As we noted, the arguments have concluded in court and now it is up to the court to make its ruling. Senior Counsel Eamon Courtney spoke to the media following today’s proceedings.
SC Eamon Courney, Attorney: “The core provision in the constitution is for an appropriation bill which would be the approval of the amount estimated for revenue and expenditure for ever year. The constitution goes on to provide that you should create a contingency fund which is like if you’re doing any project you always bill in a 5 or 10% contingency for any cost overrun. In the case of the constitution what it says is that if there is urgent and unforeseen expenditure that is required, so it is something that you have a hurricane, you have a massive fire, you have a flood or anything like that which could not have been predicted but you have to deal with it, the amount given to a particular ministry- let’s say roads are damaged the budget for roads would be X million but because of this particular natural disaster you need to spend more you go to the contingency fund which parliament has already approved as as part of the budget you use it, you come back to parliament and report that you have spent money out of that contingency fund that had already been approved, we now need money to replenish the fund- that is the language of the constitution and the reason for that is that parliament wants to approve the budget and a limited amount for any contingency that is urgent and unforeseen and when you use it you bring it back to parliament to report and then you get it replenished. The point of the matter is, which the leader and the deputy have tried to establish in this case, is that for too long the government has been spending hundreds of millions of dollars without accountability and secondly contrary to section 117 of the constitution it is remarkable in my view that my learned friend counsel for the government would come to court and conceded an unconstitutional act on behalf of the government and yet ask the Chief Justice to show them leniency. When you contravene the highest law of the land there are consequences for it and you cannot, in my respectful view, ask the court to say ‘we broke the constitution but you know just give us a pat on the wrist.’ No. Condine relief is required, appropriate strong relief is required so that Dean Barrow understands that this is not his law firm, this is not his home, this is public funds that must be dealt with according to law. When you have a financial secretary come to the court, take an oath and stand up and say year after year from 2004 to present ever year there has been urgent and unforeseen expenditure in every ministry, you have to ask yourself whether or not that is true and I think you know what the obvious answer is but he has to say that because that is the only way he can try to legitimize what the Prime Minister did. You cannot issue a special warrant unless something is urgent and unforeseen. Huge amounts, hundreds of millions were paid on salaries, that is not urgent and unforeseen.”
Julius Espat who heads the Public Accounts Committee has been harping on the unaccountability of the government for several years now as he has been unable to get reports from them despite multiple requests. Espat told the media today that he feels privileged to be a part of this movement. Meanwhile, Opposition Leader, John Briceno commented on why the PUP feels the need to take this step.
Julius Espat, Area Representative for Cayo South: “From what I understood we had four claims and two of them the attorney conceded meaning, the important one was in the Auditor General’s report the 2012-2013 report where she stated that money was spent without parliament’s approval, they conceded so they said that was unconstitutional. It was not the judge saying that it was the defense attorney saying that that they agreed that it was unconstitutional. The second one was all the supplementary allocations that was listed which is close to $1.3 billion they conceded that that was also unconstitutional. The two other topics that were discussed was the unconstitutionality of the Finance and Audit Act Reform when it pertains to using a contingency fund instead of the Consolidated F;und, that had arguments back and forth; I don’t see how they can win that one but judgment is reserved for that. And the other one is the legality or if it is constitutional what they did with the amendment to the PetroCaribe Loan Act, that one had debates back and forth and I still cannot see how the judge will go against that one. So we can definitely say that two of four they have conceded already on the unconstitutionality.”
According to Espat he is hoping that the court will see the rationale of their application and arguments when a ruling is handed down in two months.
Julius Espat, Area Representative for Cayo South: “What was revealing to me was that they’re not saying that they were right now, they’ve agreed that they were wrong now they’re pleading to the court and asking for leniency because we dah wah lee Caribbean nation and dah soh we do things unlike the first world countries. That was surprising that a defense attorney for the government of Belize would use as a pleading factor with the judge, that’s how I saw it.”
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader: “Some people will be asking ‘why are you doing this , do you want to tie your hand ?’ because many people believe we will form the next government. I think i is very important for not only this government but for future governments to ensure that we work within the budget, that we work within the constitution, that we work within the law and that we should always be held accountable for our deeds, for our actions and if we do not follow the law that we should be held accountable for it and have to pay whatever the law prescribes.”
Julius Espat, Area Representative for Cayo South: “As a young parliamentarian or a new parliamentarian this is a learning experience and I would like to share this experience with other future parliamentarians. It is important even though many of us are not attorneys that we start to read and understand the laws of Belize because at the end of the day elected officials run the country and so even though we are not trained attorneys we should understand the law and this gave me and especially and the party leader I would like to say too, a great opportunity to sit beside two learned gentlemen and they opened up the books, and lady, they opened up the law to us and explained it in such a way that we could understand it and that way now it is important that we share that information with our constituents because why I got into politics was to make sure that we follow the rule of law and the rule of law should also be followed by elected officials.; in fact I see it that they should follow the rule of law more than anybody else. So this is an incredible experience, it is remarkable that we are here today. People tend to not want to believe what politicians say,’you seh soh and me seh soh’ but that’s why we are now leaning on the third branch of government so that it is a definite decision as to what needs to happen. And as the party leader said this will set precedence in how governments are run under the Common Wealth Parliamentary system.”
The parties are set to return to court on January 21, 2020.