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Will PUP Go After Prime Minister Barrow ?

Will PUP Go After Prime Minister Barrow ?
February 08
10:30 2020

Will PUP Go After Prime Minister Barrow ?

ON: Thursday, 06 February 2020

In an interview over the weekend, PUP Leader John Briceño told the Reporter that pursuing criminal action against the Prime Minister is definitely on the table following a recent, historic judgment by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin. This morning, Briceño told this newspaper that the matter will be discussed today at a meeting with Parliamentarians.

When asked if there is concern in the government that Prime Minister Barrow and FinSec Joseph Waight may be pursued criminally for breach of the Finance and Audit Reform Act, Attorney-General Michael Peyrefitte had a different opinion of the ruling. He told the Reporter that “The PUP has not pushed (for criminal action) because they have not won anything. The CJ only made a declaration. And the CJ NEVER said that the PM violated the constitution. He only suggested that we go to Parliament to amend the Constitution.”

Last Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that the government spent PetroCaribe funds without proper approval by Parliament, making the practice unconstitutional, hence illegal. This, according to Eamon Courtenay, Senior Counsel for the plaintiff, the PUP, means that 21 supplementary bills that were prepared by GOB for the spending of some $1.5 Billion for expenditures were unconstitutional. In essence, the Minister of Finance, who is Prime Minister Dean Barrow, and the Financial Secretary, Joseph Waight, spent these monies by violating the Constitution because they did not receive approval before spending the monies.

Chief Justice, Kenneth Benjamin also granted the PUP’s application for an injunction to stop the Prime Minister from continuing the practice of spending money before coming to the House for approval. He, however, suspended the effect of the injunction for six months to restrain the Minister of Finance from continuing the practice. This is in order to give the Minister of Finance time to amend the law. The proposal for the amendment will have to be tabled to the House to retroactively approve the $1.5 Billion which has already been spent.

Courtenay, who spoke to the media immediately following the ruling, likened the current practice as “operating a panades shop.” “He must comply with the Constitution, comply with the Finance and Audit Reform Act and go to Parliament and get approval, giving full disclosure in terms of spending people’s money and that he should stop behaving unconstitutionally,” Courtenay said.

PUP Leader, John Briceño felt that it is time that the government starts to do things within the confines of the law. “I think it is time that the Prime Minister understand that the people’s money is not his money and that, as the Minister of Finance, he needs to give account of every cent of the Belizean taxpayers’ [money] that he spends.”

If the Prime Minister amends the Constitution, he will need the support of the PUP, and Briceño said that they need to see first what exactly it is that the PM will propose to amend in order for them to support it, ensuring that it is only that and nothing else.

Financial Secretary Joseph Waight said that the government will comply with the ruling and do what it needs to fix it. He also conceded that this has been the practice of the government for many years – that when emergencies come up, special warrants would be made for monies to be spent. Waight also clarified that not going to Parliament for the spending of the monies does not mean that the monies were misspent or misappropriated. He said that when the House meets again they will provide details of the how the monies were spent.

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