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Jul 27, 2007

…While A.C.B case against loan hits a snag

Story PictureMeanwhile back at home, the A.C.B.’s case against the Government of Belize regarding the legality of the loans and guarantees to Universal Health Services took a turn today that will keep the matter in limbo for months.

In May, we reported that the claimants: the Association of Concerned Belizeans, the National Trade Union Congress, the Belize Medical and Dental Union, Godwin Hulse, and others scored legal victory when Justice Michelle Arana ordered the disclosure of the U.H.S. loan note, settlement deed, and a secondary loan facility agreed to by the P.M. Their attorney Lois Young subsequently asked the court to also declare that the settlement deed and additional loan facility are also unlawful under the Finance and Audit Reform Act and petitioned Arana to order disclosure of those documents.

But before a decision could be made in those matters, Andrew Marshalleck, acting on behalf of the Belize Bank, promptly appealed Arana’s initial ruling on the basis that he was not given sufficient time to properly ventilate his arguments against the A.C.B. So when the attorneys and their respective legal teams crammed into Justice Arana’s courtroom this morning the litigants argued over technicalities: Was the initial ruling final? Did the Bank jump the gun in rushing to the Court of Appeal? And most importantly, is the A.C.B. correct in asking for declaratory relief as opposed to a judicial review?

After hearing submissions this morning from A.C.B.’s lead counsel Dean Barrow, the Bank’s London lawyer Vincent Nelson, and Derek Courtenay, representing U.H.S., Arana made her decision: A stay in proceedings. According to Arana, using the court’s own discretion, she has opted to wait to hear how the Court of Appeal rules on the matter of judicial review versus declaratory relief before continuing the case. Outside the courtroom, the attorneys reacted to the ruling.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
For the Belize Bank’s Andrew Marshalleck, the Court of Appeal will rule against the Association of Concerned Belizeans.

Andrew Marshalleck, Attorney
“Because they are seeking to invoke the court’s supervisory jurisdiction to determine whether or not certain actions on the part of Government were lawful; that’s judicial review by definition. … We were hoping to get the issue resolved, now it’s just left wide open and deferred.”

Janelle Chanona
“And you’re not happy with that, that this thing is just gonna keep dragging on?”

Andrew Marshalleck
“That’s how it seems.”

Lois Young
“The way we chose to approach it was the softer way where you get the declarations and you leave it up to the conscience and the moral good standing of the Government to abide by the declarations.”

But the claimants’ attorney Lois Young believes the latest development is a deliberate delaying tactic by the Belize Bank.

Lois Young
“The Belize Bank is not even the defendant here, the Belize Bank is an interested party, they’ve muscled their way in and they have flown in counsel from abroad as though the counsel here is not good enough to act for them because they have Barrow and Company there, but they chose to bring in somebody from abroad. So they’ve muscled their way in and they are behaving as though they are the defendants, fighting everything, appealing everything.”

“The way we have proceeded is simply for declarations of unlawfulness of those documents because they are unlawful because they are in violation of the Finance and Audit Reform Act. And if we get those declarations of unlawfulness then it’s up to the Government of Belize, whichever government it is, to abide by the ruling and honour the ruling. They may choose not to, they may say well you know, to hell with what the court says, we are going ahead.”

Janelle Chanona
“Can you outline now what exactly this means for your client?”

Lois Young
“We’ve got to wait until the Court of Appeal hears the appeal in October and then when they have decided whether we have come by the right procedure, we then can then proceed.”

Despite today’s setback, the Association of Concerned Belizeans say they remain undeterred.

David Vasquez, President, A.C.B.
“We have a, I think I am quite confident in my legal team first and foremost, but besides that I think our issue is a strong point. To get into the crux of the matter concerning this case, it is a very strong basis from which we are bringing this action into the court. Delaying is only setting back the inevitable I feel and I think that’s one of the biggest concerns, they are trying to push whatever stall tactics they can so that this thing can—I don’t know if the intentions are to put it off until the coming elections or whatever it is, but it is obviously a stall tactic.”

“The issue of the thirty-three million concerning the Belize Bank and U.H.S. is basically to show that the entire ruling of the Prime Minister at the time when he acted on his own was illegal and that is still our point, that is the basis of this entire proceeding, and I think once it’s seen through it will be shown clearly that how the Prime Minister was illegal in his action.”

The Court of Appeal is scheduled to hear the case during its October session. Reporting for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.

In the substantive case regarding the U.H.S. debt and its government guarantee, Dean Barrow and Lois Young are representing the A.C.B. et al, while Derek Courtenay is acting on behalf of U.H.S., attorneys Andrew Marshalleck and Vincent Nelson appear for the Belize Bank, and Solicitor General Edwin Flowers is the Government’s lawyer.

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