Opposition Leader John Briceño has described the Government as “being on crack” and desperate for money, such that it has approached the Social Security Board to buy $55 million worth of BTL and BEL shares.
Yesterday SSB chairman Douglas Singh, speaking to another media house, cited the high rate of returns on investment in the utilities and an excess level of liquidity in their system. But there are pitfalls, as Briceño explains:
John Briceno, Leader of the PUP
“Obviously they use that as a reason as to why SSB needs to buy these funds. SSB has a fiduciary responsibility to the people to protect the people’s money and you just can’t put all your eggs in one basket. As it is when these other investments go through we’re talking about 150 million dollars and that is just invested in two public utilities. We just mentioned right now that BTL is going to be saddled with another 48 million dollars of which the entire settlement was 97 million dollars Belize. The government is saying that they have decided to saddle us the Belizeans with half of that 97million dollars which I think is wrong. That has happened simply because the Government or in this case the Prime Minister made a terrible mistake when he said that he was not going to pay the loan to the British Caribbean Bank. It was only 20 million dollars USD and when he said that he would not pay it and they went to the arbitration court. Then the government decided that they have to pay it and that 20 million went to 48 million dollars USD and nobody is being held accountable for such a stupid decision that is causing the tax payers tens of millions of dollars. This government needs to be held responsible for that.”
Briceno was referring to an earlier revelation that Telemedia has officially been asked to take on responsibility for its part in the arbitration award which is yet to be completely determined – specifically the original British Caribbean Bank loan which now stands at $48.5 million to be treated as a 20-year low-interest loan with a bullet payment. Briceno shared the PUP’s concerns with regard to the potential SSB investment which has gone before its Investment Committee:
John Briceno, Leader of the PUP
“Our concern is that here we have the government dumping their shares of these public utilities to Social Security whereby they are putting our money at risk. Forty-eight million dollars BTL will be saddled with. I am calling the attention of all Belizeans to be aware of what’s going on. The government is broke, they are desperate and they are trying to do anything that’s possible to get their hands on money. Now they want to get their hands on the people’s money, the workers money and on Social Security. We are also demanding that the Social Security Board be aware that they have a fiduciary responsibility to all the workers of this country. Not because they were appointed by their political bosses that they should do what their political bosses dictates them to do. They are there to protect the interest of the workers.”
The official communication was from Financial Secretary Joseph Waight to BTL board chairman Nestor Vasquez. Briceño reports that the SSB has become a “piggy bank”, with several interests into it for millions in loans. In addition to the nearly $90 million already invested in the two utilities, there has been $2 million invested in the National Bank and 5 million dollars in the Development Finance Corporation, and the Belize City Council borrowed from SSB 600 million dollars, with proposals being entertained from the Belmopan City Council and San Ignacio/Santa Elena Town Council for loans. Briceño repeated a line from his criticism of the Budget earlier this year that Belize is “on the path to recession;” he expects a rise in General Sales Tax and implementation of other proposals by the International Monetary Fund – confirmation of mismanagement of the economy to the point where it has become a “perfect storm” for which the Government has no answers.’ He says. The PUP says it is calling on all concerned to come clean to Belizeans about the uses of “the workers’ money.“