CCJ tells Belize Bank enforce UHS order at Supreme Court Print E-mail
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Thursday, 07 June 2018 00:00

The Government of Belize has successfully managed to repel one of the relentless assaults that the Ashcroft Alliance continues to make on the country’s finances. The Caribbean Court of Justice has ruled that at this time, it will not force the Barrow Administration to pay an over 90 million-dollar judgment debt for the mess that the past Said Musa administration made with the Universal Health Services (UHS) Hospital. Although the Alliance has an enforceable award against Belize, it has to wait for Belize’s parliament to decide if the country will pay that judgment debt or not.

That’s exactly what the Alliance was attempting to avoid when they brought their application to the CCJ earlier this year.

As readers will remember, in November of 2017, this same court ruled firmly that Belize has to pay the over 90 million dollars, for a problem which neither the Barrow Government nor the Belizean people created. It goes back to 2004, when former Prime Minister Said Musa gave UHS, a private hospital, a public guarantee for 35 million dollars in private debt owed to the Belize Bank. He did this secretly, and without first seeking parliamentary approval, or reporting it to the Cabinet. This type of behavior, which keeps coming back to haunt the Belizean people, was harshly condemned by the very same CCJ in a 2013 judgment, which the court dubbed “malignant tumours that eat away at democracy”.

When the hospital could not pay its private debt, this secret Government guarantee was activated, and in 2007, the Musa Government came up with a loan note to use public funds to pay it off. When the Dean Barrow and the UDP Government came to power in 2008, he and the new administration refused to honor it, pointing out that it was unlawful. In 2013, the London Court of International Arbitration held that the Musa loan note was valid, and it gave the Belize Bank an award of 37 million dollars. Over the years of fighting against it, the interest has compounded on that award to what it is today, a total of over 90 million dollars.

Prime Minister Barrow and his government have already accepted that it is due, and the Government’s firm position is that only the National Assembly has the power to authorize payment of this debt out of the consolidated revenue fund. He is trying to properly follow the parliamentary procedure that the past PUP government flouted so shamelessly.

In January of 2018, he tabled the bill which, if passed, will be used as the lawful authority to pay the money to the Ashcroft Alliance. But, there is a caveat. The Prime Minister is allowing all parliamentarians, both in Government and the Opposition, to vote their conscience on whether to agree to pay this money, or not. Several of the UDP parliamentarians have already said publicly that they will vote against it because that debt is not something that Belizeans should bear, for a hospital that is not publicly owned.

So, the Ashcroft Alliance, through the Belize Bank, brought an application to the CCJ in March, asking the court to force the Government to pay. They were trying to get around the Government’s attempts at proper parliamentary procedure, anticipating that the bill needed to authorize payment would likely be voted against.

After months of deliberation, on Friday, June 1, the CCJ returned with a 5-page judgment dismissing the Alliance’s application, and ordering them to pay the Government’s court costs.

In their judgment, the court says,  “The Bank alleged that the GOB, instead of “whipping in” its members to vote on an Appropriation Bill to cover the debt, would ensure that its Bill would not be passed by the device of allowing its party members in the House of Representatives to have a free “conscience” vote… While we could understand these fears, courts have to presume (in the absence of evidence to the contrary) that Governments will act in proper fashion to accord due respect to judgments of the courts and not deprive successful litigants of the fruits of their litigation against Governments. Thus, the Bank’s application was premature: one has to wait and see what actually transpires.”

Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte was the first public official to give his thoughts on the outcome of the case.

Peyrefitte said, “…They [the CCJ] made it very clear, as we have been trying to make for so long, that parliament has to vote for this money. The courts are separate from parliament, separate from the executive, and so, at some point in time parliament would have to vote. They’re trying to express their confidence that parliament would vote in a certain way, but they pretty much conceded that parliament is parliament, and they can vote how they want.”

At the end of the judgment, the CCJ offers instructions on how the Alliance should best proceed if parliament votes against the bill to satisfy this judgment debt.

In their judgment the CCJ says, “It was not appropriate to make this application to this Court… If it transpires that the Bank’s worst fears materialize and GOB enacts no legislation for payment of the monies it owes, the Bank needs to approach the Supreme Court for a declaration that the Minister of Finance has failed to comply with his obligations… and an order that the Minister of Finance pay the amount due under the Registrar’s Certificate.…some fundamental issues affecting Belizean society and the rule of law arise that will need input from the Belizean courts before a fully informed consideration in this final appellate court.”