Monday, March 17, 2008

Defending the $40 Million...(Sort of)

Even as I study abroad, I can still hear the cacophony and smell the intellectual dysentery that often characterizes our socio-political arena. In times of rampant mismanagement of public funds, it is quite easy (and acceptable) for the public to become extremely cynical and pessimistic toward not only those responsible, but toward "politics" in general. I once asked a high-ranking PUP minister how he would describe the general attitude of young Belizeans in regards to politics and he summed it up in one word: "cynical". It's a simple word, but for me, it had a profound impact on how the upper echelons of our political world perceive negative attacks against their (former) regime. At the end of that same conversation, I realized that amidst all the allegations of social and economic mismanagement, the alleged perpetrators truly believed that they did the right thing; this was not a case of ministers "fooling themselves" - they REALLY and TRULY believed that they were helping the country by their secret deals and that the media and the general public on a whole completely exaggerated their supposed wrong-doings. This is why when I first heard about this $40 Million fiasco, I took a step back from my alleged youthful cynicism and tried to view it from a different perspective - from the perspective of Said Musa, or Ralph Fonseca or Fransis Fonseca, since they were the alleged officials who orchestrated the deal. And the results of this pondering was indeed unique and very interesting.

When analyzing any allegation of corruption, I think it is very important to not just look at the end result, but to also recall the very origin of the problem. In this case, i.e. the UHS case, the first problem the former government did was to guarantee the loan that UHS made from the Belize Bank. Simply, UHS was a private company and the government should never serve as the guarantor for any private firm; this practice wreaks favoritism toward the upper class. And really and truly, this is where the proverbial wrench was thrown in my thought process. When the government agreed to guarantee the loan, there was really no turning back. For me, it's like walking through the gates of Hell and asking the devil if you may be excused. We all know the devil's answer. As the guarantor, the government HAD NO CHOICE but to use public funds to bail out UHS. UHS was basically bankrupt and when Belize Bank came calling, who was the one who committed to pay them in case UHS couldn't? And this is the same reason why Belizeans protested in Belmopan almost exactly one year ago. I think the former government did indeed try to find private companies or citizens who could assume their role as guarantor, but they couldn't. So, they are now left with two choices: either use some money from Venezuela and Taiwan (which are not tax-payers money per se) to pay off the loan and settle the deal, OR don't pay the money, shut down the hospital and kick the patients out. The decision was clear. The point for me is, we should have seen this coming from the very day we found out that the government signed on to the loan and UHS became bankrupt. THAT was the REAL mistake and once that is done, then as they say, "it's all down-hill from here". It reminds me of my high school Physics tests. If a problem has 4 steps, and you make a mistake in PART A, then OF COURSE parts B, C and D will be wrong (the teacher used to write ERROR CARRIED FORWARD on the top). And this perfectly describes the former government's actions: ERROR CARRIED FORWARD.

Now my reasoning here may be interpreted as somewhat sympathetic and I may be accused of turning a blind side to other salient aspects of this situation but I honestly think it is a fair analysis. We can only go so far by calling for the guillotine or by demanding their exile to Hattieville. The 40 Million Fiasco was necessary because of an unnecessary move, that being the guaranteed loan note. If we want to dispute anything, we should dispute the simple origin, make the action illegal so it never happens again. That would be the only true reparation. Or, we should dispute the fact that despite the government's involvement, why in Baron Bliss's name do we NOT own the hospital? I can only wonder how much this situation could have been assuaged if the former government believed in transparency. Maybe something like, "We messed up, but we have to do x, y and z." To reemphasize, we need to always look at the entire issue on a whole, not just one aspect and simply react to a spur of the moment headline detail. As Plato once said, "A good decision is based on knowledge and not on [$40 million] numbers." (emphasis added).


The Voice said...

I understand where you come from. But, as you yourself pointed out, if the Belizean Public paid for it, why the MARCUS GARVEY don't we own it?

My worse problem with the entire situation is that the money was used for ONE PERSON to own 51% of UHS. The same money was "donated/loaned" to him so he could own it... We fi own dat bwia!

You see me cross?

Anonymous said...

Not only does one person own 51%, but let us not ignore the fact that the remaining 49% is allegedly held in trust for us by someone we DON'T trust.

But to go back to the beginning, the question remains, and ACB has that question in court: was the guarantee illegal? Everything that followed did carry forward from that act, but that act hasn't yet been judged legitimate.

Anonymous said...

politically oblivious so couple questions ... the government is really allowed to sign on to loans for private entities?? is it really legal for them to do what they did a year ago? that one big mistake ......

and how exactly is it that we don't own it ... i don't get it ... didn't the government pay more than the owner did? with bzean dinero?

and how many patients exactly does uhc cater to? was there no option at all to close the hospital? make a barter with another hospital? sell their equipment? find placement for the patients elsewhere??

shakes head ... politicians and their bright ideas ...

and what happens now ... can we hold the ex government responsible ... can we make them give back the money? ... do we just cut our (very big) losses ...

on another note ... bye bye mark ... hello francis ... what happened there?? do we (God forbid) end up under said's and ralph's thumbs again should (5 years from now) the pup win? ... [yes, 5 years is a lot of time ...... a lot of dirt can be found and *maybe* some people might go to jail?]

Plato said...

well the ACB court case is currently the answer to whether or not the government acted illegally by signing unto loans for private entities. Until that ruling, the question of legality is unknown. I completely agree with you that we SHOULD be owners of UHS seeing as, not only did we pay 51%, but we in fact "helped" Dr. Vinny acquire funds to purchase his own 49%. In respect to the prospects of closing down the UHS it would have been a political disaster regardless of how many patients it caters to. UHS provides certain services that are not found at KHMH and are cheaper than the services at Belize Medical Ass. (the other private hospital).

Anonymous said...

belize medical asses? :P

... well ok, who owns khmh?? isn't it owned by the govt? ... and if the govt paid off the bills ... then ... why shouldn't it have been theirs as well? couldn't they have at that point ... made it one w/ khmh? still retaining services and patients and perhaps cost as well??

and there aren't any other cases of the govt signing on someone else's loans?? have they ever done that before?? have any other governments done it before??

idk ...

Anonymous said...

I'm confused :(
I need a teacher and a chalkboard to expalin this whole thing to me from the very beginning when Jose Coye called a press conference at the KHMH in December 2006. Gosh I remembered how ambiguous that interview was. He had no concrete answers for any of the reporters. This is when the UHS deal was in its fetal stages. But I smelled something sketchy. We all did. Maybe we should've demanded more answers then? Anyway, I'm learning a lot already from the bloggers, so I'll continue reading and re-reading your posts to get some clarity on this issue that makes me want to rip my hair out!!!

Anonymous said...

Plato, maybe you can explain this for me:

(excerpt of Channel 5 nescast: More scandal as Barrow reveals secret $20 million from Taiwan - 12/3/08)

But for all the monies paid to the Belize Bank by Belmopan, U.H.S. remains in private hands.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow,
“The Government and people of Belize end up having not even one single solitary share in the facility now owned by Belize Health Care Partners group. The ownership of the new entity is divided between this Belize Healthcare Partners Trust and Dr. Venny’s company. And funnily enough, although Venny only put up twelve or thirteen million dollars loan to him by the Health Care Trust group, he owns fifty-one percent of the shares and the Health Care Trust group only owns forty-nine percent. As Lios Carol said, curiouser and curiouser.”

Barrow would also go on to disclose that at least one of the former owners of U.H.S., Dr. Victor Lizarraga, received a return on his investment in the hospital.

Plato said...

There is nothing to explain. As I mentioned, Belize's own monies were used to purchase majority shares in UHS. Moreover, Belize (PUP) helped Dr. Vinny secure the loan from Belize Bank which he used to purchase his 49% share. The goal of the blog was to highlight the fact that these deals were in fact necessary, but only AFTER several imprudent, and perhaps illegal, actions were committed by the government (eg: providing a guarantee of a loan for a private firm and its subsequent nondisclosure to the public or the House of Rep.)

Anonymous said...

Health Care Trust group

who owns it?

Anonymous said...

Who owns the trust? We are told that we do, but the trustees are two of Belize Bank's people, and we must expect them to represent our interests.

Oh yes, and the trust only holds 49% for our $40 million contribution. Dr Venny, who paid in the $13mn or so that he borrowed, owns the majority 51% of the hospital.

unpatriotic patriot said...

Channel 5 News Excerpt 18/03/08:
Basic Questions Said Musa has not answered:

– Why he diverted twenty million U.S. dollars of public funds to pay the Belize Bank … and neglected to tell anyone.

– Why it is that after settling the debt in full with the Belize Bank the government does not own U.H.S.

– And, what happened to the money Doctor Venny ostensibly paid for his reputed controlling interest in U.H.S.

While none of these folks are talking, we can safely assume that there is a whole lot of interesting information yet to be revealed. If the past is any guide, Prime Minister Dean Barrow knows far more than he is telling … and will release it slowly and deliberately for maximum political effect.

P.M. Barrow is holding out on us? What is Channel 5 referring to when they say, "If the past is any guide..." I'll have to keep close tabs on this one. If anyone is aware what the Channel 5 editors are talking about here, let us know.