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Supreme Court continues injunction on stevedores’ payment

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Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2022. 10:47 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The supplementary appropriations bill presented on Tuesday in the House of Representatives and expected to be approved in the Senate this coming Friday did not come in time to halt the Supreme Court from keeping an injunction continuing payment of $1.5 million from Government to stevedores through the Christian Workers’ Union (CWU).

Senior Counsel Godfrey Smith, representing the Port of Belize Limited and receiver Arturo Vasquez, told Channel 5 News this evening that his clients had properly satisfied the court that “there is a serious question to be looked into. We did not have to resolve it once and for all, that will come at the later stage when the matter comes on, the hearing, the full constitutional motion on, I believe, it’s the tenth and the eleventh of May.”

According to Smith, the question continues the litigation before Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin on how to handle supplementary appropriations and the Court has a fresh chance to offer the opinion that Benjamin never perfected.

The former Attorney General argued that, “This case isn’t really about whether persons should get an ex gratia payment or not. Really, what this whole case is about is the manner in which you go about making expenditure of public monies, taxpayers’ monies from the public purse. As you are aware, quite coincidentally and separate from this case, it so happened that the issue remains in public discourse based on other cases that were involved. So, it comes at a very opportune time because, as has been reported on various radio stations, the judgment of former Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin where he made certain pronouncements in terms of whether you could validate expenditure with supplementary appropriations, some doubt has been thrown into because of the failure of a perfected order and so on. So, the issue, the law remains unsettled and it needs to be clarified.”

Specifically, Smith points to the need to obtain “unforeseen and urgent expenditure” from a Contingencies Fund now officially established by the Government and not the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Alternatively, the warrant and appropriation must satisfy certain requirements under Section 5 of the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act which they argue it does not; and in any event it appears the Contingencies Fund is not properly populated.

Smith did not comment on reports from the Union that it was being prevented from doing business with all accounts it has at other banks apart from the National Bank where the payout was stored; nor that at the time of the case being filed and injunction being sought in February, nothing actually prevented the Union from progressing with its plans.

The full case is to be heard on May 10 and 11.

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