Seven senators voted against the Joshua Perdomo write-off while six voted in favour of it. It is a very rare occurrence as the Senate is mostly referred to as a rubber stamp for matters coming out of the House of Representatives. The matter brought on heated debates in tonight’s sitting. We go first to the presentation by the Opposition’s Lead Senator, Michel Chebat.
Senator Michel Chebat: “How can the attorney general stand before this senate and say that his office advised that this is a contract and the limitation period has expired when just before him the Honorable Senator Rocke quoted a Supreme Court case that has specifically decided on a similar point and the Supreme Court has ruled in a previous similar instance that this is a specialty and the limitation period is twelve years. I don’t know what law school the Attorney General went to.”
Darrell Bradley, Senate President: “Senators. Senators. Senators. “
Senator Michel Chebat: “I have the floor, he has had his turn to speak and what he has represented to”
Senator Michael Peyrefitte: “He has misrepresented what I have said. This is a 2011 contract that’s a 1976 case how can it be the same thing ? How can a court in 1976 say what this contract means ? Come on Micho.”
Senator Michel Chebat: “Mr.President please, he has had his turn to speak and he is being disingenuous and he has misrepresented to the Senate. That is what he has done.”
Darrell Bradley, Senate President: “Senators. In relation to this matter I know that it evokes significant passions in relation to senators but this debate must be conducted in an orderly manner. “
Senator Michel Chebat: “Mr.President the other point is that this matter is not being raised only because it’s Joshua Perdomo that is under scrutiny, the fact is that if it were Joshua Smith, no Joshua Smith can get a $40 bond go study nowhere. You have to either be a Minister’s son or a political affiliate to get things like that. This motion, nowhere in the explanation of this motion does it say that the limitation period has expired and nowhere does it say that the Ministry of Finance approves this. What this says is that no effort, not payment has been made and the efforts to locate him has proved futile and that is the reason they’re writing it off. Well with the resources that the Attorney General’s Ministry has how is it that they can’t find him? What are the efforts that they have made and if they can’t find him let the Attorney General tell us if in fact the rules of the Supreme Court does not provide an avenue where people can be served with writs even if they are no in the country. Why is it that a claim has not been brought against Joshua Perdomo to recover these monies? Why has that not happen, why has the surety to the bonds signed by him have not been asked to repay this bond? Why not Mr.President. Why is he getting preferential treatment when there are thousands of students across this country who struggle every single year to be able to pay their school fees? What puts him in a special position Mr.President? The only thing that puts him there is because he is the son of the Cabinet Secretary, that’s all. That is what it’s about and whether he likes it or not that is the fact and he can get up and make as much noise as he wants the facts are the fact. Thank you Mr.President. Those are the facts and whether they want to hear it or not that is the reality behind this motion and we are not going to support this motion and we’re going to be asking for a division of the vote on this motion.”
Senator Osmany Salas who represents the non-governmental agencies also rose expressing disbelief that Perdomo could not be found by the authorities or government officials to pay his debt to the Government.
Senator Osmany Salas: “Unlike the other write off motions where it specifically stated that the Financial Secretary supported the write off, this one did not specifically state that so I reached out to the Ministry of Finance and I have to thank them for responding to my questions and for sharing with me a copy of the bond agreement and yes we are here to debate as my good colleague the Attorney General said a few minutes ago. The bond was signed on May 15 2009, the study leave period was twenty seven months which if I’m calculating properly Mr.Perdomo should have started to pay in 2012 about seven years ago. In the motion it states that no payment has been made and efforts to locate him have proved futile. The solicitor general had advised as the motion states for Mr.Perdomo to do monthly payments of a thousand dollars until payment was made in full, very reasonable and yet no effort was made to make any payment. The efforts to locate him proved futile, really? If we allow this write off motion to pass we are sending the wrong signals out there, the wrong message, that some people, some public officers may be more equal than others. Really we need to think more seriously about this. There were various public officers reached out to me and said ‘Senator how do you intend to vote? I am taking this personally, I am taking this personally because of what I experienced and what I did, the responsibility I took.’ So don’t come and tell us that it proved futile to locate the person. What is the role of the surety? What is the role of the surety? So we really if we allow this to go through we are sending the wrong message, it is very bad precedence and I appeal to all of us here in particular my social partner colleagues to very carefully think of this matter and how we should vote on it but our network unanimously is of the opinion that we should not support this write off motion.”
Senator Ashley Rocke represents the Council of Churches. His Senate presentations are rarely, if ever, against the Government of Belize; but today he addressed the Prime Minister directly as he voted no to the Perdomo write-off.
Senator Ashley Rocke: “There were two main issues that haunted us, one being the whole issue of morality, first of all because if nobody will stand for morality the church has to. But then the statute of limitation was also an issue with us. The second issue is that as a church, if the church will not champion morality who will ? And the truth of the matter is I believe this is a good Chrsitian man, raised in a good Christian home who I believe even if he could have strayed in any slight confusion of the world as what his calling as a Christian is there is still the moral responsibility that we all have that we should all have to Belize. Which is what we’ve seen over the years Belize has suffered over and over brain drain of people who think they can just take what they want and then find better employment or greener pastures so to speak in another place. I think it is incumbent on Mr.Perdomo wherever he is to come and make right what he has done and that is to return the $40,000 to the government, we could use $40,000, the government needs that and I believe with all due respect to my Prime Minister this one he should make sure he collects that money from that man. With that submission Mr.President we the church have said no to that thing.”
After all is said and done over the Perdomo write-off, the logical thought would be that efforts would be made to collect the monies owed to the people. Well, that is not the case. According to the Attorney General, majority or minority, the matter has been written off.
Senator Michael Peyrefitte: “All motions and all bills that pass through the House must come to the Senate but the constitution states very clearly that any money motion or money bill that comes from the House passed and goes to the Senate even if the Senate rejects it it passes through in any event. If it were not a money bill there is a month delay but the reasoning behind that is that the constitution makes it clear that thirteen people who are appointed cannot override thirty one people who are elected, it just doesn’t make sense. Legally I believe he is barred from being challenged to pay from a legal sense but I agree totally with Senator Rocke, he has a moral obligation to pay. I would say that even more important than the money he has a moral obligation to bring to Belize the expertise that he gained whilst abroad and whilst he was getting paid by the government. He didn’t borrow any money per se we simply paid him 80% of his salary while he was studying. To me what is more important than the $40,000 which is very important, but what is even more important than that is that we have lost out on the expertise that he has gained that could benefit the country to a large extent. So we want back the money but what we would want back even more than the money is his knowledge that he has gained abroad but like I said that doesn’t mean, well the write off motion does not mean that we don’t want it back or we won’t get it back, or he shouldn’t pay it back, or we are saying that that is nothing for him to pay back, what we’re saying is we need it off the books because it makes the accounting cleaner and to me in my view the six years have passed in a simple contract but I believe he should pay and I would hope that he does pay.”
Senator for the private sector, Mark Lizarraga, says the matter should remain live until the Joshua Perdomo’s debt is collected.
Senator Mark Lizarraga: “Today the Senate was very clear, the Senate said the majority of Senators said look we do not support this write off, we believe that every effort should have been made and that there was still some lack of clarity perhaps as to whether there was a statute of limitations, the motion itself did not say there was a statute of limitations and there are some differing views on it. We believe as well that a valid point was made that you have somebody that made a guarantee and that the government should have acted well before now to make good on that guarantee and collected from the guarantor if they couldn’t find the principal. “
Reporter: One of the things that was also debated was that there was no objections during the committee meeting but you’re saying there were several objections to that write off motion.
Senator Mark Lizarraga: “Well I’m saying that, and it appears that the letter that was written to the committee was not delivered to the committee on time that is what I’m hearing today by way of the clerk but nevertheless an offer was made in writing and it certainly was made before the house met on it and the question arises, why was the offer to collect from that attorney not accepted or why was it not looked at? So it’s disappointing that the letter was not delivered on time but I think that there was ample time for recognition of the letter, even delivery of the letter apparently some of the Ministers did not know of the letter and I believe that if there was a genuine offer by an attorney to move and to collect on the guarantee that it was something that should be taken or still looked at as a matter of fact be taken into consideration.”