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Jan 10, 2020

Supreme Court Upholds G.O.B.’s Position on U.H.S. Debt

This morning, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin handed down a summary decision in a matter involving the ever-increasing U.H.S. debt that has been before different courts for long years from the local courts to the Caribbean Court of Justice and the London Court of International Arbitration.  The Belize Bank Limited has been engaged in a protracted legal battle with the Government of Belize over an outstanding sum having to do with the defunct Universal Health Services which dates back to 2004.  Despite a subsequent ruling in its favour by the L.C.I.A., the Belize Bank is yet to collect on the arrears which has since ballooned to well over a hundred million dollars.  In an urgent attempt to do so, a claim was filed against the Commissioner of Income Tax, as well as the Attorney General, in which the bank was requesting that the commissioner deduct eight point five million dollars in business tax arrears from the total amount owed.  That was in February 2019, well after government voted in the House of Representatives that it would not use monies from the public purse to cover the mounting bill.  Today, CJ Benjamin in delivering an oral decision, affirmed government’s position that the Minister of Finance, in this case Prime Minister Dean Barrow, cannot be compelled to pay the bill without parliament having voted in favour of doing so.  Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte has weighed in on the judgment.


Michael Peyrefitte

Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney General

“The Chief Justice didn’t give a written judgment as yet, he gave a background to the case and he read from his notes.  But essentially what the Chief Justice is saying is what we have been saying that no member of the executive can get engaged in any transaction or any business with anybody for an amount of money that must be first voted for by parliament.  So what the Chief Justice said today is that the Ministry of Finance is not in breach of any law or duty to pay the monies owed to the UHS situation because the parliament simply has not voted for that, and neither the courts nor the Minister of Finance are in a position to tell parliament what to do.  So since parliament has not voted for the money, you can’t then tell the Minister of Finance to pay the money because essentially you would be telling the Minister of Finance to defy parliament.  You’d be telling the Minister of Finance to break the law and spend money that was not voted for by parliament.  And so where we are, the debt is still there, the debt is still owing to Ashcroft, but at the same time, until parliament votes for the money it can’t be paid.  It’s one thing if the parliament votes for the money to be paid and the Minister of Finance doesn’t pay, then the Minister of Finance could be considered to be in contempt.  But how can he pay when parliament has not voted for the money?  But we know Ashcroft is an extremely stubborn and patient strategist, we know that this is round one, so quite possibly there will be an appeal so we wait for that.”

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