By Wellington C. Ramos
The United Democratic Party (UDP) government of Belize has called a special sitting of the House of Representatives for all 31 members, to discuss settling a debt for a loan that was taken out by the Belize government under the People’s United Party (PUP) Musa administration.
This loan was taken in the early 2000s from the Belize Bank, which is owned by British billionaire Michael Ashcroft, for the amount of $30 million but, due to the time and interest for nonpayment, it is now about $95 million with the interest growing daily.
Shortly after the loan was obtained, the UDP came to power in 2008 and they made it publicly clear that they were not going to pay back the money due to the way the money was obtained and how it was spent by the Musa administration. They claimed that the money was used by the Musa administration to purchase a hospital known as Universal Health Services (UHS) that is owned by him and his family and not the Belizean people who were supposed to benefit from the funds.
The owner of the Belize Bank took the government to court in Belize to try and redeem his money but he lost the case in the Belize Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. Michael Ashcroft then filed an appeal to the Caribbean Court of Justice, which is the final appellate court for Belize, and won his case there.
A judgment was sought and obtained from the court by his attorney Eamon Courtnay to redeem the funds from the Belize government and it is still refusing to pay. Michael Ashcroft is also a major donor to the political campaigns of many Belizean representatives PUP and UDP, who have sought and lost or won public office in most elections since his arrival to Belize.
Over the years due to the problem that exist with this current UDP Barrow administration for the retaking of BTL a telephone company from him, it is being said that he mostly finances PUP campaigns.
Eamon Courtnay, who is Ashcroft’s chief attorney in Belize, is also a long standing member of the PUP and served as Belize’s foreign minister in the Musa administration. He is currently a close advisor to the PUP leader John Briceno, while simultaneously representing Ashcroft.
After seven hours of debate, the leader of the PUP John Briceno and his 12 representatives, excluding Jules Espat from Cayo South, who was not present, walked out of the sitting of the House of Representatives and left the 17 UDP representatives there all by themselves. The 17 UDP representatives voted NO – not to pay the $95 million debt.
However, that stand is going to make matters worse because the bank must be paid and the interest on the loan is just going to continue to grow out of proportion. By law, any transaction carried out by a government on behalf of its people and nation becomes the obligation of the new government when it takes office, whether they agreed or disagreed with the transaction or transactions that were conducted.
The UDP and the PUP must find an immediate solution to solve this problem in the interest of the people and nation of Belize. Name and blame calling is not going to work and the Belize people are becoming frustrated and angry with these two political parties.
Many Belizeans do not even understand the true nature of this problem and with time, our people, especially our young Belizean citizens and our nation will be affected by it when we might have to pay out $200 million for a loan that was originally only $30 million.
Perhaps possible solutions to this problem could be:
1. Pursue the ministers of government who were involved in the acquisition and disbursement of the loan money to pay and if they cannot pay, remove them from office or ban them from seeking any future public office in Belize.
2. For the government of Belize to negotiate with the current owners of the hospital to work out a payment plan to the bank.
3. For the government to take over the hospital in the interest of the people and nation and pay off the loan.
4. For the government of Belize to end all hostile actions against Mr Ashcroft and see if they can work out a gentlemen’s agreement with him to pay just the principal amount of $30 million and his legal fees.
These are only my personal recommendations to end this ongoing saga. As leaders of a country our main responsibility is to solve our people and nation’s problems. The way we are acting it is as if we want to prolong this problem indefinitely. I now call on my people in Belize to approach their representatives and tell them to get this problem resolved.
Elections in Belize will be coming up soon and I can see this issue being used as a political football in the game that is going to be played out. The way it looks, it will not only be the UDP and the PUP that will be involved in this game to come because the people are angry with both of them. The issues are piling up and they are showing that they both cannot handle the pressure. The ICJ and Guatemala is going to consume most of their time and the tensions will increase.
Belizeans are not only angry and frustrated but also mistrustful and impatient with them. The elections in Belize have always shown that when Belizeans’ backs are against the wall, they will surprise the political parties. At this stage in the game, Belizeans are beginning to conclude that there are little or no major differences between UDP and PUP. Political science teaches that when that occurs the people will be looking for an alternative party.