Friday, July 19, 2024

CCJ rulings not favorable for Belize 

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Over the past few days, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has delivered judgments on matters involving the Government of Belize (GOB). The court handed down decisions unfavorable for Belize, first in the lawsuit against Trinidad and Tobago for allegedly breaching their obligations under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. The second item involved an appeal between GOB and a private landowner, the Belmopan Land Development Corporation Limited (BLDC).

The case against Trinidad and Tobago had been on trial for quite some time regarding the Chaguaramas treaty. This treaty required CARICOM states to charge 40% Common External Tariff (CET) on products like brown sugar imported from outside the Caribbean market. GOB attempted to prove in the CCJ that between November 2018 and June 2020, Trinidad and Tobago failed to charge the CET on brown sugar imported from outside the Caribbean. The Trinidadian government denied these allegations and said Belize could not prove the violation of the treaty.

After several months of deliberation, on February 1st, the court handed down its decision. CCJ President Justice Adrian Saunders explained the court found that in international law litigation, the state alleging a breach of treaty obligations by another state bears the burden of proving that allegation. “The court found that there were severe shortcomings in the evidence offered by Belize in respect of the alleged failure of Trinidad and Tobago to apply the CET and that these failures were not cured by reference to circumstantial evidence,” Saunders said. He further noted the importance of maintaining the CET, especially the importation of an extra-regional product, such as brown sugar, which is of demonstrable importance to a member-state such as Belize that manufactures it. However, the court found that the CET does not guarantee regional brown sugar producers an assured market but that those producers are entitled to the protection of the market that the CET is intended to provide. With that, the CCJ ruled in favor of Trinidad and Tobago. It is yet unknown if Belize will appeal this ruling.

The other matter was handed down on January 31st regarding a land issue between GOB and BLDC. The dispute sought monetary compensation from GOB for what it said was a compulsory acquisition of 1,394 acres of land near the Capital City of Belmopan. The legal dispute has been ongoing for years, and during that course, the previous administration took this land and reportedly distributed parcels to third parties.

The BLDC asked for compensation on the land’s market value. After calculations, the compensation was to be over $16 million. The government, however, reportedly did not want to meet this request, and BLDC sued GOB in the Supreme Court. The matter reached the CCJ, and after deliberation, Justice Saunders delivered the court’s decision. GOB was accused of failing to carry through with the compulsory acquisition process and retained possession of the land. “The court ordered GOB to make an interim payment to BLDC of $6 million less, such sums as the government has already paid on account, with interest on that sum, at 6% per annum, from the first of January 2014. GOB should take all measures, at its own expense and within a reasonable time, to survey and delineate the expropriated land, with a view to having the landowner transfer the same to the government, free from any taxes or duties in connection with the said transfer,” Saunders read.

This case is yet to be finished and has been forwarded for further hearings. GOB was represented by Assistant Solicitor General Samantha Matute-Tucker and Attorney Briana Williams. While Attorney Naima Barrow represented the appellants.

We will continue following this land issue.

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