Government Secures Nationalization of Port of Belize in Landmark Deal
Government has brokered a deal with the owners of the Port of Belize Limited to have the facility nationalized and once again owned by the people of Belize. Cabinet met in session yesterday where the acquisition was approved, and was presented in today’s House of Representatives. The deal settlement between the government and Ashcroft’s Waterloo Investments is a 222-page document that essentially calls for the payment of ninety-eight-point-six-seven million US$ dollars, of which an estimated half of that would be paid in US dollars, and the balance in Belize dollar Treasury Notes to Waterloo. The acquisition, if approved, is to be completed on or before December 15. In addition to the Port buyout, Government is also settling long-outstanding awards to the so-called Ashcroft Alliance, relating to BTL and the Belize Bank. Those awards go back to 2009. Ashcroft will withdraw all litigation and claims related to the Port, to Waterloo and the Department of the Environment and will cease any attempts to build a cruise terminal. According to the deeds, the Port of Belize or Waterloo would be granted exemption from taxes, and duties payable by Waterloo. The deeds formalize the disposal of all pending matters before the court, notably, including the discharge of the interim injunction granted by the court in the matter between PBL and the Minister of Finance. The Prime Minister John Briceno presented the Belize City Port Acquisition and Settlement Deeds Bill 2023 just before midday today.
Hon. John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize: “We can do this with one major parliamentary move. And what’s more what we will accomplish will be at a hugely discounted price. These are reductions that are hardly seen. Not even in the biggest downtown blowout sale. After careful consideration and negotiations with the approval of the Cabinet and with the support of this Honourable House the Government of Belize will require for the people of Belize the Commercial Port of Belize City. The Port of Belize will be back in public hands. This bill seeks approval and funding to conclude this historic takeover. The purchase price of the port has been agreed at US $83,3700 dollars. We can confidently declare that at this price and if the current profits of the port can be maintained as they will be the profits can themselves finance the purchase. In other words there will be no need for any tax payer monies to pay for the purchase of this port. Over and over there have been calls for improvements to the port and to and end to hostilities between the port operator and the stevedores. For a modernization plan to enhance efficiency for importers, exporters and consumers and for the port to become a logistics hub that enhances the country’s competitiveness. This administration heard the call, heeded the call and is today acting to answer the call.”
Leader of the Opposition, Moses Shyne Barrow, rose in the House to issue harsh criticisms, and allegations of corruption in this port deal. According to Barrow, the Briceno administration is going through with this deal in order to proceed with a deal with Portico Enterprises.
Moses “Shyne” Barrow, Leader of the Opposition: “I have no difficulty with the acquisition. It is in keeping, it is consistent with the UDP administration in making sure that we have ownership, that the Belizean people have ownership of their assets. That is the UDP way. So when the Prime Minister comes in here he sounds like, again, a fake Dean Barrow. Like you are posturing. Am I the one with the Disney deal or you have the Disney deal ? Madam Speaker this is nothing more than the preservation of the corrupt Portico deal pension plan for the boys. The consortium that the Prime Minister and his government is up against is no joke and – oh you have given the consortium three hundred million dollars in the last three years and you’re gonna say me ? I am the LOO. I am not Waterloo I am the LOO. But Madam Speaker again the reason for this acquisition is not because the Prime Minister and his government care so much about the stevedores. It is not because they care about the people on the south side because they’ve never come into this house with an appropriation or any type of recommendation to spend $200 million dollars on the poor people that the member from Lake I used to cry about when he was in opposition. They have never done it Madam Speaker. The Crown Council is still waiting for their 17% salary adjustments. The medical professionals are still waiting for a CT Scan. Has the CT Scan come yet member from Orange Walk ? It came ? It finally reached ? Because you’ve been saying that for three years. Madam speaker this is nothing more than the preservation of the corrupt Portico agreement so that those proprietors can have what it is that they want madam speaker. The Belizean people are not fooled by this. Madam speaker you know we have to give it perspective. We really have to give it context. How did we even get here? How did we even get here? Who sold the port to private enterprise? The People’s United Party so don’t try to play like no nationalist. It’s you that sold BTL, the reason we are doing these arbitration settlements is because of the member – I know pops is dealing with a little health so I don’t want to go hard on the man but give him my best we eat at the same restaurant and I have love and respect for him so please don’t take it personally I pray for him and wish him the best but it was Said Musa the former prime minister that did these secret deals. One thing I have to give some type of credit, a little bit of credit because I can’t hype you up too much at least you brought the accommodation agreement to the House and you are doing it in the light unlike the former prime minister Said Musa Madam Speaker but it was this People’s United government that gave our national assets wholesale to private enterprise.”
Deputy Prime Minister, Cordel Hyde also rose in the House after five o’clock this evening to give his views on the purchase of the Port of Belize. In his presentation that ended just before news time, Hyde issued a reminder to the House on the exorbitant monies paid for BTL under the Dean Barrow administration.
Cordel Hyde, Deputy Prime Minister of Belize: “They paid $600 million for a company that was said to value maybe $100 million. $600 million right ? But they said nothing. They said nothing. You have to be consistent member. You see it’s easy to have a lot of chats in opposition. To have all the answers in opposition but when you’re in government you don’t have no answers, you don’t have any courage, nobody stands up to the big bad leader and says you know what you’re going the wrong way. You know what you’re doing wrong. So ask the member from Collet and ask the member from Albert they were there. You could not say anything to Mr.Barrow. So he did all the craziness in all the world and tried to make it sound as if though he was doing us a favor when he went to a hotel room in Miami and agreed to pay $600 million dollars for a company that was struggling, a company whose better days were behind it. But man said he saved Belize no ? I don’t know who he saved it for.”
Prime Minister John Briceno: While some people became millionaires.
Cordel Hyde, Deputy Prime Minister of Belize: “Multimillionaires. Madam Speaker with your permission. Six months ago in the middle of one of those, this is public record, six months ago it was probably May in the middle of one of those nasty bitter confrontations between the stevedores and the principals from the Port of Belize Limited I said to the nation that we had no choice. I said this man was treating the stevedores like mere chattels and that no self respecting government can countenance that because how we treat the stevedores, how we allow them to be treated is a reflection of what we think of ourselves and who we are and how we wanted to be treated on the global stage in this free trade era. Our government responded with a certain dignity and a certain poise and a certain transparency and a certain focus and a certain class in the face of a barrage of political and personal assaults. You know I hate very much for Mr.Ashcroft to get another cent. Very painful for me because I’m very very uncomfortable with that because I contend that the man has gotten far too much from this government and the people over the last thirty plus years and he got far more under the last government than any other government in the history of governments. But that’s not the point. The point its hat if we acquire the port then we have to pay for it. You have to pay for it. If you take something from somebody you have to pay for it. The question is how much will you pay. We put national over personal and now I think we’ve rid ourselves once and for all of public enemy number one.”
In total, Government will pay eighty three point three-seven million US dollars for the Port. An additional fifteen point three million US dollars will be paid to settle the judgement awards; a stark contrast to the 165 million US dollars that Ashcroft was seeking for the port, plus one hundred and two million US dollars for the awards. The payment term for the settlement is broken down into two basic tranches: cash of US$45 million at closing and BZ$107.34 million paid in segments of 2, 3, 4 and 5 year Treasury Notes, carrying an average of 3.65 percent interest. Government is expected to take control of the Port sometime next week, and to implement a modernization plan thereafter. The total settlement, Government says, is 36 cents on the dollar compared to what the Ashcroft Alliance sought. In the case of the Port, Government negotiated a 49% discount to the Seller’s price and an 85% discount for the judgement awards. The Bill, if approved by the House will go to the Senate next Monday, December 11 for consideration. Stay tuned, as later in this newscast, we’ll bring you the views of other members of Parliament on this port purchase.