Another issue we discussed with Senator Elena Smith today is the Social Security Board’s proposed loan offerings to the Development Finance Corporation and a private company, Pharmacy Express. The DFC has borrowed from Social Security more than 20 times since the 1980s and says it has paid back every single loan. With the Pharmacy Express situation, many alarms have been sounded, including those by the Ministry of Health and Wellness and the Cabinet. Senator Smith says teachers too have concerns, including whether these entities will pay the money back.
Senator Elena Smith, President, Belize National Teachers Union: “Our teachers also have concerns as well because as you know, we pay into that fund and at the end of the day, we expect that when we should be collecting from that fund that the monies would be there to pay us and so that is the primary concern of our members. Whether it is that these entities who are borrowing are able to repay their loans and that in the end we don’t end up, you know, in the place where we were some years ago with persons borrowing and not paying back the scheme. So those are our initial concerns and the NTUCB has reps on the investment committee and the board. Those persons made a presentation to the NTUCB recently and I wasn’t at that meeting, unfortunately for personal reasons, and so we await to get some feedback from those reps in terms of what it is that they are able to share based on confidentiality and what they can share with us and then when we get that information then we can send that to our people so that we can get a final position on those two loans. I think the main thing that we want to express is the concern with regards to the fund. The concern that the SSB is able to ensure that they are able to collect and collect everything. We don’t want them to start paying and then halfway they stop because we will be the ones, those persons who are working and who are paying, you and I will be the ones who are going to be losing. So that is our biggest concern and we look forward to hearing from our people. You know, what are the pros and cons of those loans so that we can make then a final determination and then, if necessary, make a public statement on those matters.”
DFC said in a press statement last Friday that the new loan offer from SSB will be the 24th such offer since the late 1980s. The DFC has fully repaid and resolved 22 of the loans over this period. The DFC says it has never defaulted on any of its debt obligations in its 59-year history. For its part, Cabinet said today that it fully respects the autonomy of the SSB but quote “supports the importance and necessity of ensuring that all relevant information regarding Pharmacy Express Limited is shared with SSB before a final decision is made in respect of the loan. Cabinet understands that SSB funds are the people’s money and should always be subject to the highest levels of care, scrutiny, transparency, and management.” End quote.