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Nov 21, 2019

How Government Spends the People’s Money

Arguments wrapped up before the Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin on a case brought against the Government by John Briceño and Julius Espat of the People’s United Party. In the two-day proceedings the P.U.P. argued that the government spent one point three billion dollars without required approval and that is against the law. In his testimony today, the FinSec Joseph Waight agreed there is slippage but says the sum is only ten percent of the budget for the year in question.  For the P.U.P., it is a loan that has to be repaid by the people and requires accountability.   News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The People’s United Party, led by John Briceño, has mounted a legal challenge against the Government of Belize for its expenditure of public funds.  The lawsuit in which Prime Minister Dean Barrow, Financial Secretary Joseph Waight and Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte are all named as defendants, stems from the Finance and Audit Reform Act of 2005, Revised Edition 2011.  That piece of legislation sets out a prescribed sum of money which cannot be exceeded without parliamentary approval.  In this case, over one point three billion dollars is said to have been spent without official sanction.

 

Joseph Waight

Joseph Waight, Financial Secretary

“Indeed, the supplementaries have been late in being put to the house and in fact we have conceded that.  It’s been an age-old practice.  We want to fix it.  In fact, if you look you can see that the frequency of the supplementaries have been coming faster, indeed a little late but I remember a young man years ago, we did ten years worth of supplementaries at one time.”

 

Back in March, Deputy Party Leader Julius Espat, Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, filed a claim against PM Barrow, the Minister of Finance, for illegally spending monies from the public purse.  This included the PetroCaribe funds from Venezuela which were used for massive infrastructure projects across the country.

 

Julius Espat

Julius Espat, Chairman, Public Accounts Committee

“They are trying to say that they didn’t know the amount of money so that they couldn’t go to the house to seek approval because they didn’t know the value because of every ship that comes in, the values are different.  What the attorneys basically established was that they knew because there was an account in Central Bank by APBEL.  And so, when they requested, or the prime minister requested to use the money, it is known, the value is known.  They just don’t follow the law.  They don’t have respect for the rule of law and in my opinion, they are disrespecting the entire nation.”

 

According to Financial Secretary Joseph Waight, it is customary for government to proceed with its expenses and then return sometime thereafter for supplementary appropriation.  This has been the case with a hundred million dollar expenditure in 2012 that is yet to be approved retroactively.

 

Joseph Waight

“Indeed, and I use the word slippage, we have not put the supplementary request to the house.  To put things into perspective, that supplementary hundred million may sound like a lot of money, but it’s about ten percent of the overall budget for that year and in fact when you look at all the supplementaries they list, still it’s within seven or eight percent of the total spending over that period which the average budget is about nine hundred million a year and this is going back to 2005 or so.”

 

Notwithstanding its applicability to the past, these are borrowed monies that have to be repaid, a point that is not lost on attorney Eamon Courtenay.

 

Eamon Courtenay

Eamon Courtenay, Attorney for P.U.P.

“Don’t forget, it’s a loan.  You and I have to pay back that loan.  Hundreds of millions of dollars remain unpaid, the Government of Belize has used that money without accountability and we the Belizean taxpayers have to pay it back.  This case sets the basis for further inquiry and to find out where all this money went.”

 

The Ministry of Finance, according to the Fin Sec, is the smallest government department with the least employees.  While he says that it’s no excuse, Waight attributes the delay in putting together supplementaries to a lack of manpower.

 

Joseph Waight

“The Ministry of Finance is perhaps one of the smallest ministries in the government numbers wise, with staff, and we have some big responsibilities.  I’m not saying it as an excuse, but it’s just the reality of the situation.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.


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