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May 30, 2007

Court orders disclosure of U.H.S. loan documents

Story PictureMembers of the Association of Concerned Belizeans are celebrating a legal victory tonight as Justice Michelle Arana has ordered the disclosure of the Universal Health Services loan note, settlement deed, and secondary loan facility agreed to by Prime Minister Said Musa. That document must be made public within twenty-one days. Today’s proceeding was scheduled to be the first hearing of the substantive case brought by the A.C.B., but during the course of the morning, attorney Lois Young asked that her claim be amended, as now her clients want the court to also declare that the settlement deed and additional loan facility are also unlawful under the Finance and Audit Reform Act. Young also asked for full disclosure of those relevant documents. Solicitor General Edwin Flowers, appearing for the Prime Minister and the Attorney General, offered no objection to the disclosure. But Andrew Marshalleck immediately indicated that his client, the Belize Bank, would not support such a move, citing concern about how the bank documents would be used. At this point, the claimants’ other attorney, Dean Barrow, informed the court that since the Government had no objection to disclosing the documents, he would withdraw the request to the bank as it doesn’t matter how the contracts were disclosed. In an attempt to back pedal from his initial position, the SolGen then asked the court to restrict the use of the disclosed information to the court proceedings because portions of the agreements were confidential. Before handing down her decision in those matters, Justice Arana also heard from attorney Derek Courtenay that his client, Universal Health Services, be added as an interested party with the liberty to file a defence by affidavit and make submissions in the proceedings. Courtenay contends that his client, Dr. Victor Lizarraga and U.H.S., have a direct and critical interest because the guarantee, loan note, and additional funding is vital to the existence of their facility. Young objected to that assertion, stating that U.H.S. is “off the hook” for the money because the Belize Bank now has a relationship with the Government of Belize, not the hospital. At one-thirty this afternoon, Justice Arana returned to the bench and ruled in favour of the claimants, ordering disclosure of the financial documents within three weeks and making U.H.S. a party to the case. After the session, Attorney Dean Barrow spoke to the media, beginning with his reaction to the ruling on disclosure.

Dean Barrow, Attorney For Claimants
“I think it’s huge because without it we clearly would have been hamstrung in terms of the challenge to those documents. I don’t know how you can properly proceed to challenge documents that you can’t even see. So it’s big, it was necessary but I don’t think there was ever any doubt that the court would order disclosure, more significant was the application then to restrict the use of the documents after the disclosure, so certainly for purposes of the media, for purposes of public knowledge, it is extremely consequential that the court has said absolutely not. And the court was very strong in saying no, no this is a huge case. There is tremendous public interest and people have a right to know.”

Janelle Chanona
“I believe Justice Arana used the word monumental public interest. How does that reconcile with the time frame that this case has been given?”

Dean Barrow
“Fair question and that is why an application was made to her in chambers to contract the timelines that she had pronounced in open court. She asked that the attorneys for all the parties come in front of her so that we could perhaps agree on the need for contraction and the new dates. Mr. Flowers did not return and so she’s said now that she will hear the application in a formal way-tomorrow afternoon at two-the application for her to contract the timelines that she set out earlier today in open court.”

Janelle Chanona
“Can the public expect a U.D.P. press conference disclosing the loan agreement or will you wait for somebody to go to the registry?”

Dean Barrow
“I think I would prefer that somebody go to the registry although I don’t know that the documents…no, you’re right. The court has said they need to be disclosed to the parties and the court so presumably there will be some filing of the documents but one way or another I suspect that those documents will make their way into public circulation especially since the judge has been so strong in saying this really is a monumental public interest case and I think all of us will take our cue from that.”

“If in all the circumstances, that additional loan facility, being of such critical importance; if in the circumstances the Prime Minister deliberately, and it has to be deliberately, kept knowledge of that from his cabinet, from the House, from the nation, that has to be a lie of omission. More important, how could the Prime Minister have signed onto such an agreement without the prior authorization of the National Assembly so it’s really two things and I think both are extremely consequential. You don’t tell us and I suppose arising out of that, you don’t get the legal authorization that you needed in order to enter such an arrangement.”

Janelle Chanona
“Is that why you asked for leave to cross examine his affidavit that will be filed?”

Dean Barrow
“Oh, that’s not the least of it, that’s not the half of it. Given all that has happened in these proceedings and publicly with respect to this issue I believe that we should really have some fun, to put it mildly, with the Prime Minister under cross examination.”

As Barrow indicated, Justice Michelle Arana has asked the attorneys to return to her court at two on Thursday afternoon when she will hear submissions regarding changes in the calendar of the case.

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