After a long debate inside and outside the Senate meeting last week, the Senator for NGOs Osmany Salas has taken to social media to give his views on the Nature Conservancy (TNC) issue. Senator Salas explained that while he was tempted to comment on the matter last week, he chose to stick to the issue at hand which was the national budget. He went on to say that he supports the TNC project and believes it will do good for Belize.
Osmany Salas, NGO Senator: “If the Belize Maya Forest project was designed to be profit making and generate wealth for private investors I would be at the front of the line crying foul and saying what are the furious deal that is. But that is not true at all. To the contrary, the 236,000, acres of forest land was purchased by a coalition of conservation organizations. The property had been owned by a US based timber company for more than a decade, and faced immediate risk of being cleared if the conservation coalition led by TNC had not purchased. The agreement with the government of Belize ensures that the property will be held in trust for the government and people of Belize for the protection and conservation of the natural ecosystems. The shareholders are the people of Belize and ecosystems of Northern Belize. The government officials have stated that Belize is losing about $9.1 million per year as a result of the belief Maya forest project. This claim fits perfectly with the government’s strategy to divert attention from the fall out as a result of the 10% salary cut. However, the government has been severely short sighted either purposely or inadvertently. Together with Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area the Belize Maya Forest Lands protect the last remaining forest stands in northwestern Belize which in turn provide protection for the Rio Bravo, Rio Hondo and New River watersheds.”
Salas goes on to outline and simplify the points of contention that were brought out during last Wednesday’s Senate meeting. Those points include the tax exemptions and waived fees.
Osmany Salas, NGO Senator: “This is what the government officials have said about what they call the TNC scandal. The agreements were prepared and signed between TNC and the government after the National Assembly had been dissolved and just a few weeks before general elections, a nefarious deal they say. The stamp duty payable on the land transaction was almost $7.3 million but the government waived this. Additionally the previous government waived land taxes for 50 years amounting to $7.7 million per year. The government also gave up the carbon rights on the property, which may amount to millions of dollars of losses to Belize over the years. All these fees are waived while our country has been in the throes of one of its worst financial crisis. How scandalous. High crime they say, but is it? Let’s look at each of these points in turn, I would not call the agreements related to the Belize Maya Forest Project a nefarious deal. While parliament was already dissolved when the agreements were signed, ministers still retained their executive powers and functions until the day before general elections. I do concede the point though, that signing such a major agreement just days before the general elections, was likely unwise and certainly bad practice and optics giving the impression that Hanky Panky was at play. I am convinced that there was no such Hanky Panky. To the contrary, the Belize Maya Forest Project is good for Belize.”
According to Salas the major debate over the TNC project may very well had been an attempt to distract from the real economic crisis at hand and the unions actions.
Osmany Salas, NGO Senator: “I was tempted to speak up about the matter when my turn at the microphone arrived. But I will myself to stick to my prepared points related directly to the proposed national budget. I had the distinct feeling that the minister and his colleague in the House of Representatives before him purposely chose to bring up the TNC land purchase initiative, known as the Belize Maya Forest Project during the budget debates for one main reason. The government officials, sensational announcement of what they call the TNC scandal would have the media all over it, and it worked. The phantom scandal is all over the news, competing head to head with one here to fore was taking up a good portion of the airtime, that’s the government’s proposal to cut the wages of public officers by 10%. I stayed on point in my budget remarks, and focused on three major items that should be in the minds of most of my fellow Belizeans. That is one the massive public debt, two the government’s recovery plan including the public wage bill an augmentation of tax revenue and three, corruption.”
The Nature Conservancy project involves more than two hundred thousand acres in question that were purchased by a group of environmental groups with the purpose of protecting the environment. Love News understands that the area was previously used for logging under its previous owner, Forestland Group. Now named the Belize Maya Forest, a number of conservation and environmental groups are teaming up to protect a large part of Belize’s territory. One point of contention on this issue is the speculation land tax waivers that amounted to some four hundred million dollars over a fifty-year projection.