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Sep 6, 2002

Banking bill sparks heated debate

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But as always, when the talk turned to money, the debate grew testy. One bill introduced was an amendment to the Offshore Banking Act. The antagonists were Leader of the Opposition Dean Barrow and Minister of Budget Management Ralph Fonseca.

Ralph Fonseca, Min. of Budget Management

“The object of this bill Madam Speaker is to plug certain loopholes in the law on offshore banking, which have surfaced since the principal act was passed in 1996. The bill also seeks to implement the recommendations of certain international bodies, particularly the International Monetary Fund, the G7 Financial Action Task Force and the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force, to strengthen credential standards for offshore banks, so as to meet the Basil Core Principles for effective banking supervision.”

Dean Barrow, Leader of the Opposition

“Amazing how when it suits him, the Minister can pray and aid the I.M.F. and bow and scrape to the I.M.F. And when it doesn’t, he can tell us that he doesn’t give two hoots about the I.M.F. Anyway, he says that the amendments, or a number of the amendments are in line with recommendations from the I.M.F. And I don’t doubt that, and by and large we have no difficulty with the amendments that are being proposed. But as is usual with this government, and in particular with this minister, even when the bulk of what is being done is neutral, or perhaps necessary, you can bet your bottom dollar that somewhere within, if you dig deep enough, you will find that there is something sinister afoot.

“But you know how good they are at that, it’s like with the Civic Centre, where the person who is nominally given the contract knows nothing about building a Civic Centre. He subcontracts and then he creams off the top. I am making an analogy–”

Ralph Fonseca

“Madam Speaker, a point of order. We’re speaking about the offshore bill. What the Leader of the Opposition is speaking about has nothing to do with the offshore bill.”

Dean Barrow

“Madam, I am talking about the reason why they are amending the offshore bill to make elastic this definition of resident in order to facilitate what it going on in terms of this loan to Provident Bank and Trust, which would otherwise be illegal if they didn’t amend the bill. So it seems to me Madam Speaker that it is very much and squarely–”

Ralph Fonseca

“Madam Speaker, point of order. I am making my point of order in order that when I get up to reply, I will also be given the same latitude to speak on that topic which is being…where we’re having a blatant attempt to confuse the Belizean people at this time.”

Elizabeth Zabaneh, Speaker of the House

“We wouldn’t want to be confusing the Belizean people, so Honourable Member if you have something to say, say it then we will give–”

Dean Barrow

“That is how the house normally proceeds. I mean we’re not discovering gunpowder here. Yes, Madam Speaker, so I am saying that in this bill, this particular amendment is for the sole and exclusive purpose of facilitating this transaction, through which all the risks will be taken by the Corozal Free Zone, but all the benefits will go to Provident, will go Galeria Maya, will go to the company owned by Mr. Godfrey–subject only of course to what will have to be given to the boys. Thank you Madam Speaker.”

Ralph Fonseca

“In starting to reply, let me very quickly correct another attempt by the Leader of the Opposition to confuse the Belizean people as it relates to his quoting me as saying that “I do not give two hoots about the I.M.F.” I have never ever in my entire career said something like that. What I have said and I will repeat today for the record, is that the I.M.F. has their job to do and we as a government, and me as a part of that government have our jobs to do.”

“The very law that created the Commercial Free Zone, gives those people that do business in the Commercial Free Zone wide latitude with their financial arrangements. We are just now making sure that it is clear that they can also do banking with offshore banks.”

There are five offshore banks in Belize, four of which hold unrestricted “A” class licenses and one with a restricted “B” class license.

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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