Minister of Infrastructure Development and Housing weighs in on Definitive Agreement
It’s been over a month since the “Definitive Agreement signed with Portico Enterprises and the Government of Belize was leaked, leading to a continuous back and forth between the two main political parties. The government has come under scrutiny for presenting the agreement and accompanying legislation to the cabinet, but insists the move was simply to determine the legality of the document. The Briceno Administration has since labelled the agreement as a “UDP baby” and say the audacious accommodations were a no-go for them. Today, the Minister of Infrastructure Development and Housing, Julius Espat, weighed in on the matter and says the main issue had to do with the fact that the agreement was leaked.
Julius Espat, Minister of Infrastructure Development and Housing: “I think we are a little bit too loose in how information is prepared and shared to Cabinet. There’s many people, the drafters, the messengers, the person that sends the email, the person that hands the document. There are many people involved in various ministries with these documents. I believe we have to find a more sanitized way and what that solution is, I’m not sure. So we can’t, when it comes to leak, it could happen anywhere and that’s the reality. The people that have interest in the projects have agents all over the place, from the top to the bottom. In fact, they know it before we know it. That’s a reality that we face. So that, when it comes to the leak. The definitive agreement is one of the worst documents I’ve ever seen. Who designed it, who signed it, we all know. I would never have put my signature on a document of that type. You’re selling your soul. And Cabinet? I was not in cabinet when the paper was presented, but of course I was informed. It was presented for Cabinet to discuss, why ? Because Cabinet is not sure if that document is a legal binding document or not because we have had so many experiences in the past where you ignore something and it costs…. watch BTL? They ignore it and play a big bad wolf and we ended up paying $600 million or something that was worth $100 million. That’s a legacy Dean Barrow will never leave down. Plus, you know who the legal fees went to. So you could go into that direction. There are many. We are also dealing with a gentleman that has a history of litigation in this country that has never lost. So government, when it has a document like that, has to bring it to Cabinet to say, guys, what are we gonna do ? Where the attorney general is saying, where the legal advisor is saying, let us seek international legal advice. And I was informed that at that Cabinet, the discussion was vibrant. When I read it, I was appalled. You’re giving away your soul. In fact, when it pertains to my ministry we had to, in that document, we are supposed to build six mile of road, two bridges over swamp and then the developer collects the toll. You check it out? The ministry of land has got its own issue. They have to agree to give away land the seabed, you could call. Natural resources have their issue with the manatees and the environment. There are so many things in there. So Cabinet has to decide, morally, ethically, we know that it’s a horrible document but legally what can government do and that’s where you have to get experts. That is in my opinion what happened. Now that the opposition is doing what they have to do, well I don’t even want to talk about them because in my opinion they are a waste of time.”
Espat was also asked to weigh in on the government’s decision to negotiate Portico’s “Definitive Agreement” and the environmental concerns of having more than one cruise port terminal in the same general area.
Julius Espat, Minister of Infrastructure Development and Housing: “Government should have a policy from day one when we form how we will deal with the cruise ships and we still have to do it. We are saying that, and I have read that we are dealing with hopefully 80% overnight, 20% cruise as the future of this country. If that’s the case, then establish the policy. Economically speaking everybody is aware that you can’t have one more than one cruise ship in the central area, which is Belize City. It’s not economically viable. So why are we fooling ourselves? It is economically, viability is only for one. So, and why is it only for one? Because it’s based on the amount of passengers that you are expecting. Right now we’re at what 700, 800, we’re at a peak of a million. One project from the studies I have seen could take you up to maybe 1.4, 1.5 million where the viability now opens up for a second one. So why don’t we do an agreement. Do one up to about 1.5 and then open the doors for another after 1.5, everybody will be happy. We have to make those decisions. Which one of the three? We have to decide which one is there, which one is the best, which one has invested the money, which is only talk, which one is dealing with immoral and unethical issues, which one is less harmful to our environment? And forget the personalities, take the friends away, take the politics away and hopefully it’s more Belizean than foreign-owned. Isn’t that the dream? Why are we fooling ourselves? Yes, a document has been prepared but the complaint was that it should have been a joint document prepared by the two ministries that have interests with that kind of… so you have the Port Authority which falls under our ministry, and then you have the ministry of tourism that is the umbrella to invite everybody in. And so the request was instead of having just a policy coming out from one ministry have the two ministries join together. And the daddy has to be there. Ministry of Finance has to be there. If you don’t have the daddy nothing happens. I mean we are fooling ourselves Ministry of MIDH, Health, Education, Ports, none of those ministries are worth anything if the daddy isn’t home which is finance. So you know how MIDH operates? Anything we do, we invite a representative from the daddy ministry, sit down with us, be part of the evaluation process. We inform them every single step of the way. So when we present a document from MIDH to Cabinet or to Ministry of Finance or to the Contractor General, we know that finance is aware. And so that is what I believe is necessary.”