GOB passes bill to immunize Central Bank reserves
Thursday, February 2nd, 2017
On Friday, January 27th, the Government of Belize (GOB) held an emergency sitting of the House of Representatives and introduced a bill to protect the Central Bank of Belize reserves. The move by Prime Minister Dean Barrow was considered to secure the reserves from Ashcroft Alliance, who is seeking enforcement to have the Belize Government pay US$50 million dollars in arbitration awards ordered by US Court.
The bill, known as ‘A Bill for an Act to restate for greater certainty the immunity of the Central Bank of Belize for legal proceeding with other states,’ is expected to criminalize any attempt to enforce access to the reserves. At the House Sitting last week, the bill breezed through the session, and even though the Opposition only had a first look at it, they pledged their full support.
Barrow explained the urgency of the situation by stating that British billionaire Michael Ashcroft and his associates are already seeking other ways to force Belize to pay the arbitration award. “Those entities filed a motion in the district court in Washington D.C to be allowed to enforce those judgements against the government of Belize,” said Barrow. “Nothing so far in the proceedings that have taken place in the United States mentioned the Central Bank of Belize, but we believe that once they obtain the order for enforcement of the judgement, they will seek to attack the holdings of the Central Bank of Belize.” Barrow argues that the country will not pay for such arbitration awards on the basis that local courts in Belize have ruled them unlawful, and unconstitutional.
On Monday, January 30th, the Bill was rushed to the Senate for a further debate. Once again it did not face any resistance and received the full support from the Opposition the People’s United Party (PUP), social partners and members of the current administration. However, there were still a few concerns regarding the uneven results that this new legislation can bring for the country.
At the meeting, Honourable Osmany Salas, the 13th Senator shared his views in regards to the Act to protect the reserves. “I don’t think we have much of a choice,” he said. “We may in fact be forced to support the bill due to the exigencies of the situation.” He also suggested that the former PUP government should be called out for the reckless and secretive alliance they arranged with the Ashcroft Companies.
Government Senator Aldo Salazar indicated that Belizeans should resist any attempt from these foreign entities to collect those large sums of money. “Our court had said these awards are undemocratic, void and null,” he said.
PUP Senator Honourable Valerie Woods criticized the situation by saying that only a few people benefit from these cases. “Only lawyers benefit from these types of bills, including those who are relatives to the Prime Minister or who work for Belize Telemedia,” she said.
Before the session was over, PUP Senator Honourable Eamon Courtenay expressed his disagreement with the bill. He emphasized that because he is one of the attorneys for the Ashcroft Alliance, his reputation is in danger. “In my personal and professional capacity, I am affected by the legislation that is before the Senate,” Courtenay said. “It threatens personal criminalization of me, and it threatens my practice of law. But we cannot avoid the fact that these agreements were signed, no one can deny that fact.” Courtenay added that GOB had its chance to challenge the agreements and subsequent arbitrations to protect the interests of the country, but they did not.
“When the day was called for defending Belize’s assets in the arbitration proceedings, no one went,” he said.
At the end of the debate, a division was called for all Senate members to cast their vote. As in the same case with the Sitting at the House of Representatives, all Senators voted in favour. The bill is now waiting the Governor General’s assent before it becomes law.
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