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Apr 12, 2006

Courtenay is new foreign minister in latest Cabinet shuffle

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The long anticipated changes in Cabinet were announced today, but it is difficult to discern any particular direction in the Prime Minister’s appointments. The biggest move involves the return engagement of Ambassador Eamon Courtenay, who will be made a Senator before taking over as Minister Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. Courtenay, who previously served as Attorney General as well as Minister of Foreign Trade, was booted from Cabinet as punishment for his lack of repentance following the G-Seven revolt. He takes his new portfolios from Godfrey Smith, who will now reign over a reduced fiefdom that includes tourism, information and emergency management. In an unusual move for a government press release, it was also announced that Smith, one of the deputy leaders of the P.U.P., will supervise the political work taking place at the party secretariat. It is not clear if this means he will become the party’s Secretary General, a post made vacant following the resignation of former S. G. David Fonseca. Fonseca’s career in politics went up in smoke following his failure to adequately account for four hundred thousand dollars in poverty alleviation funds entrusted to him by the Belize City Council during his recently ended tenure as mayor. And speaking of scandals, it should be noted that both Ministers Courtenay and Smith have been accused of high level corruption in connection with the privatisation of the companies and intellectual property registries. Neither has offered a credible refutation of charges made by Opposition Leader Dean Barrow that they were in fact silent partners in the lucrative operation, the creation of which was manoeuvred through Cabinet by Smith when he was Attorney General in 2003. The declared owners of the registries were businessman David Jenkins and attorney Dennis Barrow. Barrow is the brother of Dean and currently sits as a judge on the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal.

In the other Cabinet changes announced today, Mike Espat gives up Agriculture and Fisheries but takes the Ministry of Works. Joe Coye gives up Works in exchange for his old portfolio of Health along with Local Government taken from Johnny Briceño. Coye retains transport and communications. Former Health Minister Vildo Marin now assumes responsibility for Agriculture and Fisheries while Francis Fonseca adds Labour to his existing duties as Attorney General and Minister of Education. Other Cabinet portfolios remain unchanged although there has been some shuffling of the various minister of state portfolios usually reserved for loyal backbenchers. According to the press release Marcial Mes is reassigned to Natural Resources, Servulo Baeza to Foreign Trade and Mario Castellanos to National Development with responsibility for Rural Development. The former posts of Joe Coye and John Briceno as Ministers of State in the Ministry of Finance have been abolished but their membership in Cabinet’s Finance Committee has not been affected.

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