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Minister Espat Comments on his Ministry’s Work Since being Elected

Also looking back on the performance over the past year was Minister of Infrastructure Development, Julius Espat. The Minister, who represents the Cayo South division, says when he got into office he made it a point to begin looking at the infrastructure in rural areas.

Julius Espat, Minister of Infrastructure Development and Housing: “So we started out by concentrating on the rural communities. When I mean the rural communities the productive areas first, we dealt with the sugar roads then we went into the farmers in the Toledo district, Cayo district, Corozal, Stann Creek, Orange Walk and then we started to work in the villages themselves. Parallel to that we’ve been assisting the municipalities. Our mandate is not the work in the municipalities that has to be clear. The municipalities are autonomous and they have a budget to deal with their roads but because of COVID, because of the economy they requested for us to give them assistance and we have been doing that in all municipalities. And then you add onto that the projects that we inherited which are the large projects. The continuation of the Caracol Road, we just signed the Haulover Bridge, we have done the Orange Walk part with the Remate section. We are continuing working on the Coastal Highway, we are finishing the George Price Highway so we’ve been commissioned to do quite a bit but our mission is different than before. We want to make sure t hat the Ministry of Infrastructure Development goes back to what it was originally was where the ministry itself can be efficient enough to carry out a large portion of these works. In the past thirteen years the ministry basically subcontracted everything out and it’s not feasible. We are doing a mile of road right now in the Young Bank area and we have calculated that mile of road will cost about less than fifty percent of what the contracted sum would be and so that’s the direction in which we want to go and so what the CEO has been doing is that we’ve put in the budget a line item to be able to purchase used and new equipment little by little. And so we’ve been putting equipment in each zone. We’ve sent graders to Orange Walk, we’ve sent more graders to Toledo, we’ve sent tractors to Stann Creek all over the country. So depending on the need we’re beefing up with the trucks, we’re beefing up with the graders, we’re beefing up with the backhoes and the excavators to the point where I believe maybe by the end of next year we will have about maybe 75% of what we need and then the third year we should have exactly what we need. We are now investing in tar trucks because we have found out that we spent thousands and thousands of dollars in maintaining rural roads and after the rain comes you have to do it all over again and so we’ve decided that we will start to pave as much as we can in the rural communities. So if you pave a road you might not have to come back in ten years, if you grade it you might have to come back in three months. And so it’s a long term vision that we’re having.”

As for the projects in the pipeline and the need for improved infrastructure around the country, Love News asked Minister Espat how they are being prioritized.

Julius Espat, Minister of Infrastructure Development and Housing: “The CEO sits with his technical team every Tuesday. These are the engineers that are stationed all over the country and each technical team head lead brings in the request that they find on the ground. Apart from the the area representative sends in their request. Apart from that we do our own surveillance from the private sector we gather that information on a weekly basis and we distribute the work equitably. There’s no area rep that can tell us that we have not been in their community touching the lives of their people because we don’t do it just in Belize City and we don’t do it just in Orange Walk we don’t do it just in the Cayo district we do it throughout the entire country. I believe that’s the secret to our if you want to call it success is that we are fair in our way of distributing the funds because people fail to realize we are only managers of your money. And that’s what I believe politicians have failed to realize for so long. We have been given an opportunity to be able to manage the resources of the people for and on behalf of the people and so we have to be as efficient as we can, we have to share it as fairly as we can. I represent a rural community so I understand that the rural community has not been touched for thirteen years so the focus definitely will be a little bit more on them to be able to catch up not forgetting the urban community. So fairness and equitable distribution I believe is key.”

In addition to the infrastructural works, the ministry has also embarked on a housing project for low-income families. Espat says it is a shared venture between the government and the successful applicants.

Julius Espat, Minister of Infrastructure Development and Housing: “We are providing right now a project where we are building small houses, concrete houses that are hurricane resistant and we are giving 66% grant from the Government of Belize and we are asking the people to provide 33% counterpart. It’s done interest free. If you don’t want to put the 33% as a loan you can put the labor. If you put the labor portion of it then that’s yours. We want you to participate, we want you to be part of the movement so that when you sit in that house you were part of the building of that, you participated in it and therefore as human beings we will appreciate it more and take care of it more. The point is that that house is the starter home. It will eventually be evolved into a three bedroom house but the idea is for you to get title where you can use that and mortgage it to help your family, to help a business, to help the education of your children. Basic human right shelter, the house will come with water another human right. Access to water in rural communities is something that is still not there 100%. Electricity, the house will be powered either by the existing sources of electricity and in areas where we’re building houses that there is no electricity we’ll put in solar systems. People have to better their quality of lives so that the Belizean people can participate in the economic development of this country. We cannot allow only foreign investors to participate in the economic development of this country. It has to be a balance.”