Posted: Wednesday, July 1, 2020. 11:45 am CST.
By Aaron Humes: From Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s tart summary last Friday – “won’t pay, can’t pay. End of story” – to Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte’s slightly more welcoming summation – “…we are bound by the decision and whatever assessment the Supreme Court comes with down the road, or maybe even then CCJ themselves come with down the road, the government of Belize will have to find the money to pay the damages. And then after that whichever parliament is responsible at that time will have to decide either to vote for the money or not vote for the money” – the Government is rebalancing after the body blow of another multi-million judgment made against it by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
A four-member panel of the court ruled on Tuesday that the Government erred in taking over management of the IMMARBE and IBC registries previously managed by Belize International Services Limited (BISL) since 1993, arguing that the subsequent extension of the management services agreement in 2005 was unlawful and illegal and took away monies rightfully belonging to the Government.
CCJ Justice Peter Jamadar was particularly scathing, stating in his judgment that Government failed to reasonably try to resolve its issues with BISL and that the appropriations were unilateral, high-handed, arbitrary and inconsistent with the standards of good governance and abuse of power by the State. In Jamadar’s observation, “Taken together these constitute a serious threat to, and undermining of, fundamental and core constitutional values and principles. They also weaken the integrity of the legal system, especially if the government is permitted to enjoy exemption from its failure to comply with the rule of law obligations in this case. And as well, left unaccounted for they diminish constitutional faith and public trust and hence democratic legitimacy.”
But how much is on the table? Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, who appeared for BISL at all stages of the case, stated that during arguments in the lower courts, Government’s expert stipulated to a minimum figure of US$24 million (BZ$48 million), a little more than half of BISL’s claim of US$45 million (BZ $90 million). This covers losses in the period 2013 to present.
Shortly after the judgment was handed down, Courtenay asked the court for consequential orders requiring that the assessment of damages to be done in the Supreme Court based on the CCJ’s record, which includes the arguments on assessment; restraining Government from introducing new evidence; and asking for an expedited hearing, citing the Government’s unwillingness to pay the debts owed to Cruise Solutions and Belize Bank on behalf of Universal Health Services (the latter was rejected by the House in a motion presented by the Prime Minister). His formal request will be submitted on Thursday afternoon, July 2, and the Government replies by July 13.
Courtenay concluded, “I would describe it as roguish and thuggish behavior and the type of behavior that does not inspire confidence in any investor or any Belizean. If you have an agreement and somebody has a dispute with it, you go to court to have it resolved. Our government decides that it is going to take it by force and now the court decided that that was unlawful and it has been sent back to the Supreme Court for the damages to be assessed… I think it is once again a very sad day for Belize where the Caribbean Court of Justice has used such strong language condemning the behavior of the government, the unlawful, continuing unlawful behavior of the government, and secondly which is just as important is the cost that the country of Belize is being called upon to pay because Mr. Barrow is taking these obviously unlawful decisions. I mean, you know, one has to start to wonder whether there is some misfeasance here, whether somebody has to be held responsible for all of these hundreds of millions of dollars. These are issues which will have to become live and the Belizean people will have to decide who pays for all of this.”
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