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| Julius Espat Sues P.M. Barrow Over Petrocaribe Funds
Oct 29, 2014
Prime Minister Dean Barrow, as Minister of Finance, is being taken to court over what the Opposition says is the unlawful borrowing of two hundred and twenty-eight million dollars of Petrocaribe funds, and the use of an undisclosed portion of that total. The claimant is PAC Chairman Julius Espat and the suit was filed on Tuesday afternoon. The contention is that the loan agreement between G.O.B. and Petrocaribe is not valid since it never went before the House for approval. Espat is basically petitioning the court for a declaration that any use of the funds, absent the approval of the National Assembly, was unlawful according to the Finance and Audit Act. And for that reason, a declaration that G.O.B. does not have the authority or the obligation to repay that loan. Espat is also seeking an injunction restraining the PM from paying that loan to Alba Petrocaribe without an act of the National Assembly, and an injunction restraining Barrow from spending any more of the Petrocaribe money. The Opposition, and PAC Chairman Espat, have been openly critical of the government’s access to and use of more than two hundred million dollars from Petrocaribe. And to prove that their condemnation is not only politically rooted, they’ve put together a team of very eminent attorneys to take this case to the Judiciary.
Via Phone: Julius Espat, Claimant in Lawsuit
“The team is comprised of Mr. Andrew Marshalleck, Mr. Eamon Courtenay, Mr. Godfrey Smith, Ms. Magali Marin-Young, and there’s a larger team including the legal advisor of the Party and other attorneys that have contributed to this. And so we decided that it’s important that we submit the claim so that the Judiciary can highlight to the Belizean people what is lawful or unlawful in this procedure. I am not an attorney but I have been studying this issue for some time since I became the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and I’ve read the Constitution. I’ve been reading the Finance and Audit Act and it is quite clear what needs to be done when a loan of this amount is gotten and when you need to spend money and all we are asking is for the law to be followed. And so the attorneys are in full agreement. They have just gone further to look at the technical details of why it is wrong and what needs to be done to rectify it.”
“What is it exactly that you are seeking, because you are named as the claimant?”
Via Phone: Julius Espat
“Well, we are seeking to make sure that the Government of Belize, any party that forms the Government of Belize, ultimately follows the law. In this case we are seeking that we have good governance, we are seeking oversight, and we are seeking that there is proper accountability and transparency. We are not challenging the government’s authority as the policy-makers to seek out funds and to also spend those funds. That is not what we are challenging. But if you seek out funds, you need to come to the House to seek approval. If you obtain the funds and start spending it, then you need to come to the House to show them what you are spending it on, who is spending it, and in what quantity and if you are getting value for money.”
| Espat Says Petrocaribe Is Not a Bank
Oct 29, 2014
Government has presented a loan motion in the House under the Finance and Audit Act which states that they can give approval for a loan if it’s from a financial institution. But Espat argues that Alba Petrocaribe is not a financial institution, so G.O.B. needs to wheel and come again. Every aspect of the Petrocaribe agreement, says Espat, has been handled wrongly by the government. And it is now up to the Judiciary to make things right.
Via Phone: Julius Espat, Claimant in Lawsuit
“How will they justify the fact that they have been spending the money since 2012? It’s now 2014 and they have never come to the House to seek approval. They have never gazetted how the expenses have been done. They haven’t followed the law. So we want government to make sure that they do the right thing. If they are here as government to establish law and order in this country and expect that the Belizean citizen follow the law, then they are the first to do it. They have to set the example. Accountability and transparency are critical in everything. We need to know that the money which is being spent which is our money is being spent properly. There is another issue. Now that they have borrowed the money, they need to start to pay it back, and there is only one way to pay it back – through the Consolidated Fund. So they have no authority to try to pay it back without getting the authority of the House. They have not sought that authority either. It is like we are having a scenario where it is a democratic dictatorship, where they believe that the Executive can do anything that they please even though it is not in their jurisdiction. They are overlapping into the Legislature. They are abusing their authority. And that is why we are going to the third branch of Government, which is the Judiciary.”
Late this evening the Government of Belize issued a release calling the court action an abuse of court process and an unpatriotic attempt to play politics. The release claims that all the bases for complaint have already been taken care of, or are being taken care of in the House, and as such are totally without merit. The government release calls the fund a special commercial and diplomatic arrangement under which Venezuela sells Belize petroleum on terms that oblige G.O.B. only to pay a part of the purchase price upfront, and keep the rest as credit to be paid instead on installments over 20 years. In closing, the release states that, “the Government will then, on behalf of the Belizean people resist with every resource this legal fig leaf being employed by a party on the wrong side of history.” Of course, that every resource that the release speaks of is referring to taxpayer dollars being paid to G.O.B.’s attorneys of choice who have already raked in millions from what seems to be endless litigation against or instigated by this administration.
| Will Belizeans Enjoy Declining Oil Prices at the Fuel Pump?
Oct 29, 2014
Turning to a related issue…oil. It is no secret that on the world market, the price of oil has gone down considerably. But consumers in Belize are yet to feel a relief as prices for fuel remain upwards. Since fuel drives everything, it means that there is less to spend on other things. So what is keeping the prices steep? News Five’s Isani Cayetano looks at the world prices vis-a-vis the local costs.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
A dramatic fall in the prices of oil and fuel is being recorded across the global market. The plummet in the cost of brent crude is directly attributed to a reduction in demand for petroleum products. At eighty dollars per barrel, the world is presently thick with oil. That oversupply is being offset by a lack of need, forcing prices at the pump elsewhere to go down considerably. In Belize, however, the acquisition of oil and fuel from Petrocaribe is based on a three-month cycle. Petrocaribe is an oil alliance of many Caribbean countries with Venezuela on conditions of preferential payment. The payment system allows for the procurement of oil on market value for five percent to fifty percent upfront with a grace period of one to two years; the remainder can be paid through a seventeen to twenty-five year financing agreement with one percent interest if oil prices soar beyond forty US dollars per barrel.
Depending on when prices reduce on the international market, there is no guarantee that the effect would be felt locally since oftentimes tankers are already en route to the country. To give an example, if a freighter is being filled with oil and fuel prior to an adjustment in prices, the process can either be expedited or protracted to benefit the supplier accordingly. Notwithstanding those changes, government, as the regulator, can also compensate for the cost of acquisition by driving up taxes such that consumers wouldn’t be affected at the pump either way.
That’s here at home. With oil remaining around eighty to eighty-five dollars per barrel, down nearly thirty percent from a peak of over a hundred and fifteen dollars in mid-June, expert study of the cause and effect of the price drop has been extensive. Among the more frequent reasons for the existing glut of oil is the Saudi Arabian need to maintain its market share in Asia amid rising production worldwide. That determination has seen them preparing to accept oil prices as low as eighty dollars for as long as two years. Belize, on the other hand, is yet to see a reduction in the cost per gallon of fuel at the pump. Presently, a gallon of regular is upwards of eleven dollars, while diesel and premium are both north of thirteen dollars.
In the matrix of declining prices nonetheless, is the profitability of Belize Natural Energy Ltd. which also sells crude to the world market. BNE has been reporting a steady decrease in production as its wells begin to dry up. How the overall plunge will affect the company remains to be determined. In spite of the global picture and savings at the pump, Belizean consumers are yet to benefit from reduced prices. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.
| San Pedro Cop Busted for Theft
Oct 29, 2014
A police officer attached to the San Pedro Police Formation will be tried for the crime of Theft. Twenty-six year old Police Constable Dean Perez, originally from Belize City, has been accused of stealing six hundred dollars in cash and a cell phone from a San Pedro Town resident while carrying out an investigation. The charge against Perez stems from an incident that occurred on October fifth when the cop visited the residence of Jose Hernandez inquiring about his identity. Hernandez told police that when he was in the process of providing his documents, Perez allegedly took his identification cards with the cash placed between them. Hernandez also claims that Perez took away his cell phone valued at four hundred dollars. Perez was fingered in an ID parade and on Tuesday, he was arrested and charged for Theft. He was offered bail and ordered to keep away from Hernandez and is scheduled to reappear in court on December fifth. Perez, who has recently been transferred to San Pedro Police, has been placed on interdiction with half-salary. He is also facing an internal investigation and will be taken before a police tribunal on similar charges.
| Roaring Creek Resident Acquitted of 2011 Murder
Oct 29, 2014
Twenty-three-year-old Jamie Gill was accused of fatally shooting sixteen-year-old Raheem Vasquez in 2011 during an incident in Roaring Creek. Vasquez was shot three times to the body, twice in the abdomen and once in the left part of the chest. Tonight, he is home free after being on remand for more than three years. Last Friday, a jury of twelve persons retired to the deliberating room and shortly before two o’clock, announced that Gill was not guilty of the murder due to self-defense proven during the trial. Gill was represented by legal aid attorneys Michelle Trapp-Zuniga and Baja Shoman. Prosecutor Javier Chan called as many as eleven witnesses during the trial, but Trapp-Zuniga and Shoman used a caution statement given by Gill to seal their conviction. In that caution statement to police, Gill stated that he acted in self-defense and fear of his own life when he fatally shot and killed Vasquez. Furthermore, Gill said that on the day of the incident, he and a friend were on a picado road when Vasquez and another person rode up on a bicycle. One of the men pulled out a firearm and that’s when Gill’s friend, who was armed with a machete, pulled out a machete and placed it to the head of the Vasquez’s friend. He then chopped Vasquez’s friend on his hand with the machete. The friend with the gun fell to the ground and that’s when Vasquez reportedly placed Gill in a choke hold. Gill somehow got hold of the gun and, fearing for his life, shot Vasquez three times to the body.
| Brian Charlesworth Guilty of Carnal Knowledge of Minor
Oct 29, 2014
A jury panel had a split verdict in the case of a Belize City man accused of the sexual abuse against a minor. At least two of nine jurors, who decided the fate of forty-five year-old Brian Charlesworth, found he was not guilty of committing the hideous offense against the six year old minor during an unspecified date between January and October, 2011. But that was not enough to save him so Charlesworth was convicted and sent back to jail. Late on Tuesday evening, the jurors emerged from the deliberating room and found Charlesworth guilty of carnal knowledge. Judge Troadio Gonzalez, who heard the trial, has deferred sentencing upon Charlesworth for this coming Friday. In the trial, Charlesworth was represented by attorney, Kathleen Lewis. Prosecutor in the case was Kileru Awich. The trial began last week and as many as five witnesses including the minor who is now nine years old were called to the stand. She testified “En Camera” providing a vivid recollection of the incident. In his defence, Charlesworth gave an alibi testimony in which he claimed that he was not the one who had sexual intercourse with the child as he was never at the scene of the alleged crime. He claimed he was at home, but he did not call any alibi witness to collaborate his version of the story. So after deliberating for four hours, the jury found him guilty.