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Aug 11, 2004

Opposition seeks investigation of D.F.C., S.S.B., TELECOMS

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Those expecting a bombshell in the Social Security scandal were disappointed. Instead of any new revelations of government misbehaviour, the Opposition United Democratic Party’s Press conference this morning simply sought to consolidate the three streams which, they claim, taken together form a torrent of wrongdoing involving the Development Finance Corporation, Social Security Board and government’s handling of the telecommunications sector.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

Using the Social Security scandal as a catalyst, this morning, the Opposition United Democratic Party through its leader, Dean Barrow, focused its attention on what they call “political cronyism” and other alleged abuses by the Government.

Dean Barrow, Opposition Leader

“The point is that all these monies have been spent over the years, financed by increased borrowing and there are no visible, concrete results to be seen. Basically because the monies that we have borrowed from abroad again have gone to finance the D.F.C., to finance individual cronies of the government, on projects including infrastructure projects that have been described by the World Bank as, metaphorically, “the construction of roads that lead to nowhere”.

“Things happen; multi-million dollar deals take place, funded by our Social Security or D.F.C. monies without the knowledge of the majority of the cabinet of this country. To some extent it is an internal problem of the People’s United Party, but it is also a larger problem for our democracy when not even the people in the cabinet of the country are allowed to know what is taking place with national funds.”

“Inquires, perhaps at a lesser level and perhaps by way of audits, are certainly ought to be done with respect to D.F.C. The story of how D.F.C.–when you read the Bear Stearns report and you see the amount of monies that have poured into the D.F.C. by the government, only to go out through the window, or the side door, or the back door, leading to what is now the complete collapse of the D.F.C.: the only development bank, or the nearest thing to a development bank in this country. That is a story again that bears and that will repay the kind of investigation that is to be conducted by experts and to be broad-based as possible.”

And that investigation, according to the U.D.P., must come in the form of an audit of the Social Security funds by forensic accountants and the establishment of an official commission of inquiry, chaired by the Chief Justice or other eminent personality.

Dean Barrow

“Even though the Government does its best to conceal what’s happening and it’s laughable when one day the Minister of Finance says one thing and two days later the Prime Minister contradicts him on national television. But we know what’s been happening. What we want to suggest is that that call from the Chamber of Commerce, and from Spear and from the unions ought to be expanded now so that it becomes a demand for a full scale commission of inquiry.”

“I am saying that this extraordinary convergence of denunciations with respect to what has taken place over the Social Security funds must mean that the action, that we as a society ought to take and that the Government must take should be equally extraordinary. Let us put an end once and for all to what has been happening not only by confirming its exposure, but by making sure that those who are responsible for it are put in a position where they pay a consequence and therefore will never try it again.”

As for the future of the telecommunications industry in Belize, Barrow and the U.D.P say that in the end, INTELCO’s loans will be paid with money from your pockets.

Dean Barrow

“Even if we assume that Mr. Prosser and B.T.L. will take over all the INTELCO debt, fifty-two million dollars U.S. worth of debt, I don’t know that in the open market, INTELCO, bankrupt as it is, would be bought in an arm’s length transaction for fifty-two million dollars…fifty-three it appears because for what we?ve been told, almost two million will pass hands as purchase price and then the debt will be assumed. I don’t know that that company is worth that. And the only way, Mr. Prosser, who is clearly no fool, could be persuaded at that cost, to assume that debt, is if he knows that even as he assumes that debt commitment on the one hand, on the other, he will be allowed virtually to do what he likes with respect to rates to consumers in order to put B.T.L. in a position where it will be able to pay off those INTELCO debts. And remember on top of all that is the fact that B.T.L. is guaranteed a fifteen percent return so B.T.L. can’t lose. Even if it takes on a hundred million dollars in debt; we the consumers of B.T.L. are ones who are going to have to repay that debt. So whether it’s paid directly by Social Security or Government, or whether it’s paid by B.T.L., indirectly, through the fees and tariffs that will be charged to the consumer, that debt, in the final analysis, is for the people of this country to pay.”

Fuelled by this latest scandal the U.D.P launched its newest campaign, “There is a better way” and introduced veteran educator and former government C.E.O. Carlos Perdomo as the party’s new National Coordinator. The Opposition is also planning a national protest against the Government, scheduled for next month.

Dean Barrow

“The idea is to have all cadres come in so that we can agree on a date that which should be within the next thirty days for a massive countrywide protest, organized, sponsored, implemented by the U.D.P to signal the people of this country?s discontent with all that is happening and to back up the demands of the U.D.P and the social partners that something be done about Social Security, D.F.C….”

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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