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Senior Counsel: To reduce blocks, Senate Cmte. can amend their T.o.R

Nothing prevents the Special Select Committee from amending their terms of reference (TOR), a senior counsel familiar with the Senate process, and speaking under the condition of anonymity, told The Reporter today.


The senior attorney, who did not hesitate to confirm that the Committee can amend their ToR, preferred to speak anonymously, at this time, as the individual would like time to exam more closely the specifics of the recent inquiry sessions.


Particularly, those specifics would include the February 14th, 2024, appearance of the former Lands Commissioner, Wilbert Vallejos, and, more recently, the February 28th session with former Minister of Lands Hon. Hugo Patt. In both cases, the interviewees—Vallejos and Patt—essentially refused to answer any question they deemed to be outside the scope of the Committee’s ToR.


Both men shared the same attorney, Senior Counsel and former Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, who advised his clients to refrain from replying to questions he interpreted as being outside the reach of the Senate-approved ToR.


“Madam Chair, … once the questions become specific regarding Portico and any applications made in the name of Portico for lands, I think, that is outside of the scope of the terms of reference and so I will advise my client not to answer that sort of question,” Barrow argued this week on behalf of Patt.

 

That defence was akin to what Barrow used when he appeared on February 14th with Vallejos. “Questions about land that the government … sold to various individuals and entities at a time I believe that was actually before the signing of the Definitive Agreement into which you are inquiring. With respect Chair and Senators, I do not see how on earth that line of questioning is encompassed by the motions setting up this committee and by your terms of reference,” challenged Barrow.

 

“You are bound by the terms of reference,” added Barrow. “You must stay clearly within the four corners of those terms of reference … questions about land transfers or land sales in an area that as I understand it is within two miles of the locus of the site of the Portico cruise project … have nothing to do with the inquiry on which you are embarked.”

 

In responding to one of the Senators’ comments, Barrow—in the February 14th session—retorted, Isn't it a disservice to the people you serve, Senator, that you didn't draft the terms of reference in such a way as would have permitted you to ask the questions that you want to ask? That does a disservice to the people of this country.

 

The Reporter has sought comments from members of the Committee as to whether they are considering making amendments, but to date we have been unable to obtain a response from said members.


The Terms of Reference

The four-page ToR covers several grounds. However, in terms of the Committee’s investigative powers, it provides that the Committee is to “conduct an independent and impartial investigation and inquiry into (i) the signing of the document titled ‘Definitive Agreement, by and between the Government of Belize and Portico Enterprises Limited (DBA) the Port of Magical Belize’, dated October 2020, and to determine which, if any, established procedures and/or investment policy were followed.”


The ToR added that the body is expected “(ii) to determine what advice, policy or basis the Cabinet relied upon to establish the validity of the document.”


Additionally, it authorized the Committee to look (iii) “into all communications and documentations tied to the document.”


And it also was charged to look (iv) into all communications and documentations tied to the document …being presented to Cabinet (along with related draft legislation and a Cabinet White Paper) in May 2023, on the stated recommendation of the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Tourism.”


The matter as to whether the current language is as restrictive as Barrow argues remains unclear; however, based on the comments from the Senior Counsel with whom The Reporter spoke this week, the Committee can amend the ToR. This, however, would likely require them to return to the National Assembly.

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