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PM Denies Request to Pause all EIAs

Prime Minister John Briceno has responded to a letter written by NGO Senator Janelle Chanona who had requested that the government put a pause on all Environmental Impact Assessments currently in process. Senator Chanona asked that this be done until relevant environmental regulations and laws are amended and fully realized. In his response, PM Briceno tells Senator Chanona that (quote) Because my government is serious about its commitments under the Blue Loan Agreement and the Conservation Funding Agreement, we have established a Blue Bond (Project Finance for Permanence Unit within the Office of the Prime Minister to ensure our compliance with our financial and conservation obligations under the Agreements. Your letter raises questions over such commitments. Even though we are doing all to comply with our commitments, we felt it was important enough that the Unit seeks an opinion from legal counsel on the matter before we responded. Now having the benefit of such opinion, our legal counsel has reassured us that the Government of Belize is in full compliance with the Agreements both in its letter and in its spirit.” (end of quote)  Chanona spoke to the media. 

Janelle Chanona, Senator: “We’re grateful that we got a response. We’re still going through the document. I hope I’m wrong in saying that I do read a modicum of defensiveness because certainly we want a collaborative relationship and we want there to be in all our correspondence a measure of constructiveness to it so we continue to go through the letter. At the first couple reads since getting the letter this morning, we still have a fair amount of questions already emerging from it. So we will be following up in due course with the correspondence. I got very nervous in terms of seeing the line referring to  legal counsel because as we’ve seen lately, a lot of that legal counsel that the Government has received in the past has put us in some interesting situations. So I do hope that all of us can trust implicitly in the guidance that the Government is being given. But, the crux, yes, is that we had questions jointly in relation to the Blue Bond Agreement but it is also that there were other things that there were other things that we were also asking if there wasn’t disconnect. So it’s not just about the Blue Bond Agreement. It is also about the EIA regulations as per the February 2020 amendments that also speak to looking at how EIAs proceed in relation to potential impacts to the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve system and making sure that that is safe guarded. It’s asking about the policies that are still ongoing. So that’s where I see there’s a lot that, as I said, that doesn’t reconcile and I will be counting on the media to reconcile the contents of this letter even with the October statement that we got initially that looked at the ports in specific but certainly, we’ve added to that list. So we want to know how we’re proceeding because, I’m still not sure, as you called out, that we’re on the same page in terms of where our concerns are rooted and it’s not just in one agreement.”

The Prime Minister says that the articles of the Conservation Funding Agreement are both applicable outside the geographic scope of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System and are applicable to all new or major development. Briceno goes on to say (quote) There is no question that my government will ensure that any EIA approvals are granted in adherence to Belize’s laws and regulations. It is a clear overreach to suggest that within the context of the Agreements that all EIAs should be paused.” (end of quote)  Senator Chanona says it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Janelle Chanona, Senator: “I don’t know that the community has ever said that we are anti-development or anti-job creation but that’s the conversation we want to have because it cannot be that we’re using job creation and development to justify these decisions if we don’t have clarity on: What type of jobs are we talking about? What type of development agenda we’re talking about?  That is the conversation we want to have. Admittedly it will be a difficult conversation but we have to have it if everybody’s knowing where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. What we’re calling out is that it’s these projects today but as we’ve seen in the past and you know, if we don’t arrest this now, what we will continue to see in the future is this project to project scenario, constantly trying to figure out how we’re going to make everything work in the same space and that’s the cycle we’re trying to address. It is not stopping development. It’s putting a pause on certain things so that we have clarity, so that we have a plan. We have said, if we’re failing to plan then we’re planning to fail and we can’t afford to fail. That is the really big picture here, that it has to be that all of us know that there’s a plan and I know it’s easy to paint the NGOs as being anti-development but that is really and truly not the case. It is just about trying to get clarity on what the national development agenda is. What is the port policy? What is the master tourism policy so that we know where we are and how we can intervene and how we can move forward together. This is a ‘we’ thing. This is not, oh the NGOs will figure this out or the Government will figure this out. No. We have to figure this out together. I think we have known for quite some time, the areas of the EIA that need to be addressed so I am personally very confident that that can be done in a very short, by Government definition, short window of time. We have seen where past governments have said, you know, we’re to close this department, or close this unit, or close this ministry down for months at a time to make sure that they have things in place before they start looking at public business. So, what we’re asking for is not unprecedented, 1. And 2, we think it’s worth it. If we don’t make the decisions within the context of a plan and following the plan and sharing  the plan and clarifying the plan then it’s toothpaste out the tube. We can’t put it back in. So what do we prefer? Regret? Or at least confidence in knowing that we’ve taken the time to make an informed decision and then move forward.”