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Aug 1, 2019

PM Barrow & John Briceño on $1.6 Million Grant to Cayo Company Using N.H.I. Reserve Funds

A memo dated July twenty-ninth, 2019 has been leaked and is making its rounds on social media.  It is signed by Artemio Osorio on behalf of the Financial Secretary and has to do with a huge grant to be drawn from the N.H.I. Reserve Funds.  The memo states that the Ministry of Finance has no objection to the award of a contract for the construction of the Central Medical Stores building in Belmopan, to a company that goes by the name of Joehann Construction and Engineering of the Cayo District. The award is for one million, six-hundred and eighty-six thousand, five hundred and five dollars. The memo states that the funds are to be obtained as a grant from the National Health Insurance Fund Reserve managed by the Social Security Board.

Now, there are other certain observations in the memo from the Ministry of Finance.  It speaks of using limited tendering procedure which means that the general tender process has been bypassed and the one point six million dollar contract was handpicked and awarded to Joehann Construction.  Then, there is the fact that because government has not yet appointed a Contractor General, the contract will be perused by the Attorney General’s Office.

News Five has also obtained a copy of a letter sent off today to Prime Minister Dean Barrow by the Leader of the Opposition, John Briceño.  Briceño objects to the award, pointing out that the spirit of the law of the National Health Insurance Scheme simply does not allow for the award.  Briceño notes that, “the provisions are clear that the N.H.I. Funds can only be used for N.H.I. services and/or N.H.I. related expenses.” And according to Briceño, the construction of this building does not fall under any of these classifications. Moreover, the Belize Social Security Board does not have the statutory authority to use these funds in this way and if allowed, it would be in contravention of the legislation. Briceño ends his letter by calling on the PM to rectify the matter with urgency.

Well, the PM has responded with the speed of lightening.  The PM states that the memorandum does not say that the Ministry of Finance approves or purports to approve a grant from the N.H.I. Fund Reserve.  In fact, the memo from Finance was merely confirming the position of the Ministry of Health in its letter to Finance that the funds that the ministry expected to use would come from the N.H.I. Reserve.  His letter states that Finance wished to make clear that the Ministry of Finance would not itself be allocating any building funds, and that there would be no comeback on this from the Ministry of Health.  It adds: “How the Ministry of Health expected to persuade the Belize Social Security Board to vote the monies out of the N.H.I. Reserve, which B.S.S.B. manages, was always a matter for the Ministry of Health.”

In reference to Briceño’s concern that the B.S.S.B. does not have the statutory authority to use the Reserve Fund for the purpose Ministry of Health wishes, he states while that may so, it is a matter for the Board and the legal to consideration. Lastly, it is the view of the PM that in the current circumstances, M.O.H. ought not to make any such application.

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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