While the opposition cannot undo the spending that has been done under the Barrow administration, they are hoping that they could stop them from future undertakings. This afternoon the Government of Belize and the People’s United Party went head to head once again before Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin. This time around it was not about the borders, but the Consolidated Revenue Fund. During the trial, the court heard from the two claimants John Briceno, the Leader of the Opposition and Julius Espat, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Representatives. The second defendant, Joseph Waight, the Financial Secretary. Waight was properly drilled by Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, attorney for one of the claimants. Courtenay’s line of questioning revealed the government’s irresponsibility in their spending. After the trial, the media spoke with the claimants and Courtenay. In speaking with the media, Briceno pointed out that Barrow had criticized the PUP government for spending money and then getting approval afterwards from the National Assembly, and when he came into power, he did even worse.
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader: “I was actually shocked and dismayed to see how the Prime Minister has virtually abused the constitution and the laws of this country when it comes to spending the people’s money. It reminds me that coming to 2008 when he was in opposition he criticized our government heavily for spending money then coming to get approval in the national assembly and now here he comes doing that and even worse because one, he has spent over $1.3 billion dollars without the necessary approvals from the National Assembly.”
SC Eamon Courtney, Attorney: “First of all this claim brought by the two leaders has to do with the public’s money, it has to do with whether or not a government can take $1.3 billion spend it how it wishes without any accountability to parliament. The financial secretary was very clear in his answers- he said that the money that was spent was spent because there was an urgent and unforeseen need. I brought to his attention that it is hundreds of millions of dollars- he stuck to his line but I think anybody will know that you cannot spend $1.3 billion as urgent and unforeseen. He accepted that in fact this was done by special warrants issued by the Prime Minister, he accepted that the Prime Minister was aware when he was issuing those warrants that the money had not been approved by the National Assembly and that he advised and informed the Prime Minister that the money was not there, it had not been approved by the National Assembly nevertheless they proceeded. So they proceeded knowing full well that they did not have legislative approval and the Finance and Audit Reform Act sets a limit which can be exceeded and he told the court that they exceeded that limit on a regular basis and they did so knowingly. It seems to me that what we achieved in the cross examination was that in truth and in fact the Government of Belize have spent $1.3 billion in violation of the law and doing it with afore knowledge; they knew what they were doing. It is our hope that the Chief Justice will hear the submissions tomorrow and after hearing from both sides he will issue the declarations that this type of thing was unlawful, that it was contrary to the constitution and that he would issue an injunction to restrain any Minister of Finance in the future from doing it.”
Julius Espat, Area Representative, Cayo South: “The Prime Minister is one of the leading attornies in the country before he became Prime Minister there is no way that they slipped when the question was asked of the Auditor General’s Report 2012-2013 was the close to $100 million for the year alone ‘was there a special warrant issued ?’ No. ‘did it get approval from the house ?’ No. ‘did you even try retrospectively after twelve years to seek approval?’ No. And then thats only 2013, in the 2013-2014 Auditor General’s Report there is over $200 million again so every year the pattern continues and it’s a problem because the constitution basically tell you you cannot take that money out of the consolidated fund it has to come out of a contingency fund. When he legal attorney requested and asked him ‘is there a contingency fund established?’ he said no- and so he knows what they did was wrong, in fact he testified that he advised the Prime Minister that it was wrong.”
The claimants are seeking a permanent injunction restraining the First Defendant Dean Barrow, and the Second Defendant, Joseph Waight, the Financial Secretary, from using funds from the Consolidated Revenue Fund without prior approval from the National Assembly of Belize. Love News understands that Prime Minister Dean Barrow was the first to be called upon in court today but he did not show.