they are outraged.”
Business senator, Hon. Mark Lizarraga, told the Senate: “Maybe this young man needed more time. I don’t know what the instances were, but you acknowledge that you owe, you make good on your payments, and it is the government’s responsibility to try and collect the people’s money, especially when you have a guarantee.”
Labour senator, Hon. Marvin Mora, said, “I am sure the government representatives here wouldn’t want to give the impression that it is the norm for the Government of Belize to just follow through with a write-off and it is over with.”