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Opposition says PM Barrow may face criminal sanction over Petrocaribe

Andrew Marshalleck

Andrew Marshalleck

Andrew Marshalleck

Wednesday, November 5, 2014. AARON HUMES Reporting: The People’s United Party alleges violations of the Finance and Audit Reform Act by Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow, in relation to a belated loan motion before the House of Representatives.

That Loan Motion comes up for debate when the House of Representatives meets on November 18 and seeks retroactive approval of the drawing down of $60 million from the Consolidated Revenue Fund identified as coming from the proceeds of Petrocaribe oil sales.

Dean Barrow

Dean Barrow

The PUP is seeking an injunction in court to prevent further spending without House approval.

But what about the criminal sanctions contained in the Finance and Audit Reform Act?

Julius Espat

Julius Espat

PUP deputy leader Julius Espat, reminded that violations carry a prison term and heavy fine instituted by the current administration.

But Party Leader Francis Fonseca says the party does not contemplate following through on criminal sanctions, saying they first want accountability for the funds.

But as far as Espat is concerned, the Prime Minister’s hands are already dirty.

“I consider him a criminal,” were his blunt words at the press conference in summary of the Prime Minister’s actions.

Lead counsel on the case, Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck, says the Government’s actions are wrong-headed, as the monies should have been placed in the separate Development Fund and approval should have been sought right away and not belatedly.

The language of the Act, he says, does not contemplate belated approval of loan drawdowns or borrowing outside of commercial banks and capital markets.

The party also contends that the Government has become “complacent” about its approach, using the Petrocaribe monies for “quick fixes” rather than long-term solutions to economic development.

Marshalleck quoted from the Belize Bank Limited case decided by the CCJ on a deed of settlement in 2013 where Justice Adrian Saunders described “Prime Ministerial governance [and] a paucity of checks and balances to restrain an overweening executive” as “malignant tumors that eat away at democracy”, a line repeatedly relied on by the Prime Minister in criticizing the actions of the past administration.

As for those past actions, the Petrocaribe program began under the PUP in 2007.

Some $39 million was raised but the current administration says it cannot see where the money was spent.

At the party’s press conference on Tuesday current leader Francis Fonseca said the matter was neither here nor there in respect of their current efforts to demand accountability.

He said that in 2014 the party “draws the line” as the Belizean people demand better from politicians of either stripe.

According to counsel on the case Godfrey Smith, the press should not fall for a favorite tactic of the P.M., especially since they brought the matter forward; that tactic, according to Smith is that Prime Minister Barrow likes to dismiss critical actions in court and then complain about the judgments afterward.

No date has been set for the hearing.

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