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Dec 30, 2004

Courtenay: P.M.’s reason not satisfactory

Story PictureHe was one of four ministers ejected from the Prime Minister’s Cabinet this week and today Eamon Courtenay has announced his subsequent resignation from the Senate following a letter delivered to the P.M. on Wednesday. Courtenay and six of his colleagues, including the deputy prime minister, created political high drama in August, when they resigned in an effort to pressure Prime Minister Said Musa to create a new financial management structure. Back then the P.M. had agreed that he and his Cabinet would carry out a nine point action plan which was to have been completed by March thirty-first 2005. But three months away from that deadline and the presentation of a new budget, Courtenay and two of his brothers in revolution, Mark Espat and Cordel Hyde, have been removed from the P.M.’s team. Today, the ousted attorney told News 5 that his ties with Belmopan may have been severed but he will always swear allegiance to Belize.

Eamon Courtenay, Former Minister/Cabinet
?The decision of the Prime Minister that I should be out of the Cabinet–in my view–went to the core of our relationship, our professional relationship in terms of what trust and confidence–I think–he had in me. I assume that somehow he felt that the level of trust and confidence in me was not there and so I felt the proper thing to do was for me to resign for him to appoint somebody else who he was more comfortable with.?

Janelle Chanona
?Some of the political pundits among us would say that even though it is the Prime Minister?s constitutional right to move a minister as he sees fit and his own reason for economic reality is plausible that this move is a calculated hit against the G -7 that revolted in August. What is your response to that??

Eamon Courtenay
?I would say that, and I speak only for myself, the Prime Minister indicated to me–Isuspect–one reason why he thought that I should come out of Cabinet. I won?t say what that is I think he can say it when he is ready. In my opinion, that was not a sufficient basis, in my opinion, for a minister to be removed. As I indicated, to Prime Minister Musa on every occasion that we?ve had to discuss Cabinet is that I respect his ultimate authority on this issue. My part to public service has been different from my other colleagues in the sense that I have been appointed a senator, appointed ambassador for trade and investment, executive chair of BELTRADE and then subsequently a minister; all in the gift of the Prime Minister and if we reach a point where P.M. says to me, Eamon, I think we are having differences or there are some issues there that I don?t think we can resolve and he thinks that we should part in that relationship, I would respect that and I have said that to him. I feel no ill will and animosity towards him. So the reason he gave me, I didn?t find to be a satisfactory reason and therefore I still felt to myself maybe there is more that he is prepared to say to me as to why he felt that I should come out. Therefore I felt well, I would walk and perhaps now is the best time.?

Janelle Chanona
?The seven ministers, the seven samurais, the gang of 7 or however you want to call them. You all never made any public statement in August. What is the end of that movement? Does it still exist today and where are they now??

Eamon Courtenay
?I think the principle aim of the faction of the G -7 as it?s called was one, for us to have a frank look at the finances, public sector finances in this country; two to take the corrective measures that were required to correct the situation and thirdly to reorient the political and economic agenda of the Government to a more social justice agenda. I think if you look back at the Prime Minister?s speech on August eighteenth, he pointed to those things and said that this is the team that he was going to go forward with to achieve those objectives. He also–if I recall–said that he expected, I think he gave himself more or less six months, the end of March when he expected they would be these changes. We haven?t exhausted the time.?

?Ironically, when I asked for the meeting to see him Tuesday and he told me to come on Thursday, I was going to see him on a number of issues. The main issue for me was the upcoming budget. And I wanted to say to him, Prime Minster I am becoming concern about some of the policy positions it appears we are going to take with respect to the upcoming budget. In the Public Finance Committee we?ve been having very deep and exhaustive discussions and the technical team has been excellent in the work that they have done and the options that they have produced to us. But I felt that there were things which were put on the table by members of the Public Finance Committee for consideration, which appeared to me not to be getting the benefit of a fair discussion and that there were other things that were taking priority. And I wanted to say to the Prime Minister please give me an assurance as to how we are going to work through this in 2005 in the preparation of the budget. And again, it had to deal with social justice issues and other types of things like that. So it was a surprise to me when he said to me, I think your roll in the Cabinet is at an end. I want to emphasize that today as I sit here, I have no ill will towards Said Musa and I have told him that.?

Janelle Chanona
?Was this about a power play? Was this to remove then Ralph Fonseca, who is considered the second most powerful man in the People?s United Party??

Eamon Courtenay
?You mean the G7??

Janelle Chanona
?Yes.?

Eamon Courtenay
?Well we had said–I mean this is a matter of public record–that we felt that in order to achieve the objectives, it would be hard to achieve the objectives with Minister Fonseca there. Not because of any personal animosity or anything against Minister Fonseca, but simply because it was the view that listen, if we are going to have to reverse some things and I know Ralph feels passionately about the things that he has done that it would be difficult for him to sit them and to see people saying maybe we should readjust, maybe we should rethink things like that and I did not look at it in the sense of us saying to the Prime Minister, we are putting a gun to your head and Ralph must go. Ralph was not removed. From the very beginning the Prime Minister said absolutely not, I disagree with you and we respected his authority to say that and that Ralph would not go and Ralph is a valuable member of the team and we wanted to keep him in; Fine. Therefore we went with other issues which all the events came up with a compromise of all of us surrounding the table. There is no doubt that there has been some blood letting and it has not been an easy time because people have taken it personally and perhaps rightly so. But I think we shouldn?t loose focus. Let?s not loose focus. This is not about me. This is not about Ralph. It?s not about Mark, Cordel, Godfrey or any of us. It really is about the pressing of the financial situation that the country is facing. The policy decision that has to be taken, the manner in which those decisions have to be taken and where we go in 2005.?

?Specifically I think that there are still people in Cabinet who will bring to bear that type of critical thinking. And I hope that Prime Minister will continue to allow that type of dissension to happen. If it is a situation that he just wants ?Yes Men? and I don?t believe that?s what Said Musa wants. Then I don?t think he would get the best advice. But I think there are people there who I regard as still colleagues who will put forward their views and articulate it passionately and strongly. As I say, I think the decisions based on the figures that I?ve seen so far, the decisions are going to be particularly tough.?

?I have been appealing to Prime Minister and he hasn?t been–and I don?t want to give the impression that he?s been against it. In fact he has been forward, to say to him that we have to have a tremendous amount of consultation with the social partners for them to fully appreciate where we are before you take the decisions which we have to take. I think that that is key over the next few days for the social partners to be fully appraised of the state of the economy, particularly the public sector side so that we understand the decisions that we have to take.?

“I think it is important for all of us to bear in mind that decisions have to be taken. It?s not an option to do nothing and to go along as we were going along. That is not an option.?

For now Courtenay says he will invest his time in other interests that he had been unable to pursue because of his public service duties.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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