Today was the date set for the trial of the lawsuit filed by member of the House of Representatives for Cayo South, Honorable Julius Espat against Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Economic Development Honorable Dean Barrow. Over vociferous objections, the Prime Minister has pushed through first a motion authorizing loans from ALBA Petrocaribe Belize Energy Limited under an agreement entered into in 2012, then a law, the Petrocaribe Loans Act of 2015, which gave retroactive and future approval for such loans, and most recently, amended that law with the intent of further clarifying its intents and purposes. However, neither side is ready for trial, and the Court’s calendar is so full that Justice Courtney Abel could only agree to a date in December – the first and second, respectively – for trial. What’s taking so long, especially on a matter of such public interest? That’s what we asked the attorneys for both sides, starting with Jarrard Ysaguirre, who held brief for Senior Counsel Denys Barrow on behalf of the Prime Minister and Attorney General.
“The court had made certain orders for the claimant to file separate…amend their submissions and that has not been complied with. And so the claimant came to asking the court for the opportunity, for the matter to be adjourned and given the opportunity to comply with the court orders and the court proceeded to grant that adjournment and give new dates.”
“Do you think that it is necessary for us to be spending so much time and the court…you need to make judicious time of the court’s usage?”
“Yes, we do need to make judicious time of the court usage, but simply put, I think that’s a matter that is better that you should ask the claimant.”
For the other side, Senior Counsel Magali Marin-Young held brief for Espat and fellow Senior Counsels Eamon Courtenay and Andrew Marshalleck. She says that the advancing of the legislative process is as much to blame.
“Following the legislative process, government has not even gazetted the amendment to the Finance and Reform Act. So we don’t even have a complete legislative process so that’s one of the reasons why it was adjourned. As well as other lead members of this team underestimated the time to get ready for trial; had other major cases come up, but we will be ready next time at the hearing.”
“Is the claimant serious about this case and getting it dealt with properly?”
“Yes, the claimant is very serious. This case is a very serious case; has major national implications in terms of spending of public money. So it is very important, it is just supervening events and as you can appreciate the legislative process has not yet been completed.”
Stevanni Duncan held brief for Rodwell Williams on behalf of ALBA Petrocaribe who is also a defendant in the case. The two sides will meet a week before trial on November 23 at which time the claim may be struck out if the claimants are not ready. In court, Justice Abel said that while the legislation, except as interpreted, is not his domain, the arguments and litigation are and there will be serious consequences as a result of any further delay. While it was not discussed by Marin Young, there are rumblings of dissension that may see the two lead Senior Counsels step back. We also understand that party leader and Leader of the Opposition Francis Fonseca may want to join the claim as a party but that has not been confirmed. The November 17, 2014 motion authorized spending of over $230 million dating back to 2010, which paid for many projects including the starting of the National Bank, infrastructural improvements and building of sporting facilities under the Belize Infrastructure Limited (BIL). Prime Minister Barrow has said that the Government has been accountable for each Petrocaribe dollar it spends, approved by the Venezuelan Government, and that Belizeans do not care much about how the money is spent because the improvements can be seen.