Belize’s legislature met today in session to debate several motions. The motion that took center stage is the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards Motion 2021. According to the Lead Government Senator Eamon Courtenay the ratification of this convention is merely a formality as elements of the document are already enshrined in Belize’s constitution. The ratification of this UN Convention, also referred to as the New York Convention, is one that the Barrow administration had already begun preparing for prior to the November elections. The debate on this motion took the entire morning session, starting with Senator Courtenay explaining why the ratification was crucial for Belize. He noted that currently the government is exploring an avenue to reduce the country’s debt, and this potential arrangement is requiring that the UN Convention be ratified by Belize’s Senate. We had suspected that the negotiations were similar to the 2001 Nature for Debt swap that occurred with the National Conservancy, but Senator Courtenay noted that this is not the same.
Eamon Courtenay, Senator: “Why was the TNC at that time did not ask for, well it is not the TNC that is asking for it this time it’s a different institution which is requiring this to be done.”
Renee Trujillo, Love FM News: Now you talk about not being able to delve into the details of the negotiations and what have you for reasons understood but what kind of benefits if this goes through will the country be looking at ?
Eamon Courtenay, Senator: “It is a reduction of our debt.”
Renee Trujillo, Love FM News: How significant ?
Eamon Courtenay, Senator: “Very significant.”
Renee Trujillo, Love FM News: Can you give a ballpark figure ?
Eamon Courtenay, Senator: “No.”
Eamon Courtenay, Senator: “I emphasize Madam President that we are involved in delicate negotiations at this stage which have not been concluded. One of the conditions for conclusion was the ratification of this convention. The United Democratic Party administration agreed to it, it did not do it, we are continuing those negotiations and we are now doing that which they said they would do. We are here today in order to take a step to address a national debt crisis.”
While Senator Courtenay has noted that he would prefer not to divulge the details of the negotiation, he did indicate that this urgency given to the ratification has absolutely nothing to do with Lord Michael Ashcroft and the monies owed to him.
Eamon Courtenay, Senator: “I wish now to turn to another issue that appears to be of concern and this is the question of arbitral awards already issued against the Government of Belize and whether or not they will be covered or if there is some benefit to be gained by the ratification of the New York Convention. I checked with the Financial Secretary yesterday, the Financial Secretary confirmed to me that there are three awards, three, out there. The first award was the subject of a CCJ case. The Caribbean Court of Justice held that it would be contrary to public policy for that award to be enforced in Belize. It means that it cannot be enforced in Belize. That award was taken to the United States of America where the United States Courts recognized the award and said it could be enforced however up to today there has been no enforcement of the award for the simple reason that there are no assets of Belize that can be attached. The second award that the Financial Secretary spoke to was the award that is known as the UHS case. That matter was litigated, Madam President and members of the Senate, and the Caribbean Court of Justice in 2017 – 22nd of November 2017- made an order and said that that award can be enforced in Belize. So the case in relation to that is finished it’s just a matter of when and if there will be collection on that award. The third award is one in favor of a company called Belize Social Development Limited which the Financial Secretary told me I believe that it is more than an award of approximately eight to ten years old I’m not sure of the date but the point he made to me is there has never been any attempt to enforce that award. As I understand it from the Financial Secretary those are the three awards, that is the status; one cannot be enforced in Belize by order of the CCJ, the second by order of the CCJ can be enforced in Belize and the third there has been no attempt to enforce that award.”
Senator Courtenay assured his colleagues in the legislature and the public that the country has gotten legal advice on the matter. He went on to say that even if Ashcroft attempts to collect there is a loophole the government would take to prevent retroactive claims.
Eamon Courtenay, Senator: “The formality of ratification provides no legal benefit because it’s already a part of the law of Belize. Nevertheless the government has sought legal advice and we have been advised that one step that can be taken which will give an assurance is when Belize ratifies it enters a reservation. What does that mean ? That Belize will say we ratify this convention but we reserve the position that it will have no retroactive effect. It will not apply as far as Belize is concerned to awards made prior to Belize’s formal ratification. It is the intention of the government Madam President that if this Senate authorizes ratification to enter a reservation as advised by international arbitration experts to the effect that Belize’s ratification is on the basis that it will not have retroactive effect.”