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UHS Bill tabled; Prime Minister disputes running interest rate

Today the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow tabled the General Revenue Supplementary Appropriation Bill, 2018 relating to the ninety-plus million dollar UHS debt owed to Michael Ashcroft’s Belize Bank Limited. On November 22, 2017 the Caribbean Court of Justice overruled the decisions handed down by Belize’s Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, ordering that the Government of Belize to pay the Belize Bank pay thirty six million eight hundred and ninety five thousand five hundred and nine dollars and forty six cents Belize as at September 7, 2012 plus interest at seventeen percent compounded on a monthly basis from September 8, 2012 until the date of payment plus costs. At the date of the CCJ ruling, the debt amounted to ninety million, six hundred and forty-five thousand six hundred and seven dollars and twenty cents Belize. For the debt to be paid, the House of Representatives must approve the passage of the bill. Today the bill went through its first reading and in his presentation of facts surrounding the matter, PM Barrow says that the seventeen percent interest should have been capped on the day of the CCJ ruling.


 “Ever since the CCJ judgment reversed the findings of our Supreme Court and our Court of Appeal Government has been grappling with the matter. We, of course it goes without saying, consider the CCJ to have been quite wrong in its main conclusion but they are the final court and there can be no relitigation of their decision. We have been advised though, and I think this is important that 7.% interest compounded monthly until payment is not the rate that should continue to run on the $91,596,013.22. As of the date of the of the CCJ judgment ordering leave to enforce the award as if it were a judgment of the Supreme Court we are advised that the applicable interest rate, the sort of post judgment rate should be the 6% per annum which is set out in the Supreme Court of Judicature Act as the statutory rate of interest to be carried by all judgment debts. In other words in our view that 17% should have been capped at the time of the CCJ judgment and whatever the total was the award plus 17% from the date of the award until the date of the CCJ judgment that should have been it in so far as the factor of that 17% interest rate is concerned. Thereafter for whatever period the judgment remained unpaid it should continue to attract interest but only at the statutory rate of 6%. We are certainly going to go back to the CCJ to seek clarification on that. But as to the principal the $91 million and the £536,000 in terms of cost. At whatever rate of interest it will turn out to continue to attract there is no doubt that it constitutes a liability against the government, people and country of Belize. How we came this pass is of course a story of perhaps the most remarkable piece of perfidy in a PUP history riddled with perfidy. It is a grotesquery of the worst sort made even more grotesque by the insistence of the PUP that the CCJ judgment constituted a vindication of what had been done.”

According to Barrow, the bill is being passed through all its stages in a timely manner in order to afford parliamentarians to decide whether they will support the bill or not. He says that morality plays no role in this matter.


“I was careful to enter the reservation that this is by my lights and the opinions that I have received I will not be restrained at all in terms of moral. If its a moral thing parliament would be obliged not to pay if you are talking about the moral aspect of things. So I believe if you want to be at all kind to the bank lets stay away from the moral question. Legally I think they are on firmer ground when they say ”look it is a judgment, the government is supposed to satisfy such a judgment.” and we get into the question of the parliamentary backstop and control over public finances.”

While there was no debate inside the chambers, outside, Leader of the Opposition addressed the media. John Briceno says his party is willing to formulate suggestions to be presented during the bill’s second reading.


“Well, certainly what we are waiting for the bill. I finally got a copy of the bill, we are going to study the bill and we are going to consider the discussion as to the way forward. One thing I can tell you is that we are not going to be obstructionists, we are going to find a way where we can, we are going to come with some ideas and recommendations from the Prime Minister in an effort to find a settlement that can be to the benefit of the Belizean people.”


“I’m not going to slam the door shut on anything but this is a huge amount of money and I don’t know what sorts of terms could really soften the blow that is number one and number two if ingenuity could come up with such terms the Michael Ashcroft I know won’t accept that but the opposition I think is welcomed to try and ought to be encouraged to try after all it’s their mess.”


“Well if you look at the record of the UDP remember when the Prime Minister Nationalized BTL and he was shouting up from the highest mountain that he was not going to pay and he attempted to change the constitution, he went to the CCJ, they ruled against him, he came back to the house, attempted to change again the constitution and tried to go right ahead and when he found himself with his back against the wall then he went and sat down in a room in Miami and signed a settlement. Remember also the British Caribbean Bank Loan for $20 million US dollars that were made to BTL; again the Prime Minister nationalized that loan and then he said that he was not going to pay and after all of these years of legal rambling we ended up paying $48 million US dollars.”

According to the Prime Minister, the next Sitting of the House of Representatives will be held no later than next month.