Friday, May 22nd, 2015. By G Michael Reid:
A while ago, journalist extraordinaire Glenn Tillett told me a story that has resonated over time. According to Glenn, there was a farmer who lived out in the country on a farm with lots of animals. Eventually, the farmer met a girl and they got married. Unfortunately, the house in which he lived, while okay for him, was way too small for his new wife’s liking. He promised her that he would build a bigger house but as time went by, the wife realized that her husband had no intention of making good on this promise. She began to constantly complain and her incessant nagging began driving the old farmer insane.
One day, after listening to his wife carry on seemingly without end, the farmer went outside and brought the cow into the house. Well, as could be expected, the wife went berserk since the already teeming quarters had now become even more cramped. She increased her nagging and the next day the farmer went out and brought in the horse. The more she complained, the more animals came into the house; he brought in the pigs and after that the chickens. This of course, meant that there was now hardly enough room in the house to move and the wife wondered if her husband had totally lost it.
They lived like that for a couple of weeks and all the while the wife kept on complaining and complaining. One day the husband came home and without warning, moved all the animals out of the house. The wife was relieved and extremely grateful for the much needed space in her home. She thanked her husband for being so considerate and kind and they lived happily ever after in the same tiny little shack that was once so impossible to live in.
There are ironic similarities between that story and what is happening now in Belize. Prime Minister Dean Barrow recently announced that he would be going to the House at the end of June and it seems that he will be taking the animals out of the house. The original house however, that being the original intent of his Petro Caribe Act, will remain the same. Unfortunately for Mr. Barrow, unlike the naïve little woman who married the farmer, there are those in Belize who are seeing through his chicanery.
It has become abundantly clear that the primary reasons for Dean Barrow’s Petro Caribe Act was to make legal that which was obviously illegal and also to give him unfettered access to Petro Caribe money. In 2005, after Belizeans took to the streets to protest plenteous borrowing and wasteful spending, the government of the day was forced to pass the Finance and Audit Reform Act of 2005 (FARA). The Act was in response to a call for more accountability and transparency in government spending and to ensure that any exorbitant borrowing was first approved by the House.
Section 7 (2) of FARA states specifically that: “Any agreement, contract or instrument effecting any such borrowing or loan to the government of or to the equivalent of ten million dollars shall only be validly entered into pursuant to a resolution of the National Assembly authorizing the Government to raise the loan or to borrow the money”. Since 2012, this government has borrowed in excess of 300 million dollars from Venezuela.
In October of last year, after Belize’s loan from Venezuela had climbed to well over two hundred million, Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee Julius Espat filed a lawsuit claiming that the Prime Minster was being “unlawful according to the Finance and Audit Act”. A few weeks after the suit was filed, the wily Dean Barrow quickly prepared a Bill and presented it to the House of Representative seeking approval to borrow same money; that which he had not only already borrowed but much of which he had already spent. The same Petro Caribe money was then spent to mobilize and fund a big rally at the foot of the National Assembly while the three required readings of the Bill were rushed through inside in one sitting.
Realizing though, that that still did not go far enough and that the suit in court had a good chance of succeeding, Barrow went back to the House. This time on March 26th, and despite strong objections from the Opposition People’s United Party, Mr. Barrow pushed through another Bill which gave him wide access to Petro Caribe monies. The Bill additionally legitimizes government spending of the Petro Caribe funds retroactive to September of 2012 when the program was restarted. This then in effect, basically covered his ass for crimes committed and which I personally believe was the initial and primary objective of that whole exercise.
The irony here is that it was this very Prime Minister who in 2012 might have cut his own switch when he passed an amendment to the Finance and Audit Reform Act. At that time, the Act was amended to “provide sanctions for a violation of the provisions of the Act”. Those sanctions are to include penalties of fines and confinement for not only the perpetrator but for any who knowingly involves themselves in such a violation. This would no doubt include the Financial Secretary and is there any wonder that this FS has been so vigilant in trying to convince people that all is above board?
The Prime Minister is now saying look, since you are complaining so much I’ll make you happy. I will put the money in the Consolidated Fund (as is required by the Constitution anyway), and thereby making it subject to the scrutiny of the Finance and Audit Reform Act. That is all good and well but that does not go far enough. Mr. Barrow will still allow himself to borrow money from Petro Caribe in any amounts without authority of the National Assembly and will be able to spend in anyway he damn well pleases. This crazy “Prime Ministerial” law; this “malignant tumor that eat away at democracy” “is indeed repugnant to the established legal order of Belize” and must be repealed in its entirety.
Mose Hyde on his “Wake Up Belize” morning talk show gave an even better analogy. He compared what is happening here to a man who is selling you a used car. Upon buying the car, you find that the transmission is not working so you complain to the vendor. He then takes the car and fixes the horn and he installs air-conditioning and he cleans up the rims. He then brings the car back to you and expects you to be happy and satisfied. All that is good and well but the main problem yet persist and the car won’t go. Regardless of how the Prime Minister pretties up this law, it is a bad law and should be rejected outright. It is a major step toward dictatorship and Belizeans must put all biases aside, put all political differences aside and completely reject this law.
I do not believe that the Prime Minister ever expected to get away with this law in its initial form. What is interesting and concerning was to watch how his minions and trough-feeders have lined up to support this law; even in its extreme form. The Prime Minister has stated in his usual arrogant stance that “there is not a chance in hell that there will be any repeal of the PetroCaribe loans act.” Well, let’s test that because come “hell or high water”, this law cannot be allowed to stand. May GOD bless Belize!
[The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of the Belize Media Group].
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