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Chief Justice upholds right of Parliament to vote funds for U.H.S. debt

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Posted: Friday, January 10, 2020. 5:04 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin has ruled that the Ministry of Finance is not in breach of any law or duty to pay the $90 million-plus interest due to the Belize Bank Limited and others after it voted last year not to do so.

This afternoon, Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte told reporters that in a brief ruling, the Chief Justice stated that no member of the Executive, particularly the Minister of Finance, “can get engaged in any transaction or any business with anybody for an amount of money that must be first voted for by the Parliament…the Parliament has simply not voted for that, and neither the courts nor the Minister of Finance [is] in a position to tell Parliament what to do. And 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’d 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 the stand-off remains, the debt including interest grows, and the companies involved, Peyrefitte believes, will push the matter further.

The vote was held in May of 2018, and Peyrefitte suggests a new Parliament may have a different view. But this one, he insists, “has said we will not vote to procure monies for what we believe was an illegal transaction.”

The Government still believes, said Peyrefitte, that the transaction was not at arms’ length, and is not prepared to sanction such. One possible avenue to reducing the funds is the Bank not paying its taxes; in that case, Peyrefitte suggests, “the debt will slowly be paying down; if they continue to do that, then they can no longer claim they have a debt to be paid. I guess it would be wound down until the debt is ultimately satisfied if that is the course they continue to take.”

The Attorney General is expecting the case to be appealed. Attorney for the Bank and others, Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, was not available for comment this afternoon.

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