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Today, at a last minute special sitting of the House of Representatives in Belmopan, Prime Minister Dean Barrow did something which surprised absolutely nobody. In fact, it was like déjà vu all over again as this government acquired yet another major private utility company in what it calls the public interest. This mornings sitting, conducted with a small number of UDP faithful and no Opposition members in the House, was short but far from sweet. The Prime Minister didnt waste time, but stated his intention right up front.

deanDean Barrow Prime Minister

“Mr. Speaker I rise to introduce a bill for an act to amend the Electricity Act Chapter 2-21 of the laws of Belize revised edition 2000/2003 to provide for assumption of control over electricity supply by the government in the public interest and to provide for matters connected there with or incidental there to. Mr. Speaker the main provisions of the bill allow the Minister responsible for electricity to make an order with the approval of the Minister of Finance acquiring all such property as may be required to assume control over the supply of electricity in Belize. This is to be done where circumstances have arisen such that it is necessary in the public interest for government to assume control over the electricity supply in order to maintain the current continuity of that supply to the country. The bill gives examples of the circumstances that would trigger the making of the acquisition order. (A) Where the license holder is in grave financial difficulties and is unable to pay or service his debt or is otherwise unable to secure the continuity of electricity supply to the public or (B) The licenses granted to the License Holder revoked by the Public Utilities Commission or a notice to revoke such license has been given to the licence holder and it appears highly likely that the license will be revoked or (C) The license holder suspends electricity supply operations entirely or partly or loses control over such operations for any reasons whatsoever or (D) There is imminent danger of the disruption of electricity supply to the public.”

The Prime Ministers address lasted the better part of an hour - much of it spent trying to justify the acquisition of BEL. But justification aside, its a done deal. By tomorrow morning BEL will belong to this government and Barrow already has the transition process all mapped out.

Dean Barrow Prime Minister

“Mr. Speaker I will wrap up now by talking about how we will handle the transition, no one at B.E.L needs to fair for their job I have spoken to officials of the B.E.L Workers Union which fully supports government in its move and communicated this to them. It is the same thing with management Mr. Young has already indicated that he will not stay and there are suggestions that other members of the Executive Management might also wish to go we have our plans for that eventuality but nobody is being forced out and the mangers are free to stay if they wish. It is only the Fortis shares that we plan to acquire remember that the SSB has 25% of the shareholding so there will be new members appointed to the board to replace the Fortis Directors but the SSB Directors and Chairman appointed long ago by government under the special share will naturally remain so will the one other director also appointed by government under the golden share. An interim CEO will be installed immediately to replace Mr. Young and that interim CEO will be supported by an Executive Committee of the board we expect a smooth transition as possible.”

And in his usual style, Barrow ended his address with a combination of patriotism and a nod to the Almighty to cover all bases.

Dean Barrow Prime Minister

“Of course it will not be easy financially I said earlier that we would never have wanted to take over a BEL that is debt over burden and on the brink of operational collapse but in one of those perfect irony of life and politics it is this very state of affairs that obliges us to take it over and so we will and I say it very simply that notwithstanding the obstacles by the grace of God and the support of the Belizean people we shall overcome and of that let there be no doubt.”

But while Barrow has convinced himself and the usual smattering of rabid UDP followers, the Opposition is saying NOT SO FAST. In fact, as we said the Opposition was a no-show today and when we caught up to Leader of the Opposition John Briceno in his Belize City office this afternoon, we asked him why.

johnHon. John Briceno PUP Leader

“We decided to not to go to the house meeting this morning for a number of reasons, the first one is the very late notice that we got our papers were not delivered until Friday night and we believe that if there was no reason to hold a special meeting in such a short time. Secondly, we were hearing the issue of the impending takeover of BEL. I think that something as important as that, something that is going to tide this country to hundreds of millions of dollars dept is something that needs to be properly discussed and consulted and here we have the Prime Minister ramming it through in three readings in one sitting, I believe that that is wrong, but also thirdly some of the bills that were going to pass through for instance the issue of trials without jury, this is something fundamental to our judicial system for the Prime Minister to ram it through again without no proper consultation. The idea was to go around and talk to the Belizean people to get a true feel as to how Belizeans feel about it. We felt that it just wrong and that we could not continue to condone the Prime Minister actions as the one that he did today.”

According to Briceno, there is reason to be concerned about the Prime Ministers move to take over a second major private utility company.

Hon. John Briceno PUP Leader

“Well certainly of grave concern I just got eh Bill in my hand so we need to read to see what is in the 18 page document but I think that we as Belizeans need to ask questions where are we going to find the money to pay for BEL? As we speak when you look at the acquisition of BTL and BEL you are looking at a new debt that the government has take on to the tune of over 600 million dollars that is half a billion dollars that we have to find to pay and where are we going to get the money? Secondly as citizens of this country there was a lot of excitement years ago, when the government decided to nationalize BTL and many Belizeans were excited but now when you asked them they will tell you how are we benefiting , yes we know about the friends and families program where the Prime ministers ex-wife and the prime minister son were immediately got appointments to the board and were involve and probably there were some benefits form that but the ordinary citizens how they could benefit from that move and Belizeans are going to ask the very same question. How are we going to benefit from the acquisition of BEL?

So whats next for the Opposition as concerns the BEL takeover?

Hon. John Briceno PUP Leader

“Well we unlike the Prime Minister, who can just decide things on his own and just having his cabinet saying rah, rah, rah, and his representatives, we consult, we are going to be sitting down with members of our party and we are going to be with a position that we will shortly within the next few days were going to be sharing with the media and the public at large.”

We understand that the Peoples United Party will present its official position in a press conference scheduled for later this week.

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