Controversial Belize Government Agreement Sparks Public Outcry and Questions
Six days later, and answers regarding the Definitive Agreement between the Government of Belize and Portico Enterprises continue to be sought. It was just last Friday that both the agreement and the Cabinet Paper were leaked into the public domain. The documents have raised eyebrows and many, many questions. To date, we have heard from the former Prime Minister and the former Attorney General as well as from Prime Minister John Briceno. One other person who hold some answers to this agreement reaching the Cabinet for review and approval is the Minister of Tourism, Anthony Mahler. Mahler is an interesting party as the Cabinet Paper does indicate that the Ministries of Tourism and Finance had sponsored the paper for Cabinet review. Mahler did speak with the media yesterday, saying that when he initially got a copy of the Cabinet Paper, the night before the meeting, his ministry was not listed as a sponsor of the document. One of the main questions that is still not satisfactorily answered, is why such an obscene agreement would even reach the Cabinet with the exorbitant accommodations listed within its 30 pages. According to Mahler, the main concern should not be how the paper ended up in Cabinet, but rather, the signing of the document by Erwin Contreras.
Anthony Mahler, Minister of Tourism & Diaspora Relations: “What you should be asking me is why would Erwin Contreras and the UDP agree to such scandalous concessions to that development? I have said in cabinet and I will say publicly I didn’t agree with many of the clauses in that agreement and so when we ventilated the cabinet paper properly in cabinet the day members of the cabinet including myself, including the Prime Minister. So the Leader of the Opposition needs to check himself blaming this on the Prime Minister and this PUP government. Erwin Contreras signed it just like he signed other agreements on behalf of the UDP government when they were in power. I’ll show you this we will do, and the prime minister will do what is in the best interest of this country. When you bring cabinet papers it’s for discussion it’s not a done deal so as you can see the whole legislation, everything has been put on hold until we ventilate it some more, we have discussions with the developer and we come up with something that is amenable to and workable for the Belizean people. There was a discussion about the paper. It is on hold. It is going to be revised. We are fixing a lot of mess that the UDP left behind for us to deal with and every day we are dealing with them. So please understand that.”
As for his personal perspective, Mahler has referred to the situation surrounding the Definitive Agreement as, ‘a mess’ that needs some fixing. What he did make clear, however, is that fiscal incentives are not unique to the Definitive Agreement. He noted that most, if not all, investors are given concessions all the time.
Anthony Mahler, Minister of Tourism & Diaspora Relations: “Any major development can apply for fiscal incentives. So it’s not a cynical thing so I mean Four Seasons would apply for a fiscal incentive any other development small, medium, micro enterprises that can apply for incentives now. We’ve made some amendments to the legislation any country provides fiscal incentives for major developments and now what we’ve done is to make amendments to the legislation whereby micro and small enterprises can benefit from those incentives as well. The vast majority of businesses in Belize are micro and small and so we understand that they play an important part in the economy of Belize but large investment would not happen if there weren’t certain concessions made for that project. For me it’s just a mess, it gives Belize a black eye. It stunts development and growth and so but we have to navigate carefully through the minefield that has been created over time and for me I just want us to get it right, I want us to do what is in the best interest of the Belizean people.”