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Dec 5, 2018

Day 1: Belize Bank Vs G.O.B. over UHS Multimillion-dollar Debt

A legal battle for more than ninety-five million Belize dollars was back in court today before Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin. The Belize Bank Limited is continuing its quest to collect the multi-million-dollar UHS debt from the Government.  Government maintains that the House of Representatives must first approve the payment. Back in January, G.O.B. tabled a bill after the Caribbean Court of Justice overruled the judgments passed in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals in November 2017.  In June 2018, the Bank applied for an enforcement order from the C.C.J., but the court decided that it would not issue an enforcement order until the House of Representatives voted on the matter. On August thirty-first, parliamentarians on the government side voted no to pay the debt while members of the Opposition walked out. The Bank is now asking the Supreme Court to review its claim and issue an enforcement order. The debt stems from what has been described as a secretive deal during the Musa Administration. The loan at its initial stage was at thirty-three point five million dollars, but after being heard by different courts for several years, the debt ballooned. In court today, the bank’s attorney, Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay crossed examined the Financial Secretary, Joseph Waight. Courtenay’s line of questioning led C.J. Benjamin to instruct the FinSec to discuss the Bank’s offer to settle with the Minister of Finance, Prime Minister Dean Barrow.

 

Joseph Waight

Joseph Waight, Financial Secretary

“The Chief Justice asked me to consult with my authorities. That is what I will do, I can’t speculate, predict what the outcome of that discussion will be.”

 

Reporter

“Sir is it your understanding that no discussion has taken place in relation to considering that offer?”

 

Joseph Waight

“The offer was made some months ago to the AG which is the government’s legal representative. I am sure it was discussed in Cabinet but nothing came my way to say that the offer was either accepted or not. Obviously it was not accepted because we have not made the payment.”

 

Hipolito Novelo

“Sir you are a senior public officer for the past thirty add years, a financial expert I would say, would it be prudent for the Government to accept this offer?”

 

Joseph Waight

“I can’t answer that. I mean basically what you try to do is try to settle all your obligations. It is a constitutional matter. I can’t really talk.”

 

Hipolito Novelo

“Sir one of the things that Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay pressed on is whether or not you agreed with what the Central Bank said in terms whether or not the payment or the offer to settle this payment in treasury notes or in installments would affect the surplus. Would you agree?”

 

Joseph Waight

“The Central bank recorded a stock, treating the award as a debt. We look at the flow side of things. We classify the debt when we actually have to pay it. It’s like a loan agreement. We passed a loan agreement for seven million dollars. That doesn’t mean we have incurred seven million dollars in debt. What we do is when we disburse it our debt goes up. In our classification when we make a payment, we fund the debt we may have to borrow money. The borrow instrument in this case let us say it is a treasury bill, a treasury note that will go up and the stock of debt that the Central bank shows will go down so it will wash out. From our point of view, we don’t incur the debt until we actually fund it.”

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