CCJ orders GOB to pay over Eighty Million Dollars

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Updated: November 22, 2017

The Caribbean Court of Justice has overturned the decision of the Belize Court of Appeal and ordered Government to pay the Belize Bank in excess of eighty million dollars plus cost. The case date back to 2004 when the Said Musa led government signed as guarantor for a loan agreement between the Belize Bank and Universal Health Services. After the private institution was unable to meet its debts, the Government had to shoulder the bill. The matter ended up in court and the Supreme Court of Belize and Court of Appeals found the loan note to be invalid. However, in 2013 an arbitration panel ruled differently and an arbitration award in excess of thirty-seven million Belize dollars was granted to the Belize Bank. Today the CCJ gave the Belize Bank permission to enforce the arbitral award. Belize Bank‘s Attorney Eamon Courtenay spoke on the ruling.

Attorney Eamon Courtenay

“Government started participating in the arbitration and they tried to derail it and when they failed they did not participate any further and therefore the bank continued the arbitration in the absence of the government and the arbitrators gave an award for about six million dollars. We then sought to demand payment from the government, the government refused to pay and so we had to apply to the government for permission to enforce the award, meaning for them to demand it. The Supreme Court refused, the court of appeal refused and today the Caribbean Court of Justice allowed the bank’s appeal and said that the government must pay the money that is due under the award. Because of the delay, the amount now due is just over ninety million dollars. So it originally started at thirty odd, nearly forty and we’re now at ninety so that the interest alone is more than the actual amount of the loan.”

Dalila Ical

“Us or Belize Dollars.”

Attorney Eamon Courtenay

“Belize dollars”

Dalila Ical

“Now does this include costs and all of that?”

Attorney Eamon Courtenay

“Legal fees are on top of that.”

Dalila Ical:

“About how much are we talking about?”

Attorney Eamon Courtenay

“I have no idea what the total amount of legal fees is at. There are a number of firms and attorneys that are involved.”

Dalila Ical

“Is there any possibility, because the government release issued is that they’re seeking or looking at other legal options. So what options are there if any for the government.”

Attorney Eamon Courtenay

“I have no idea what the government is thinking but I can tell that with respect to this order of the CCJ there is no way that it can be appealed. The government’s obligation as stated in the judgment of the CCJ, you can read it for yourself, is that the court itself expects the government to obey an order of the CCJ so that there will be hopefully no need for any further steps on behalf of the bank to collect the money. This money is long outstanding. It was a loan that was made, the Privy Council said it was lawfully made, the Arbitrator said was lawfully made and today the CCJ affirmed there was nothing illegal about what was done. Therefore the government must pay up. Unfortunately, as I said before, over fifty million dollars in interest has accrued while we are going through this process which should have been obvious from the very beginning. The money is payable now. What government has to do is a formality. That is to say, go to the National Assembly to get permission to pay because if you remember reading back in the Prime Minister’s budget speeches he keeps saying he will not make any allocations for it in the budget because he believes he is going to win. Well, he has now lost and under section 115 of the constitution he has to go to the National Assembly to pay the amount that is due.”

Dalila Ical:

“But there is no wiggling out of this one?”

Attorney Eamon Courtenay

“There is no wiggling out of it.”

In a release, the Government of Belize said it is extremely disappointed and laments the judgment delivered by the CCJ. The release goes on to state that the loan note was signed when the PUP was in government back in 2004 for twenty-nine million Belize dollars, and that shortly after, the Musa Administration unlawfully diverted twenty million US dollars, gifted to GOB by the Venezuelan and Taiwanese Governments, to settle the UHS debt although both the Supreme Court of Belize and Court of Appeals found the loan note to be invalid as it was contrary to public policy. This afternoon, the Opposition PUP stated that government could have avoided this and other debts if it were not for the Prime Minister’s quote, “reckless political grandstanding”. Making its own calculations, the PUP states that government, through rulings by the CCJ alone has brought liability upon the people of Belize in the sum of over six hundred and fifty million dollars, of which over three hundred million is comprised of interest. It adds that in the last three years alone, the Government’s debt has ballooned by over one billion dollars – six hundred million dollars in domestic debt and four hundred million in foreign debt.