Last week Wednesday, July 1st, the Senators convened at the National Assembly in Belmopan to debate and pass five bills brought from the House of Representatives. Three of those bills were heatedly debated. Among them were the General Revenue Supplementary appropriation bill to validate over expenditure for the years 2014 to 2015 and the controversial petro caribe loans amendment bill 2015. A division of vote was called on both bills in which Father Noel Leslie, Senator for the churches, voted, to the surprise of many, in favor of the bill being passed. Over the weekend, Father Leslie, through an official press release and backed by Bishop Dorick Wright, the leader of the Catholic Church in Belize, called for the complete repeal of the Petro Caribe Loans bill sighting it is an attempt to correct transgressions in the borrowing and spending of Public Funds. In an interview with the Prime Minister yesterday, he said he was completely taken aback by Fr. Leslie’s statement since, according to the Prime Minister, at a previous council meeting which he attended, Fr. Leslie willingly expressed his support of the amendment bill.
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister – “At the meeting that I held with the Council of Churches and the Evangelical Association, Pastor Longsworth was there for the evangelicals, Bishop Phillip Wright, Reverend Papolute, Bishop Glancy, and Father Leslie for the Council of Churches. We went through the PetroCaribe Act and we went through the amendments which I had provided beforehand. Father Leslie volunteered, without any prompting from any of the others, volunteered his satisfaction with the amendments, made clear that he always supported the PetroCaribe program but that he had had clearly, his reservations about the original act. Said that, with the amendments in his own mind it had all been clarified and he would therefore, be happy to vote for the amendments at the next session. I asked him, ‘Father, do I have your leave to say this?’ And I think I might have told you about this on camera. ‘Do I have your leave to say this when I talk to other social partners’ because I knew that there was going to be certainly a meeting with the NTUCB and he said ‘please, by all means do so because I am satisfied and that’s how I’m going to vote.’ I was therefore, a little taken aback, not that he was reversing course but that he should say that from the start, he was not personally in favor of the amendments but had determined to vote yes only because that was the wish of the other church people who were there. Again, because Bishop Glancywas present, Bishop Glancy didn’t say anything but I naturally felt that Father Leslie’s position had the support certainly of Bishop Glancy. My suspicion is that Bishop D. Wright, who clearly is still overall in charge and who has his own circle of advisors. Ultimately .. we did after presentations were mad, we knew that the PUP was very upset with Father Leslie’s vote and I suspect that that’s what produced the about face.”
In an exclusive interview earlier today, Father Leslie explained that the council of churches arrived at a yes vote to the amendments to the petrocaribe loans amendment bill and so in his capacity as a Senator representing the council, he voted yes to those amendments. However, when the Roman Catholic Church decided to ask for the repeal of the entire bill, he also represents that specific denomination as a Priest and so called for its repeal along with his bishop.
Rev. Fr. Noel Leslie – “And so we met with him and he presented them to us and we look at them and there was like a tremendous improvement in comparison to what was there before and I think it’s important to look at that. We’re looking at amendments. Either the law was left the way it was or you can say at least now, we will know what they are planning to do. There will be reports made. The Finance and Audit Act will play a role there. That’s much better than what was there before. So, in that sense, looking at the amendments, that’s where the yes went. Now, liking the law, no. We could’ve got rid of that law, go back to where it should have been in the first place. That would’ve been the nicest thing in the world but that’s not the way it works. We could either leave a thing the way it was like and not be subjected to any kind of reports, looking down the road at what’s going to be and it could’ve been that way or you could say, well okay, you have made some amendments, now let’s see you follow through. It’s not the best thing in the world, it’s not perfect but it’s better than nothing. But I must say one thing, at that meeting with the Prime Minister, he was very cordial you know. Despite everything that went on before and he himself was a bit apologetic for his behavior that emotionally, you know, sometimes you get carried away but he was respectful. I must say that.”
Fr. Noel Leslie said that there will be the need for further elaboration on the PetroCaribe amendment bill at the next council meeting.