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Prosser Meeting in Belize Fizzles

Feb. 23, 2007 — This time he lost the round, despite the fact that the local courts have twice ruled in his favor.
Prosser, who claims to be the non-executive chairman of Belize Telecommunications Ltd., had called a meeting of the board of directors. But only his allies on the board showed up. The rest — representing the Government of Belize (GOB) and the other major shareholder, Lord Michael Ashcroft — stayed away, thus aborting the session.
Not physically present, Prosser presided via teleconference. He said that he would go into the local courts to force the missing directors to appear at the next meeting, which he set for March 9, again in Belize.
The local courts have been sympathetic to Prosser recently. Both the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Abdulai Conteh (a ranking trial judge despite his title), and the Court of Appeal (Belize' highest resident court) have ruled that Prosser is the chairman and that he has four members on the board of directors.
On the other hand, Lord Michael and his allies in the GOB have ignored these rulings, which have been appealed by GOB to the Law Lords in London. The Law Lords constitute the ultimate judicial body for Belize, as well as some other current and former British colonies. In effect, the Law Lords are a committee of Great Britain's House of Lords.
Regarding the actions of the government directors in not attending the meeting, Prosser issued a press release saying it was "in absolute contempt of the nation's chief justice, Court of Appeal and justice system."
The relationship between the executive and the judicial branches of GOB contains an element unknown in the United States, and it may have something to do with how GOB has treated the courts in the BTL controversy.
In the U.S. and most major countries, the judges are lifelong citizens of the country where they judge. This is often not the case in Belize and other small ex-British colonies; the judges are often outsiders who have risen to prominence elsewhere in what had been the British Empire. Not only are they outsiders, but they also receive a large part of their salaries from the Commonwealth Secretariat, a successor organization to the British Commonwealth of Nations. It is a form of economic assistance and a method by which Great Britain encourages the rule of law.
Chief Justice Conteh, for example, used to serve as foreign minister of Sierra Leone, the former British colony in West Africa. Earlier this week, Belize welcomed another justice to the same court; he is a native of the Solomon Islands, in the Pacific, and had served in the courts of that nation and Papua New Guinea.
Non-citizen judges may get less respect than citizen judges, or Prosser may have simply found himself on the losing side of a local political battle.
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