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Jan 27, 2017

House Meets to Plot Strategy on Arbitration Awards

A Special Sitting of the House of Representatives was called for today, Friday. It is the second in a month and caught just about everyone by surprise. There were two bills left over from the committees and a motion for the re-appointment of Ombudsman Lionel Arzu to a further one-year term.  The majority of the House’s time, however, was spent debating two new bills, both related to recent developments regarding the over one hundred million Belize dollars in arbitral awards.   That hefty sum was awarded to Belize Social Development Limited and Caribbean Investment Holdings Limited in 2014 by the District Court for the District of Columbia for litigation related to the Accommodation Agreement and Settlement Deed.  Both were negotiated in 2006 and 2007, respectively. While the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear government’s claim from the Court of Appeal of the D.C. Circuit, Prime Minister Dean Barrow told the House two weeks ago that he would not pay a penny of either award and essentially dared the companies to go after Belize’s foreign assets. It turns out that they have taken him up on that, and his administration found it urgent to create new legislation that would immunize the Central Bank from such awards. In introducing the bill, the Prime Minister noted that he took a page straight from the Americans’ books to defeat a previous decision.

 

Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“In particular, in the United States of America, their Federal statute, called the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which is a 1976 law, confers both jurisdictional immunity and immunity from suit on central banks; in fact, that Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, as the title suggests, also confers immunity from suit and attachment on foreign governments. The immunity, however, can be waived by the sovereign governments, so that when, as is the case now, there are arbitral awards pronounced against this Government – pronounced against this country, not this administration – and those awards are sought to be enforced in the United States, this Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act would normally prevent any enforcement of those awards. But, but, those awards came about as a consequence of arbitration agreements entered into by the last Government, in which agreements the last Government expressly waived its immunity from suit and expressly waived its immunity from having the property of the Government attached.”

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