Alleged Bias Concerns: Ashcroft Alliance Requests NEAC Tribunal Member to Step Aside
The Ashcroft Alliance has written to the newly appointed member of the (NEAC) Appeals Tribunal, Mark Lizarraga, asking him to step aside due to a perceived bias. Last week, Waterloo Investment Holdings Ltd, via its attorney Senior Counsel Godfrey Smith, wrote to Lizarraga stating they had come to learn of his appointment on July 25 as the private sector representative on the tribunal. They further noted their dissent on his appointment, citing a possible political bias. A portion of the letter states that, quote, “they have verified that as a director of Belize Telemedia Ltd appointed by the prime minister, he receives a substantial six-figure salary to serve as Chairman of the Board of Directors and do so entirely at the prime minister’s pleasure. The company says that their client is understandably concerned and alleged that the prime minister has a plan to pass legislation to give effect to Portico Enterprises Ltd. Waterloo’s attorneys say that the prime minister’s recent public pronouncement makes it clear that he intends for the Portico project to proceed and will be introducing fresh legislation to assist Portico to the detriment of their client. They go on to claim that “the prime minister’s negative disposition towards their client places Lizarraga in a conflict of interest, dependent as he is on the largesse of the prime minister to continue to receive your remuneration as his director on the board of directors of Telemedia which is majority owned by the Government of Belize.” End of quote. Additionally, Waterloo took issue with the appointment of Lizarraga without any consultation with the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI). It’s an argument that former Attorney General, Michael Peyrefitte, says can go both ways.
Michael Peyrefitte, UDP Chairman: “I am sure that that particular entity won’t be happy with anyone that they don’t like or to have on that NEAC board. But I mean it is their right to request a refusal and if Mark doesn’t want to recuse himself then he doesn’t recuse himself. And if they want to take the matter to court, then I’m sure that they can. But they have a right to express that someone has a perceived bias and they would like that person to be removed. I know Mark as the chairman of BTL, a former senator. I mean, if you’re looking for someone to recuse themselves, then you will always try to find a reason. We live in a country where if you really look at anyone in public life, it’s very difficult for them to be appointed without some input from the prime minister, the government, the Leader of the Opposition, for example. So anybody who is appointed like that, if you believe that there is a perceived bias, you’re going to object. I don’t know, you can come up with a number of opinions whether or not you think that that violation or not. I mean it’s not as clear as appointing Collet Montejo to oversee the redistricting process as the Deputy Secretary General of the PUP while the PUP is in government. It’s not as clear as that. But I mean you could make an argument for it. I can see how you can make an argument against the request to recusal. So it is what it is and we wait to see what Mark will do and then from there we will then see what The Waterloo people will do.”
Up to news time tonight, Lizarraga had not responded to Waterloo’s letter. Love News understands, however, that the original legislation that governs the NEAC Tribunal, initially stated that the private sector should be represented by the Senator for the private sector which would have been Kevin Herrera. Following a conflict of interest where Herrera’s brother is contracted by Waterloo, the legislation was altered. The alteration gave Minister Orlando Habet the option to appoint someone from the private sector which led to Mark Lizarraga joining the commission.