Questions on Petro Caribe spending

PertoCaribe funds are set aside for infrastructure and the development of the country. Or is it? In recent news, scandalous media reports have been made that $20M has been used from the PetroCaribe fund to pay off salaries.   At least, that’s what this statement of account from Central Bank leaked to the media suggests has been happening in March 2014 and 2015. The document first surfaced on Krem’s WUB Morning show on June 1st, and it showed a transaction report for government’s general operating account. It showed that $20M was transferred from the Petro account to meet salary requirements for March 2014 and March 2015.  Due to the new Petrocaribe Act 2015 which was recently passed, Minister of Finance Prime Minister Dean Barrow, has the power to contract PetroCaribe debt and to spend those funds without prior approval from Parliament, even when the amount exceeds the $10 million threshold. Prime Minister Dean Barrow also stated that the PetroCaribe funds cannot, and will not be used to pay salaries. Now, the $20M supposedly used for the payment of salaries is just the tip of the iceberg. There have been 16 other withdrawals over a 2 year period which amounted to $M140,000,000, 13 withdrawals of which were for M$10,000,000 or less.  And what about the other 3 withdrawals? Well, 1 of them was M$20,000,000 which was believed to have been used for the payment of salaries in March of 2014. Then on December 17th 2013, the Government of Belize pulled  M$10,000,000 from the Petro fund for  ‘Special Community Assistance’. Twenty four hours after that, December 18th, they pulled another M$10,000,000, but this time for ‘debt services’. The government’s explanation for all of this cash being withdrawn is simply that the PertoCaribe fund is reimbursing them for the money spent out of the Government’s pockets. Then there is the issue of the  ongoing problem with the CPBL. If you remember last year, the Citrus Industry was in a bad financial position so the Government sent $M4,000,000 their way which would later be paid off by the industry. In a press conference last year about where the money would come from, there was not much say about the money coming from the PetroCarib fund. So the question that everyone is asking is, “Why was public funds used to assist a Private Organization?” Doug Singh, chairman of the CPBL tried to answer this question by saying, and we quote.  “In an effort to bring everybody to the table the prime minister committed a four million dollar advance on the condition that we could agree to a Memorandum of Understanding that puts a new board in place that puts the company on the right path.  That was done and the government advanced four million dollars.  This had to be done to deal with the short term cash crunch and in the interim Social Security [Board] would negotiate with First Caribbean Bank on the buyout of their loan and we did so at a discount.”  Government chastised Krem for discussing the leaked Central Bank document saying that their discussion was based on “ignorance”.  Host of the Krem WUB morning show agreed that it was out of ignorance saying that if the petrocaribe loans were taken to the House in the first place, there would be knowledge of the spending and not ignorance; a clear indictment of the Government for undisclosed spending of public funds.

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