Parliament to Vote on UHS Debt

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Updated: November 29, 2017

Will the Government pay Belize Bank the ninety million dollars UHS debt as ordered by the Caribbean Court of Justice? We thought we would have a definitive answer for you but the answer to that question will be known at the next Sitting of the House of Representatives. That’s because all 31 parliamentarians must vote either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the matter after an appropriation bill is proposed.

As we have been reporting, last week the CCJ overturned a ruling made by the Court of Appeal, ordering the Government to pay the Belize Bank Limited thirty-six point nine million dollars in debt plus an accumulative interest of more than fifty million dollars and an arbitration cost of more than one million dollars.  The figure stems from a debt owed to Belize Bank by Universal Health Services (UHS). Government refused to honor the debt, even after the Privy Council, which was then Belize’s highest court of appeal, confirmed that the 2007 agreement between the then Musa Administration and Belize Bank Limited was valid after the Association of Concerned Belizeans (ACB) filed a claim in the courts. Prior to the Privy Council’s ruling, the matter was also taken to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals both of which ruled in favor of the Government of Belize. In a release, the Belize Bank Limited asserted the judgments are quote, “now final and not subject to further appeal in both the United States and Belize.” However, on the day of the CCJ ruling, the Government stated that it was seeking further legal advice and today Prime Minister Dean Barrow hosted a press conference to explain the government’s position. The Prime Minister stated that GOB will do as the CCJ has ordered and will take the matter to parliament. Here is how PM Barrow explained it:

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“Accordingly we will follow scrupulously the process set out by the CCJ, the Crown Proceedings Act and the constitution, that is we will await the service of the certificate that the bank must procure from the registrar after 21 days and then I will propose a supplementary appropriations bill to parliament. What has to be made crystal clear, however, is that there is no certainty that such a bill will pass. And if it doesn’t pass in my view that is in nowise any violation of the rule of law or the separation of powers between the court and parliament. Our constitution mandates adherence to the rule of law and the separation of powers but this is how the separation of powers works. The court, the CCJ in the fullness of its power gives a judgment against the state; so far so good. The court’s power also extends further so as to compel the executive to seek to satisfy the court’s judgment by asking parliament to vote the money to pay; so far also so good that is what I will do. But that as I conceive it and as I am advised is the end of the court’s power. The separate power, that is why there is a separation, the separate power of the parliament is what then comes into play by way of its decision whether or not to vote the money. Whether or not to satisfy the judgment. The court no doubt expects that parliament will vote yes but the court can expect anything.”

So will the UDP Area Representatives vote “no”, against the CCJ ruling? Our sources told us yesterday that Cabinet Ministers decided that they will not approve the Bill.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“What the court cannot do is to compel parliament to vote in any particular way that is what would trample on parliament’s authority and violate the constitutionally mandated separation of powers. Now nine times out of ten a bill to vote money to satisfy a court judgment against the state will pass. Governments usually, which as a matter of honor and responsibility to pay debts usually but not invariably implicit in the very action in going to parliament is the possibility that a bill, any bill may not pass. Parliament is free and indeed mandated to pass fair and correct laws but it is equally free and just as mandated not to pass laws that aren’t fair and aren’t correct. And when it comes to a particular matter of a law to provide for the payment of a judgment debt which though legally valid is morally reprehensible it is the essence of a country’s sovereignty and parliament’s authority that a decision can be made not to approve the law, not to pay the bill. It is my thesis my case to you today that there is a spectrum of perfectly supportable, indeed compelling reasons why our parliament when this matter comes to a vote might or might not go a certain way. Not for me to say, not in advance of the vote. So let me not get ahead of myself, let us wait and see even though some of you might think that the facts point unswervingly in a certain direction. What I will tell you is that each member of the government’s side of the house will be directed when this bill is presented to vote his or her conscience.”

If the appropriation bill is not approved, the interest on the thirty-six million dollar debt will continue to accrue.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“If the vote is no people say well the interest has run for so long that is why its gone from $38 million to $90 million, what happens. Separation of powers, parliament doesn’t vote to pay the money it doesn’t cancel the debt the judgment is a judgment of the court and that remains intact and valid and the interest will continue to run but it could run until it reaches a billion dollars as long as parliament doesn’t vote the money it can’t be paid.”

We are told that the next Sitting of the House of Representatives will be held as early as next week.