Today marks one week since the Prime Minister, Dean Barrow called a press conference to present the figures of the BTL Arbitration Award. With a total of over half billion dollars having to be paid out as a result of an out of court settlement that the Prime Minister agreed to with Lord Michael Ashcroft, Senator Eamon Courtenay has expressed serious concerns surrounding the manner in which the matter was settled.
“If it was the judgment of the CCJ it would be a different issue but in fact what we had was after all the arguments were completed in the arbitration and all the arguments were completed in the CCJ and arbitration the Prime Minister went to Miami met with Lord Ashcroft and they settled the case. So my comments are on the settlement not so much on the legal issues because they were never finally resolved by the CCJ. I believe the settlement was not in the interest of Belize. I think it took too long. All the things that the Ashcroft Group of Companies were asking for they got and I cannot understand why it is that after millions upon millions of dollars have been spent in legal fees and millions of dollars in interest have been accrued that we just got to Miami and just concede everything we have on the BCB loan, concede virtually everything on the shares and agree to pay it all within a year. I think it’s a complete concession by the government and I think the people of Belize want an explanation at the exorbitant $550 million dollars that has to be paid.”
According to the Financial Secretary, Joseph Waight, the total number of shares acquired from Belize Telemedia Limited is 45,199,961. The tribunal valued each share at 5.6547 Belize dollars thus making the gross figure 255.5 million Belize dollars. A part-payment was done in the sum of sixty five million dollars last September, leaving a balance of 190 million dollars to be paid on the shares. As it relates to the interest, the total is about 388 million dollars and that does not factor in the legal costs and arbitration costs which would bring it to 395 million dollars. Senator Courtenay spoke on this grand total, saying that the settlement could have been done long ago and the cost wouldn’t have been as extravagant.
” Let us remember in 2009 August 25 when the Prime Minister went to the National Assembly he gave us his rational, the accommodation agreement. The point I was making earlier was that the accommodation agreement has never been challenged by the government, the government has never gone to court and said this agreement is unlawful. If that was the document that was a problem the proper thing to do was to go to court and to seek to have it declared unlawful. Now what we have is an arbitral tribunal that says that it is valid and another arbitral tribunal that is saying that there is a value between $200 to $300 million that is attributed to that accommodation agreement. It is passing strange that there are two cases one brought by the ACB and Senator Hulse and another brought by the PUC challenging the accommodation agreement. These were filled in March 2009 and those two cases have never come to trial, the government has not allowed those cases to come to trial. If those cases had been tried you’d have had a judgment by 2010 and it would have said that the accommodation agreement is either valid or it is not valid. If it wa held to be unlawful then this $200 to $300 million that we are paying for the accommodation agreement we wouldn’t have to pay so I am saying that the way in which the government has gone about this has been negligent, dereliction of duty and the surrender in Miami by the Prime Minister to all the demands of the Ashcroft Group of Companies I think is really beyond anything that the Belizean people should accept.”
One of the questions that would surface here is why Senator Eamon Courtenay would be criticizing the BTL Arbitration Award when he is one of the attorneys for Lord Michael Ashcroft. When that question was posed to him, here is how he responded.
“I am complaining as a PUP senator, as a member of the PUP Executive and as a Belizean. I emphasize to you again what happened in Miami was a surrender, a negotiated surrender by the Prime Minister, it wasn’t a judgment of the CCJ, it wasn’t a judgment of any arbitral tribunal it wasn’t a judgement of our courts that was something that was negotiated and I am entitled to criticise what was negotiated by the Prime Minister because I do not believe that it is in the interest of Belize and we have $550 million dollars to pay as a result of that concession. The point of the matter is and no one is going to silence me regardless of what you say I am a professional and I earn my fees and that is how I make my living and I make no apologies for that. What I will say is that I did not get a dollar from the government of Belize. I will go further and say that there is no issue for me representing any client that I choose to accept instructions from and if they pay me they pay me and I make no apology for that. I have a difficulty however with the Prime Minister of Belize arguing and fighting against the Ashcroft Group of Companies and his law firm at the same time continuing to represent the same companies that he is saying are so demonic and that are bad for Belize, that is the conflict of interest that requires an explanation. As to me that is the way I make my living and I do it to the best of my ability every time for all my clients. I make no apology for that.”
The BTL Arbitration Award comes after seven years of court litigations. According to Prime Minister Dean Barrow, this is a victory for Belize and he has no regrets.