Today the House of Representative met in Belmopan for a Special Sitting to introduce the Telecommunications Acquisition Settlement Bill 2015. The bill passed through all its stages today for the government to make legal, the settlement and payment of Belize Telemedia Limited. As we reported yesterday, Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced that the Government of Belize had settled with Lord Michael Ashcroft, Dunkheld International Limited, British International Limited and the BTL Employee Trust over Belize Telemedia Limited, BTL. According to Prime Minister Barrow, when the government made the decision to nationalize Belize Telemedia Limited, three factors were considered; the idea that utilities companies should be owned by the people of Belize, economic and financial factors. However the Opposition People’s United Party does not believe that and today Leader Francis Fonseca asserted that the reason GOB settled was because it knew that the Caribbean Court of Justice would rule in the favor of the previous owners. While there is no telling if that would have been so, Fonseca went on to place on the record that this latest GOB deal will cost tax payers.
“One is, as you know, the settlement in full of the Permanent Court of Arbitration Award; that is the British Caribbean Bank and the Government of Belize which amounts to some ninety seven million dollars. Really, Mr. Speaker, the scandal here is that we are paying sixteen percent interest over six years. Six years, this ninety seven million, let’s be clear. The original loan was twenty two point five million US which is forty five million Belize dollars with interest of sixteen percent over six years that has now amounted to ninety seven million Belize dollars. It went from forty five million dollars to ninety seven million Belize dollars, all because of one man’s stubborn pettiness and then Mr. Speaker, to put this farce in front of us and say to us, we must pass this Bill when it is absolutely unclear to us and everybody in the nation what it will ultimately cost us. This third component of the bill, what it will cost us, the final award of the Arbitration Court, Mr. Speaker. Absolutely … absolutely, something we cannot support at all.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow says that the idea that tax payers will pay this settlement is an exaggerated and erroneous while reminding the Opposition leader these secret deals that were made under a PUP Government.
“Let me make clear that it is convoluted and simply wrong headed to say that the tax payers of this country are finding even a penny to pay that BCB loan award. It comes from the company, Belize Telemedia, and you cannot say, well because the Government and people own Telemedia, this is somehow to be equated with costing the tax payers of the country. That is ridiculous. First of all there are small shareholders in BTL, the Minister of Housing pointed out that he, as a small shareholder, is getting his dividend payment. There is SSB, there is I believe, the Central Bank, so there are all those entities involved in the ownership of BTL and that is why as a private company, even though it is majority owned by government, BTL is run in an autonomous sovereign fashion by its Board of Directors and that Board of Directors, thought it well worth the risk; that Board of Directors will now have to pay for the fact that, that course of action proved not to be successful, the course of action to resist. One thing that I must also make clear, I have never said that I will not pay the BCB award, that’s an award that just came down. The award that I said I would not pay is the Accommodation Agreement award because from the start we refuse to honor the accommodation agreement when its existence was finally revealed to us. The previous owners took us to arbitration over our breach, over our refusal to honor the Accommodation Agreement and they got an award and it is that award that I said I would not pay and I still maintain that I will not pay it. We have not paid it, they got their award, they got an enforcement order from a US court, and they have not come to Belize to try to enforce it because I think no court in Belize will countenance it because it is an award for an agreement, an accommodation agreement that is flagrantly, blatantly illegal and so that is what I said I will not pay. I said it and I mean it. I will not pay that accommodation agreement award. The last point made by the Leader of the Opposition, I was afraid because I would be castigated by the CCJ, but again, I don’t know how he can say that. I don’t know how he knows how the result would have turned out so that is the worst kind of baseless speculation but what is a fact, what is in the record is that the CCJ already castigated him and the member for Fort George. They are the two described by the CCJ as malignant tumors.”