Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) has issued a release entitled, “MUST WORKING BELIZEANS PAY FOR GOVERNMENT’S ECONOMIC INCOMPETENCE?” The release begins by questioning the selling of shares. It reads, quote, “For what reason, we ask, is Government seeking to sell to the Social Security Board $55 million worth of shares in Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL), for which it has not finished paying; and Belize Electricity Limited (BEL), which recently and unsuccessfully tried to raise customers’ electricity bills?” End of quote. We sat down with COLA’s president Geovanni Brakcett who spoke of the elements of the release.
“We questioned right away why is it that government is seeking to sell to Social Security Board $55 million dollars worth of its shares within BTL and BEL the majority being in BTL. They claim that the letter from the Ministry of Finance to the SSB states or reminds the SSB that it is always looking for good investments and that remember the interests that they have made before in the other three investments but we questioned that because we feel that that is not rational enough for us for you to sell me $55 million dollars worth of shares and what makes it even more alarming is the fact that the social security board is a statutory instrument and it’s a governmental creature so whichever way you look at it it’s government selling to government and that is like me as a husband coming to sell my shares to my wife when both of us own the same company because I didn’t want to tell her because I spent the money out on a sweet heart; just to use that expression. So for us there is not a strong reason or a sufficient reason why this purchase is required.”
Brackett goes on to speak of an economic meltdown, a consistent downward trend in exports, and a consistent increase in imports as well as unemployment.
“Another thing coming back what we look at is that what rose a lot of alarms is that according to SSBs own website that Anwar Barrow is chairman of BTL’s executive committee and is also the government representative onboard the SSB board and Mr.Vasquez the BTL’s chairman is also chairman of the investment committee for the SSB and we question if this is not a direct form of conflict of interest. I am certain in other territories this would not be acceptable by any stretch of the imagination. You cannot sit on two separate boards and if that is the case then we want to question did they recuse themselves from voting and what also brings to our attention is that it’s not even six months into this government’s first term and it’s first quarter of the current fiscal year and we are already seeing signs of economic meltdown. Exports consistently are down and imports consistently are up so we are importing more and unemployment and underemployment are stagnant especially in certain sectors of the economy and in the country.”
With all these highlighted points, the release closed with several demands including the halt on the sale of SSB shares.
“When we looked at it we came out with a very strong press release today calling on several things. We at COLA are calling for an immediate halt on the sale of these shares to any entity notwithstanding the decision taken by the SSB board and the consideration of this sale there should be public consultation with the entire public in each district where the government outlines specific purposes for which these funds are to be used and whether they will be kept separately. You want to know if there will be separate accounts and how will these monies be spent. If it’s going to be used for salary then just tell us that you are short of money, the government is cash strapped and they need money to pay workers. We would prefer you come clean like that than to give us an impression that actually things are good and this is just a good sale. Pensioners should be consulted and be given a vote after having been made aware of the pros and cons, in fact they are the ones to benefit the most or to lose at this. The government must also report the true state of the Belizean economy and if the government coffers have dried up we should know if we are in an economic crisis. GOB needs to come clean. The trade unions and the other representatives on the SSB board must also speak up.”
Brackett added that COLA being a grass root organization and social partner was never consulted on any of the decisions that have been made.