PM Briceno says it was simply confidentiality

PM Briceno says it was simply confidentiality

Confidentiality :::: Prime Minister John Briceno says that is the reason the government is denying the request of the Senate Special Select Committee for documents related to the Portico Definitive Agreement. On Monday, Cabinet Secretary, Stuart Leslie, via a letter, had informed the Clerk of the National Assembly that the committee’s request was denied. The CabSec stated that after receiving legal advice, he was informed that section 23 of the Freedom of Information Act supports Cabinet’s non-disclosure of certain documents out of Cabinet.  The opposition has rejected Leslie’s justification, but today, Prime Minister Briceno doubled down on the position and stated that it is a matter of respecting the rule of law.  

Hon. John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize: “There are certain conventions, practices and one of the practices is the issue of Cabinet confidentiality and we need to be able to stick to that convention that the minute you start to make certain exceptions then what will stop something just coming up one month from now, one year from now, five years from now saying “oh but there is another exception.” So the convention is that we sign an oath of confidentiality of the Cabinet but we have been very clear about it and have said it over and over we did nothing. The paper was made into Cabinet and we rejected the definitive agreement so there is nothing to be able to answer.”

Reporter: But then public perception it looks like you guys also are frustrating the process in terms of the inquiry seeking to the get to the bottom of what happened.

Hon. John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize: “Well the public perception happens because you all are continuing to push that angle. I think if you were to be fair as as journalist you should be able to accept and to recognize that there is confidentiality in Cabinet but again, and I repeat, I’ve said it over and over we did nothing. The paper came to the Cabinet and we rejected it and we tore up that and said we’re not going to honor it. What more do you want from the Cabinet ? There was nothing about not accompanying it’s just a Cabinet paper that goes along with the attached definitive agreement, that’s it. The Cabinet paper was prepared as you know Cabinet papers are also confidential, it was presented and it was rejected punto final. There is nothing else to add and I wish that you all would continue to explain that to the public and don’t behave as if the government is trying to hide anything. There is the issue of Cabinet confidentiality. We’ve even asked the Attorney General to take a look to see if there is any way that we can breach that confidentiality.”

PM Briceno also weighed in on his predecessor, Senior Counsel Dean Barrow, appearing at Wednesday’s Senate hearing as the attorney to former Minister of Lands, Hugo Patt, and former Lands Commissioner, Wilbert Vallejos. Barrow essentially frustrated the committee’s attempt to probe into several acres of land located within the vicinity of Portico’s construction site being sold only days before the 2020 general elections. Here’s what he had to say. 

Hon. John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize: “I think first of all there’s been this general convention that retired Prime Ministers you know you go on the side and you don’t stay here on the limelight. Now I know that he is an attorney and there is a lot of other work that he can do that would not necessarily have to do something directly with the government as in this one so that is my first point. Secondly I believe that the former Prime Minister continues to try to protect his former government. He was the one that he admitted readily that his government there are many corrupt actors in his government and so now he’s doing his best to be able to protect what has taken place. It’s I think it’s a sad day for Belize that a former Prime Minister would now be actively out there trying to protect and defend the actions of his government.”

Reporter: Do you concede to his position in saying that the government did not set in place the proper terms of reference that would allowed for questions pertaining to that transaction ?

Hon. John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize: “Well first of all it was not the government that set up the terms of reference it was the Senate Select Committee. But secondly when you’re setting up your terms of reference you set it up broadly, you do not set every single step of what can be done, it’s done in broad strokes so when it comes to Portico there are many issues that affect Portico and the definitive agreement and the issuing of land in that area, that all of it was issued within a very very short span and that right after that it was sold to the same actors that are somehow directly or indirectly connected to the project raises many questions and I think that the Senate Select Committee had every right to ask those questions.”

PM Briceno also stated that the government may be looking into whether it can regain ownership of the lands.

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