On Tuesday, Prime Minister Dean Barrow gave the press a preview of his arguments to be presented today in defense of his actions with regard to the Petrocaribe Loan Program and the recent passage of the Petrocaribe Loan Act, 2015. Today he mounted that defense with the gusto resulting from successive election victories and the feeling of confidence that inspires. In explaining the origin of the Act, the Prime Minister indicated that while they had already gone to the House of Representatives seeking approval under the Finance and Audit Reform Act, the uniqueness of Petrocaribe necessitated a return.
”So we did this, remember that when we went to parliament we also passed supplementary appropriation acts detailing for the national assembly and the nation of every last dollar that up to that point in time had been spent on PetroCaribe. So we also got by way of the resolutions retrospective parliamentary approval for the spendin. There the matter should have rested but the P.U.P who as I said had signed the original PetroCaribe agreement collected the 40 Million dollars and never ever gone to the national assembly for approval or even reporting, insisted that they would still legally seek to kill the program. They said that the resolutions that we passed could not purporting to have retrospective effect, could not have retrospective effect because in law resolutions of the house, as opposed to substantive laws of the house can’t be made with retrospective effect, well there’s a case with Antigua and Barbuda that says otherwise.”
The Act, says the Prime Minister, applies more going forward than it does retrospectively.
“So the new act only retrospectively validates and allows going forward, the ability of government to borrow from PetroCaribe without prior house approval. It does not exempt the spending as opposed to the borrowing from Four Square. All the provisions of the Finance and Audit Act as they have repeatedly said this sort of flow through in terms of the government system when money is being spent continues in full measure with full force under the Finance and Audit act and under all government procedures, the storage orders, the finance orders, the requirements, the duties of the accounting officers, all that is very much in place and is the only matrix in the context of which we can spend the PetroCaribe monies.”
Later in his presentation P.M. Barrow quoted figures fast and furious as to how the monies were spent – millions here, millions there, $126 million everywhere and much more to come. But in an effort to show the Government’s prudence and recognition of the possible finality of this boon, the P.M. announced concrete plans in relation to savings for payment of the expected compensation for nationalized Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) and Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL).
“Furthermore, I have already undertaken and repeat today that I will return to parliament every three months to report on both the collection and spending on PertoCaribe money. Finally, it is simply not the case that we’re spending the money wildly, and now I am clutching for support Carla, not in terms of my argument but in terms of my back and my posture. In terms of our budget picture, PetroCaribe spending represents less than four cents of each dollar that we spend as of the end of Febuary, and I will pass out this hand out because again we are transparent. There is nothing to conceal. As of the end of February 2015 the total collected from PertroCaribe since the resart was 285.6million Belize, of that we had spent 126Million or less than half end of February. The balance is sitting(does this sound like wild spending) in the Central Bank boosting our reserves and we will continue to keep the great assure of that balance as a rainy day fund and to pay a sizeable portion of the compensation due to the nationalization of the BTL and BEL.”
After 2017, a majority of the money will be saved to provide funds for buying back the Superbond commercial debt and reducing obligations therein. In discussing why the Government chose to spend the monies obtained thus far mostly on infrastructure rather than other social services, the Prime Minister said he was open to other options, but retained the final say.