The National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC) is made up of sixteen members and tonight, some of these members are in hot water. The Chief Executive Officer of Waterloo Investments Holdings Limited, Stewart Howard, is accusing several NEAC members of attempted bribery. In a letter dated November 24, 2021, Howard tells CEO Dr. Kenrick Williams that (quote) “the most alarming and inappropriate obstruction we have received was from several NEAC members, who, at different stages of the NEAC approval process, have directly and indirectly approached us and offered to assist in the answering of NEAC questions in exchange for financial remuneration. We declined these offers.” End of quote. It’s a damning accusation against the NEAC that is chaired by Dr. Williams. In the letter, Stewart characterizes NEAC members as rogue and self-serving. He, however, does not mention any particular member and does not provide any evidence to substantiate his allegations. And until he does, that’s all it is at the moment- an allegation. Today, we sought comments from Minister Orlando Habet who told us that CEO Williams has written to Waterloo asking for evidence to prove their allegation.
Orlando Habet, Minister of Sustainable Development: “From our side it is very concerning if it is so and if it is not so it is also concerning because you don’t want to have allegations on your technical people who are at this high level and doing such an important job. So what has happened is that the Ministry through the CEO has requested from them some clarification and for them to do some type of substantiation on the allegations. We want that type of substantiation so that we can follow up because we can’t make any accusations and it is difficult even to start doing any kind of investigation if you don’t substantiate that allegation. So their names, exactly what kind of bribery he’s talking about we don’t know. We don’t know if it’s monetary , whatever type of bribery that they were talking about but they did not give us a response to that. As a matter of fact the latest we got was saying that listen we brought that up, it is a serious concern, we don’t want to put it behind thinking it’s not important but for now we want to proceed and so that you can have a new way going forward for the meeting that we’ll come up with a decision and that perhaps it was miscommunication between both parties.”
According to Habet, Waterloo has not been forthcoming. But what happens if evidence is produced incriminating members of NEAC? This is how Minister Habet answered that question.
Orlando Habet, Minister of Sustainable Development: “Certainly we want to clarify that you’re talking about two CEOs, other senior members of staff within the Department of Environment. You have representatives from the Ministry of Human Development, from Finance, you have two representatives from two of the large NGOs and so we really want to know exactly what’s happening.”
Reporter: Is it that each NEAC member was asked to whether confirm or deny these allegations that Waterloo is making ?
Orlando Habet, Minister of Sustainable Development: “I’m not certain that that is exactly what happened. I believe that thee CEO mentioned it in one of their meetings or at least advised them that this is the letter that he got and of course then he’s waiting to get a response from them I don’t know if individually or collectively but the thing is that we cannot proceed with an investigation without having any type of background so that is why we went to them and said listen you are making this accusation or at least an allegation then give us something substantial that we can pursue.
Reporter: So what happens if you get that evidence to substantiate the allegation what happens to that member or members ?
Orlando Habet, Minister of Sustainable Development: “Well I believe that we’d have to seek advice from the Attorney General’s office to see what it is we can do because the NEAC members are appointed based on the legislation not by name but my position within the certain organizations and so we’d have to pursue that. If it’s somebody from the government then I think the government has a procedure and maybe they’ll have to face the Public Services Commission. I am not certain what an NGO would do with their person who is representing them.”
Reporter: But no criminal charges ?
Orlando Habet, Minister of Sustainable Development: “I’m not certain if anything really happened that is something that maybe the Attorney General’s office can advise if in the case of Waterloo they would decide to take it to court then that would be a different matter it would be something for the court to decide.”
The allegation of bribery comes on the heels of NEAC’s rejection to Waterloo’s Port of Belize Cruise and Cargo Expansion Project.