The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) handed down its ruling this morning in the BTL Arbitration matter. The ruling will put a strain on the country’s foreign reserves as it has stated that the estimated sixty seven million US dollars is to be paid forthwith to Dunkeld International Investments and the BTL Employees Trust. Senior Counsel Denys Barrow, who represented the Government and Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay for Ashcroft Alliance, spoke to Love News on the outcome of the case.
“As you know the dispute was between the government of Belize and my clients about whether or not the second payment actually was to be paid in US dollars and also the amount. We said that the entire amount was to be paid in US dollars and that there was a simple provision in the settlement agreement which provided that half of the full arbitral award should be paid in US dollars on the 13th of July. The government disputed that and said that it was only 40%. Their reason for saying that was because according to them the amount attributed to the accommodation agreement was 60% and the share value was 40%. As we argued and the court agreed with us there is no such provision in the settlement agreement and the court made the point that you can’t after the fact try to change an agreement because of something you did not think about has turned out and so the court said that they would uphold the existing term in the agreement, hold the parties to what was agreed and made an order that they pay to my clients approximately $67 million US dollars forthwith.”
“They accepted that the government intended for the accommodation agreement portion to come out of the standard award based on the provision which says that the 60% to Dunkeld must be paid first, that that overruled the accommodation agreement portion that will be payable for the benefit of the people of Belize. They had indicated from last week so it came as no surprise. I am still slightly disappointed but I can accept how they arrived at their ruling and therefore there is nothing to complain about.”
The judgement has called for payment to be made forthwith by the Government to Ashcroft Alliance but Senior Counsel Barrow says they will be making a proposal while Senior Counsel Courtenay says there may be no difficulty in accepting.
“The court said it is to be paid forthwith but it says that if you need to apply for time to pay you can come back. I expect that the government will first need a proposal for payment to Dunkeld and we are hopeful that Dunkeld will accept the proposal.”
“You will recall that we were in court last week and the purpose of the court adjourning the matter to today was for us to try to arrive at just that. We made some proposals to the government which they did not agree with, they made some counter proposals to us which my clients did not agree with. I think that my clients will look favorably on any proposal that is put forward by the government but that proposal first of all has to take account of the fact that 50% is due, $67 million more is due first point and secondly it is long overdue. So without attempting to prejudge anything it’s not going to be a long drawn out thing that we would be able to agree to but my client will look at whatever proposal the government makes in good faith.”
As we mentioned, the ruling will take a toll on the country’s economy. Senior Counsel Barrow spoke on this and the obligations of the Central Bank of Belize and the Government to handle the matter.
“In terms of the strain on the domestic situation this amount of money in US dollars puts a considerable strain on the economy. As you may gather, at the time when the agreement was made Belize’s Foreign Exchange __ at a certain level. Now that the award has been made and the time for payment has come about our foreign exchange stands at a significantly reduced level by at least 20% and that was when this thing for enforcement came about, it has reduced even further and would reduce even further as a result of the fact that we are in a recession. So undoubtedly it will put a strain on the foreign exchange reserves and it will be for the government and the central bank to see how to manage with the competing demand.”
According to Senior Counsel Barrow this is the end of the court litigations surrounding the Belize Telemedia Limited and the arbitration award. He says unless the other party refuses to work out a payment proposal which would mean that they would have to go back before the courts. While the Government of Belize has undertaken additional expenses in retaining legal services to fight the BTL Arbitration, later on in our news, we will tell you of an alleged write-off that the Government did in this very same arbitration battle amounting to millions of dollars.