Yesterday the Senate approved and passed the General Revenue Supplementary Appropriation Bill, Number 3, 2017. Through this bill, Government sought approval for spending thirteen point nine million dollars between 2016 and 2017. That spending was in relation to Government’s Mothers’ Day Cheer Program, Hurricane Earl Relief and budgetary support for Belize Infrastructure Limited (BIL). Senators questioned the two-year delay for bringing such a money bill before them. In addition, Lead PUP Senator, Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, asserted that Government was in breach of the Finance and Audit Reform Act of 2010. According to Senator Courtenay, for the monies to have been lawfully spent, the Minister of Finance, in this case, the Prime Minister, would have to issue a special warrant. Senator Courtenay suggested that the Financial Secretary Joseph Waight be brought in to answer specific questions relating to the supplementary bill. After a private Q and A session between Waight and the Senators, the bill was approved and read a third time. According to Courtenay, the Financial Secretary agreed that the Government did not comply with the Finance and Audit Reform Act.
EAMON COURTENAY, PUP SENATOR
“We believe that what happened in the Senate yesterday was historic because not only was there pointed out that the laws were broken but the financial secretary himself attended the committee and accepted that in fact there has been noncompliance with the Finance and Audit Reform Act and there has been noncompliance with the regulations made under that act for financial transparency and responsibility. There is a procedure under the Finance and Audit reform act and there has been noncompliance with the regulations made under that act for financial transparency and responsibility. There is a procedure under the Finance and Audit reform act and the constitution where supplementary spending-excess spending is required, what needs to be done and this was clearly not in compliance with it. Secondly, this, the majority of the spending first of all under CAP 2 dealt with expenditure for Hurricane Earl which was from August 2016 and they are now seeking approval in 2018. Then, of course, there was a massive overspending by Belize Infrastructure Limited which they seem to be seeking approval for now. All of this was very unusual because of the significant delay and the lack of details and so we called for the financial secretary to come, he came and all he did was one; confirm, as I said, the noncompliance and two promise to provide us the details so that we could understand exactly what this overspending was done for. Now if you tell me that the expenditure was incurred way back in 2016 but we missed it and so we are approving it now in 2018 then something is even more wrong. So let me be clear until we receive the support documents we cannot suggest that anyone did anything wrong with the money but there appears to be smoke.”
PUP Senator Valerie Woods criticized Government’s reason for presenting the bill two years after spending the monies.
VALERIE WOOD, PUP SENATOR
“I believe the leader of Government Business’ specific reference was he concedes that we have missed deadlines. It’s important for Belizeans to understand that very admission is also admitting that they the government have violated the law. In my contribution I did say that I found the excuses to be pathetic. They are pathetic excuses because it is a matter of providing explanations which is one aspect of it as to we were given approval for ‘x’ millions of dollars to do A,B and C; we went over by ‘x’ million dollars, these are the reasons why we went over. We are not provided that. “And we find the explanations to be weak and we don’t think that they hold water. To his credit the Financial Secretary does appreciate why the question would be raised and he has committed to providing us with a list of breakdown of where these expenditure went but if we are saying that transparency and accountability is for any Minister or politician to say ‘roll down your window, look outside do you see the building? Yeah that is where we are putting your money.’ If you accept that then you will have to determine if that is a reasonable excuse. Not separate and apart from what Senator Courtney was saying which was even if you come with those responses as to ‘this is where the money went’ how do you explain not complying with the law ? These monies were approved – some in May 2016, some in August of 2016 so why is it that its in 2018; if you can approve millions of dollars its because you understand that it will take that amount to do A,B,C. We are asking what is the A,B,C?”