Friday, March 24, 2017

WHO WILL NOW MIND THE FAMILY BUSINESS?

Sunday, March 12, 2017, 17:52
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By: Norris Hall Congratulations to the “First Brother” for his high elevation into that rarefied air in the stratosphere of the Caribbean’s highest Court - the Caribbean Court of Justice. It is a distinguished appointment for a man who is affable and of legal and intellectual prowess. He has also been the legal advisor and de facto Attorney and Solicitor General in his brother’s - the Prime Minister - royal court of persistent legal battles, and the chief prosecutor and defendant of the government. For his role he has been rewarded with bushels of money. Were he not moving on to higher heights, it would have been easy, during the current budget exercise in which the government is strapped for money and will have to cut to the bone, to declare the official posts of Attorney and Solicitor Generals to be redundant. They virtually were and perhaps continue to be. It was, maybe, unfortunate that in making public his new appointment to the Caribbean High Court, in an interview on a local television, he made it sound, no doubt unwittingly (or not), that he was the best thing that ever happened to Belize since sliced bread. ACCOLADES It is without doubt that this man has earned his accolades, having served on the Appeals Court of Belize and in another high court in the Caribbean. When he chose the job on the Appeals Court, some years ago, he issued a statement saying, at the time, that he could have afforded to leave private practice and become a judge with expected pension benefits as part of his financial resources. We must now assume that with all the government court battles against one single nemesis, a British billionaire, any pronouncement on his elevation to the Caribbean‘s Highest Court, with regards to his financial security and stability, would be regarded as understatements. They would certainly not be short of being lofty and arrogant, traits that are inherent in the family tree and by others who are well known in the legal profession. The big question is: Who will replace him in the cleverly contrived family business of litigation that continues to guarantee handsome returns from on-going, never-ending and very costly legal battles, both internationally and locally on behalf of the government. It is a classic model of a business plan designed, no doubt, with the appearance of legitimacy but intended to keep the government tied up in the Courts with family attorneys always and forever appearing on its behalf either in legitimate or conjured up legal battles. The principal Director guarantees that constant flow of business from his high pedestal. ENRICHED Now that the “First Brother” has again left this lucrative practice, well enriched and with accumulating pensions, including from his future on the Caribbean Court of Justice, who will now fill this slot in this very lucrative family business? It could possibly be the actual ‘first Wife,’ who, despite the level of luxury and perks she enjoys as an Ambassador, makes chump change in a dull civil service job, notwithstanding the fact that there was an inexplicable sudden increase in the budget for that Mission on her appointment to that post. This so-called ‘Queen of Concerned Belizeans’ who once declared: “I choose my clients…they don’t choose me,” would be a perfect replacement to fill the slot left by the “First Brother.” And the tradition of keeping the business in the family would be honoured. “FIRST LAW PARTNER” The alternative choice to the “First Wife” is the “First Law Partner,” who is the only one who may know the level of investment he and his Senior Partner, the Prime Minister, have in the Ashcroft Group of Companies. The calculus in this saga and the flow of big money (relatively) is really not that complicated when following, where possible, the deliberate maze of paper trail that appears to separate the facts from fiction, sweetheart deals and private meetings in Miami. For instance: Was the private settlement reached between the British billionaire and the Prime Minister over the exorbitant $ half-a-billion, the people of Belize now have to pay for the nationalization of the telephone company, an Attorney/Client meeting? Was it a meeting of business partners given the Prime Minister’s law firm investment in the Ashcroft Group of Companies? Or was it an officially negotiated settlement between Mr. Ashcroft and the Government of Belize with Ashcroft having the advantage and turning the screws? If it was the latter there should have been other government officials there, even if they were sworn to secrecy. The Prime Minister should not be singularly negotiating on behalf of the people’s interest. What was the quid pro quo? Details are scarce. Who is representing the British billionaire in some of his pursuits? HONEST EXPLANATION Do the people of Belize not deserve some clear and transparent explanation from the Prime Minister of this very large expenditure by the government in all these expensive litigations?  Should we not know when the Prime Minister is representing we the people or when he is doing business on behalf of his law firm in a disguised official trip? Especially so in this expensive and compounded legal battle? Especially when he is the chief prosecutor of his client. One thing is for sure: A lot of money is flowing from big pockets to bigger pockets. While the British billionaire, in a strange twist and almost apologetically, said that, the investment by the Prime Minister’s law firm in his group of Companies is “miniscule” that is all relative when placed in the context of rising poverty in this country and the costly power-broking by the Barrow Administration. It was a stellar performance staged in Washington, DC, in an exclusive interview with Mr. Ashcroft on the television station that he owns in Belize (Great Belize Productions/Channel 5), and which the Prime Minister also tried to grab from this British billionaire. THE SMELL TEST However, a gut instinct, a sixth sense, along with a certain level of built-in skepticism, created a strange aura, a nuance, that did not pass the smell test. The interview was too staged, too controlled, too nice, for a man who has been at war with his foe/partner over his investments. But it was revealing. It offered some new perspective, a new set of “facts” that does not dovetail with some of the Prime Minister’s assertions. He continues to swim around deep in Ashcroft’s pockets while pretending to want to grab his balls. The costly legal battles and battles of egos will continue in the high courts. The result is that our Courts have become bogged down while many languish behind bars, waiting to have their day in Court and for the administration of justice for them. The people of this country are being fleeced with some who are dyed in the wool, losing perspective as they get caught up in the mob sentiments of party politics and the slogans of the ruling Party.
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