On Monday morning, legal advisor to the United Democratic Party (UDP) Senior Counsel Michael Young and Financial Secretary to the Government of Belize Joseph Waight appeared on LOVE FM‘s morning show to present the Government’s take on the Petrocaribe Loans Act, 2015, passed to controversial circumstances last month on the heels of the budget. Today they were on KREM Radio‘s morning show and afterward spoke with the press. According to Young, the party and the Government, which in this case are not mutually exclusive, wish to correct misconceptions about the necessity and reach of the Act, which has been widely condemned as overreach by a Government seen as breaking the law. But Young argues to the contrary, that Government has been forthcoming with details of the projects, provided a wide variety of jobs particularly in Belize City, and that the fundamental procedures ordered by the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act have not been changed or superseded. But is the Government using the argument of public good to make excuses for not following the law? Young disagrees, drawing comparison to the events that led to the passage of the original Finance and Audit Act.
“You are talking about corruption. In fact in 2005, why there was the upheaval which lead to the Finance and Audit act is that, we had these secret deals that we kept waking up to every morning. We were talking about deals that we did not know anything about… like the settlement deed and the accommodation agreement. That has not been the practice of the U.D.P government at all. In fact, the Prime Minister has made it appoint , even before the Petrocaribe Loan Act was pass, of bringing the project to the public notice and knowledge and certainly, from the top, you will not have these secret corrupt deals. That’s not the issue here. It is a totally different situation. ”
Young points out that the Government is still obliged to report spending on the Petrocaribe funds and had previously done so through loan motions and supplementary allocations. However, the new Act establishes special provisions relating to the Petrocaribe funds and Young argues that this is a special case, but at the same time it is not different from acts related to concessions for investors under the Income Tax Act, for instance.
Michael Young – Legal Adviser, U.D.P.
“There is no repeal of the Finance and Audit Act. It is merely that this is a unique case and special legislation has been passed to deal with the unique case. It happens in so many things… It happens in relation to the Income Tax Act which has to do with public funds. Now the act provides, that is the Income Tax Act that everybody pays tax in a certain way and at a certain amount, where you have a unique project then a special act is passed so that the project can come in. Sometimes you have to give investors, whether foreign or local, special concessions. A unique situation was created by the Petrocaribe project and Mr. Waight himself explains that and says that it would have created a problem having to observe the requirements of the Finance and Audit Act. And so it is not anything that is either sinister or difficult.”
Young also says the Act was needed to forestall any legal attempt to stop the flow of Petrocaribe funds, making specific reference to the lawsuit filed by Cayo South area representative and chair of the Public Accounts Committee Julius Espat. Secretary Waight said the Government has the authority to correct its previous mistakes.
“For the borrowing. But the thing is it’s not a secret, government still reports. Okay, the two years government is correcting now the two-year lapse by going retroactively.”
“How can you correct what’s wrong?”
“You can, a government has…”
“If they have broken the law or if they’ve made a, they went against the law then how can they now go back, and I mean to say, so the government has the power to…”
“The government has the authority. Look at the nationalizations, I draw a parallel there. The courts found that the nationalization wasn’t proper, the government went back and did it again. I mean, the government just has the [power] once it goes to parliament it can do that.”