Francis Fonseca defends signing of the BISL agreement

Yesterday we gave you a rundown of the Leader of the Opposition Francis Fonseca’s response to Prime Minister Dean Barrow calling him and former Prime Minister Said Musa out on Wednesday. The Prime Minister said in that Press conference that the two former Ministers signed a ‘secret’ agreement to extend the life of a contract with a company partially owned by interests of Lord Michael Ashcroft; and this without consulting the rest of the Cabinet. Here is Hon. Fonseca’s response.

Hon. Francis Fonseca – Leader Of The Opposition:
vlcsnap-2013-06-14-18h47m19s217The substantive issue he raised in terms of this allegation of some secret agreement, well, the original agreement was signed in 1993, ten years ago even before I became a member of parliament.  The letter that he is talking about, the letter of 2005 which extended the agreement another 7 years, it was absolutely not a secret; this was a letter and agreement vetted by the Attorney General ministry and the Solicitor General.  At the time it was vetted by the official Ministry of Finance, it went through the Cabinet as I indicated yesterday. I remember that discussion very well in Cabinet because I was wearing two hats at the time, the Attorney General’s hat and the Minister of Education’s hat and we had a discussion about the entity, the company and the effectiveness of the company, how they had been performing, what sort of revenues were being brought in; it was of course a new international financial services company. 

According to Fonseca, their main concern was rewarding a company that was performing well and giving Belize a bright name in the international financial services sector. As for the other charges raised by the Prime Minister, Fonseca contends that he nor any other member of the National Assembly was informed of these issues.

Hon. Francis Fonseca – Leader Of The Opposition:
I’m not privy to all the information that the Government has.  Mr Barrow had indicated that it is an urgent requirement for him to do this. I would have respected that had he briefed the National Assembly on the matter, and giving us the reasons and rational for why he thinks it’s an urgent matter.  If he had briefed me, called me, and talked to me about the matter, instead of going out there raising a bogus issue, trying to divert attention away from what he was doing.  If he had come out and said these are the reasons we need to do it, instead of trying to muddy the waters and try to create mischief, it is something certainly that I have said from the very beginning, I would have been open to listening and understanding the reasons behind it. But the truth is we’ve got no briefing from the Government.  The Members of the National Assembly have heard nothing from the Government on this matter.  The only thing we’ve heard is what you’ve heard in the media.

Fonseca denied knowing of any “side agreements” that the March 24, 2005 letter would have validated, specifically the sale of BTL shares to another Ashcroft company, E-Com Limited, nor that the Government was trying to avoid the passing of the revised Finance and Audit Act which coincidentally took place on the same day, March 24, but was not formally law until April 1. As for why the agreement was extended before its expiration in 1993, Fonseca could not say, but he explained his rationale for the further extension in 2005.

Hon. Francis Fonseca – Leader Of The Opposition:
I encountered an agreement that had been signed and executed.  The question before me, and the question before the professionals at the Attorney Generals office and the Ministry of Finance was in 2005, that was the only question before me, was could this contract by letter be extended for a further seven years?
I’m not aware of 1993 rational for extending it at that time, from 1990 to 93.  That’s what I just enplaned. My involvement and my concern was 2005, and whether of not we were able to extend it for a further seven years.

He issued a challenge to any former members of the Musa Cabinet who have a different recollection of events and evidence to come forward. But he did note that perhaps the then-administration should not have signed an agreement that would bind multiple future administrations, saying that it was part of the overall negotiations between the Government and BISL.

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