There are concerns and questions looming tonight as the Government is looking to ask the Senate to ratify a UN Convention that would enforce arbitral awards ordered overseas or outside Belize’s jurisdiction. While we could not get the Lead Opposition Senator, Michael Peyrefitte to comment on the matter, the UDP’s Guardian Newspaper did allude to the ratification being done to honor awards owed to Lord Michael Ashcroft. Currently, Belize’s Government is indebted to Lord Ashcroft in the tens of millions of dollars resulting from arbitral court rulings including the Barrow acquisition of Belize Telemedia Limited. Following today’s Cabinet meeting the media met up with Prime Minister John Briceno who spoke on the urgency of the ratification.
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “That’s not true. Absolutely not. What we have done we have made our research that to ensure that that will not happen and we’ve been assured that that will not happen. That is being done simply because there are some other negotiations that we’re doing coming forward that we will need that so that it can happen.”
Reporter: So can you give us examples because of course there are arbitral awards that are outstanding for payments to Ashcroft.
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “I will repeat again that this convention that we want to have, to be ratified in the Senate will have absolutely nothing to previous awards that have been passed against the Government of Belize. We’ve been very careful and we got legal advice to ensure that that cannot happen and we’ve been assured that that cannot happen and I don’t think you need to worry about a leaked document because it’s no secret of that document. That document is going to be made available to everybody once it goes to the Senate. It has been sent to the Senators and once it gets to the Senate it’s going to be made public. So there’s no nefarious plan right here, nothing that we’re trying to pass under the rug to be able to pay anybody. We are doing some delicate negotiations with the issue of some of the debt that we have and to be able to address that we need to pass this UN convention so that we can be able to proceed but we have been very careful and we have been assured that this cannot then be used by any other person who have any other case against the Government of Belize of monies owed to them to be able to collect. As I said this has nothing to do with Mr.Ashcroft or any of this companies. I’m not trying to play on words that was the former Prime Minister I speak plain English.”
Lord Michael Ashcroft is at the center of many court arbitrations that the previous administration had found itself in. With several pending awards for Belize to pay out the media asked Prime Minister Briceno whether he is concerned over the deeper dent these awards would create in the economy.
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “They were signing awards like the UHS was being paid right now, they’re paying that from way under the UDP government. Our position has been very clear that we cannot continue fighting and fighting and fighting because it’s only Belize that’s losing and the lawyers are making a lot of money and the people that are owed are going to be paid even more money. So we have to find ways where we can stop all of this fighting and for us to be able to put our energies into something else like addressing the issues of the finances of the country as to where the UDP left it. The Prime Minister was not lying for once when he said that after he leaves the deluge is coming well it has started with the floods from Iota but now we’re seeing how bad he has mismanaged the economy and the finances of the country.”
Reporter: Sir from the legal advice that you have received what prevents persons like Lord Ashcroft or other arbitral awards being paid if when this thing is ratified ?
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “What will prevent them is that it’s not applicable to them. Period, full stop. Punto final.”
Reporter: But that’s a UN convention. Will legislation be passed to say “This won’t be applicable to outstanding arbitral awards to the Ashcroft group?”
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “But as far as I understand we don’t need any legislation to do that the convention already takes care of that so there’s no need to pass any legislation.”
Reporter: There is no need also to at least discuss the matter in cabinet ? Because a lot of the ministers didn’t know about this paper work ?
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “We announced in Cabinet today that that is going for ratification. There was not an in depth discussion because as we said it is something important that we need to have so that we can continue the delicate negotiations that we’re doing with some of the financial obligations that we have with groups outside of Belize.”
Reporter: So the Ashcroft group or Lord Michael himself has not approached the government for this money to be paid ? You’re talking about negotiations happening.
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “No this has nothing to do with Michael Ashcroft man, please. Can I repeat it again ? It has nothing to do with Michael Ashcroft. Period. And he has not come to us to try to pass anything so that he could collect his money.”
Belize is one of few countries yet to sign the UN Resolution which would authorize the Ratification by Belize of the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. This convention, also known as the New York Convention would require courts of contracting states to give effect to private agreements to arbitrate and to recognize and enforce arbitration awards made in other contracting states. Love News understands that the since 1980 the Convention has been a part of the Laws of Belize but it has never been ratified in-country. The next Senate sitting is slated for Thursday, January 28 in Belmopan.