Public criticism continues to mount after the Social Security of Belize (SSB) issued a notice of investment regarding a $7 million loan proposal to Pharmacy Express Limited. The loan is for quote, “refinancing and inventory purposes” End quote. The notice by SSB says that the loan facility is for ten years with both principal and interest payments being made monthly on the declining balance. Sharing more details of this loan is the CEO of the SSB Deborah Ruiz.
Deborah Ruiz, CEO, S.S.B.: “…and perhaps refinancing. You could even use restructuring, consolidating your loan. You know, those types of things. They, in fact, had asked for a wider period to pay. The committee did not consider that. They narrowed it down, and the interest rate they asked for, of course, what they asked for is not what we proposed. And so, there are different factors. When they apply, they ask for certain consideration, but when the committee reviews that, it’s not necessarily what is approved. So, they did ask for more money, they did ask for a longer period, and they did ask for consideration for a lower interest rate, but that is not what was considered and offered. The directors can go to jail if they don’t have adequate collateral for the investment framework. So, collateral is an important criteria. Currently, if I recall correctly, BEL has over 20 million in assets that they have put up for the loan. I think the first round, we didn’t pass through, and we had to go back for more information. And then, for all those who were, we had a quorum at the last meeting if I recall, and everybody had voted at the last meeting. Prior to that it wasn’t unanimous. At the board, I don’t think it was unanimous. But for the investment committee, the last meeting, we did have everybody in attendance voting for the loan. It’s been in discussion for some several months in terms of the different criteria and, of course, the collateral that was needed to cover the loan. So, all of that has been in discussion as part of the mandate under the investment framework that the investment committee is charged to look at and follow a due diligence process. But, in terms of what the press release is saying, this is also part of the process in the governance framework that the public has an opportunity, a window of time weigh in. Under the framework, we are mandated to publish that we intend to award the loan in two consecutive circulations, in both the Gazette and newspapers. So, that is the process that is in play right now. During this time, any objections to the loan, we would appreciate getting that in writing, so we are clear as to what those objections are, and so that could be tabled to the board for their consideration in terms of anything we may have missed in the loan that the public may be aware of.”
According to Ruiz, all the procedure was followed and the SSB welcomes all imput from the public.
Deborah Ruiz, CEO, S.S.B.: “I must tell you that this loan was not a unanimous decision. There was back and forth terms of the different scenarios contemplated, but at the end of the day, it was a majority recommendation that went up to the board. In principle, the loan is approved, because the information we have looks good, but it’s an opportunity for the public to weigh in on where any objections lie. So, for example, two weeks, then we would wait another week or so for any written objections then we can table if anything has been received, we would invite the parties to weigh in on their objections. We go through this process every day, every month the different loans come in. I must tell you that the process, as it is right now, that is part of the process. But, there are many people, many business people who don’t want to go through this process, so we lose viable loans because of that. They don’t want all their information to be out there in the public. It’s business information. That is why, in terms of a question that was asked of me last week, that we don’t necessarily share all the information in the press release that we give in the public notice. We give notice that we intend to invest in a particular company and a high level view of the nature of the loan, but we don’t give all details, because some of it is private to some individuals and companies. And, they think that it may affect their business’ competitive edge, so to speak. So, not full details, be we share as much information as we can to the public. I think we’ll got through a transparent process where we receive a loan application, it was assessed internally, and the appraisal report submitted to the investment committee, because we been back and forth for several months asking for more information, more discussion with the principals, and then it finally reached the stage where it went to the board for consideration in June.”
In a rare Sunday evening press release, the Ministry of Health and Wellness issued a statement expressing concerns over the loan proposal. The ministry said that it (quote) “places on record some concerns related to this loan and hopes to meet the autonomous SSB to relay its concerns before it makes its final determination on this proposed loan” (Unquote). Love News contacted the CEO of the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Dr Julio Sabido.
Dr. Julio Sabido, CEO, Ministry of Health and Wellness: “A process has been triggered and we are going to put our recommendations, our objections, our issues in writing to the Social Security Board, and once that is done, S.S.B. will then be at liberty to do what it wishes with that information. So, right now we are going to put our objections in writing to S.S.B. Yes, you can request from them that information. The reason why we sent that is to put S.S.B. on notice that we are going to be sending our objections.”
Reporter, Love FM News: As you mentioned, the S.S.B. is an autonomous body. The Cabinet can’t direct them what to do, the Ministry of Health can’t direct them what to do. What sort of weight do you think that whatever objections you have would have?
Dr. Julio Sabido, CEO, Ministry of Health and Wellness: “I have no idea what type of weight it will have, but I think it’s our duty to raise objections if we have any, and that is exactly what we are going to do. Let me put it clearer, when the process has been finished, when go through the process, when we write S.S.., you all will be free to request S.S.B. to give you those concerns. They will still be the Ministry of Health’s concerns.”
Deborah Ruiz, CEO, S.S.B.: “It will merit consideration by the board, considering that it’s coming from a high profile entity which is the Ministry of Health and Wellness. So, yes, we will wait for that information in writing and then that will be tabled to the board for their consideration. If a meeting is required, then of course that is how we normally would facilitate as may be necessary.”
The SSB’s Investment Committee is responsible for considering these loans. The Committee is chaired by Reynaldo Magana. The government representative is Vanessa Briceno. The representative for the National Trade Union Congress of Belize is Keisha Williams and representing the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry is Emile Mena. Both the NTUCB and BCCI said, “no comment” to our requests for comment. We understand that the loan proposal does not have the support of the Cabinet.