UDP officials offer legal interpretation of Petrocaribe Loans Act

Tuesday, April 21st 2015. Aaron Humes Reporting: On Monday morning, legal advisor to the United Democratic Party (UDP) Senior Counsel Michael Young and Financial Secretary to the Government of Belize Joseph Waight appeared on LOVE FM’s morning show to present the Government’s take on the Petro Caribe Loans Act, 2015, passed to controversial circumstances last month on the heels of the budget. joseph waight

Today they were on KREM Radio’s morning show and afterward spoke with the press including PLUS News. According to Young, the party and the Government, which in this case are not mutually exclusive, wish to correct misconceptions about the necessity and reach of the Act, which has been widely condemned as overreach by a Government seen as breaking the law.

But Young argues to the contrary, that Government has been forthcoming with details of the projects, provided a wide variety of jobs particularly in Belize City, and that the fundamental procedures ordered by the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act have not been changed or superseded. But is the Government using the argument of public good to make excuses for not following the law?

Young drew comparison to the events that led to the passage of the original Finance and Audit Act, saying that the former administration allowed and in some cases condoned excessive and fraudulent and spending. This administration, he says, has tried to be more scrupulous in its handling of all national finances.

michael youngYoung points out that the Government is still obliged to report spending on the Petro Caribe funds and had previously done so through loan motions and supplementary allocations. However, the new Act establishes special provisions relating to the Petro Caribe funds and Young argues that this is a special case, but at the same time it is not different from acts related to concessions for investors under the Income Tax Act, for instance.

Young also says the Act was needed to forestall any legal attempt to stop the flow of Petro Caribe funds, making specific reference to the lawsuit filed by Cayo South area representative and chair of the Public Accounts Committee Julius Espat which awaits adjudication in the courts. He insists that in the end it is all about “the public good” – needed infrastructure and jobs.

Secretary Waight held that the Government has to wait for as much as two months to learn exactly what will be constituted as a loan from APBEL, the company which directly deals with importation under the Petro Caribe program and also takes a fee off the top. However, the Government is impatient to continue its work with the program and the proof is before your eyes. According to Waight, measures such as retrospectively are necessary to cover the Government’s back for any prior mistakes.

According to Waight Belize has borrowed a total of $270 million and has spent about $110 million, per the report laid during the House debate in March, leaving $160 million in the Consolidated Revenue Fun at present, and the Prime Minister will periodically update those figures.

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