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Senate Special Select Committee’s third meeting postponed to February 14 over quorum issues

Posted: Thursday, January 25, 2024. 10:17 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: A notice from the National Assembly on Wednesday announced that the third public hearing of the Senate Special Select Committee had been postponed to February 14.

According to the official notice, “Some members of the Committee are sick, traveling and going through family emergencies which have resulted in a lack of quorum for the Public Hearing to be held.” The Committee has seven members, of which a majority of four are needed to establish quorum.

Chair Janelle Chanona told reporters that the witnesses scheduled to be heard from on Wednesday would be called back: “I can tell you that the membership is very, very keen on moving this process expeditiously along and it is indeed disappointing that today’s session was forced to be postponed and we will be moving to make sure that that does not happen again in the future if at all it can be avoided.”

While she did not confirm the witness list, expected names include former Ministers of Government Erwin Contreras, who signed the Portico Definitive Agreement, and Hugo Patt, who as former Minister of Natural Resources signed off on 17 private land transfers of 50-acre plots that became the Portico properties. The land transfers were all approved one week before the 2020 general elections. They drew a lot of scrutiny for a number of reasons, not least of which is that the approved sale price for the parcels were all under 20,000 thousand dollars – which meant they would not attract stamp duty.

But on Tuesday, Opposition Leader Moses “Shyne” Barrow said he had ‘advised’ Patt to keep silent, or at least not incriminate himself before the Committee: “He will speak about nothing because the terms of reference for the Senate inquiry makes absolutely no mention of any land transactions. If the Briceno administration want to talk about land transactions that were conducted by the honorable member from Corozal North, then they could convene a commission of inquiry and take the risks that they won’t lose in a court of law if they don’t convene it properly…Obviously he has to show up because you have to respect the summons. But I have advised him not to answer anything and I believe his lawyer will advise him as such. I can’t speak for [his lawyer].”

And on Wednesday, UDP Chairman and Lead Opposition Senator Michael Peyrefitte reiterated the party’s call for the Prime Minister himself to appear: “They were so gung-ho about it and they seemed so aggressive in summoning Erwin Contreras and Hugo Patt and they seem very nonchalant in wanting to hear from the prime minister himself, who was the one who took the document, the Definitive Agreement, as well as proposed legislative draftings to the Cabinet to be passed.”

But Chanona refused to be drawn into any back-and-forth over the issue: “I think everybody is entitled to their beliefs, we can only operate as guided by the constitution and the constitution makes very clear what we can do and whom we can call.  And I will leave it there.”

 

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