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Senate approves OPEC Loan

Today, the loan for twelve million US dollars from the OPEC Fund for International Development was passed in the Senate. That loan is for the replacement of the Haulover Bridge and will subsidize part, or sixty-eight percent of the overall cost of the project. The terms allow government a five-year grace period and fifteen years for repayment, which will be made in thirty semi-annual instalments of four hundred thousand US dollars commencing July 15, 2022. The motion was widely debated in the Senate today. Senator Mark Lizarraga began the debate and highlighted a previous loan that had been approved in 2014. That loan was for 29.7 million US dollars from the Caribbean Development Bank to rehabilitate the Philip Goldson Highway and included the renovation of the Halouver Bridge.  While no one objected to the rebuilding of the Halouver, the debate centered on the 2014 loan and the purpose of the OPEC loan. Here is an excerpt of the Senators’ debate.

Mark Lizarraga, Senator

“Now today we are being asked again to say that we are satisfied and that we approve the spending of another $35.3 million dollars US for one bridge. After already having approved $60 million dollars and that bridged should have been included there. Where is this $70 million dollars going to go? Nobody wants to question these things and the ayes will have it and we will authorize today the spending of $70 million dollars on something that has already been allocated for and something that has already been approved.”

Eamon Courtney, Senator

“This senate has an obligation to exercise oversight Mr.President and when we are told by the people in Government that the design has not been settled yet, when we are told that the cost is still too high, when we are being told that the purpose of this loan is not as stated in the motion but it is a supplementary loan to cover costs. The Government’s counterpart on the 2014 loan is one of the items they are going to pay for and Mr.President cost of putting in the works which were not sufficiently covered by the 2014 loan motion.”

Carla Barnett, Senator

“The funds originally allocated for the bridge by CDB are part of the total cost of the bridge they are going to be used for the bridge construction, what is happening now is that the full cost of the bridge is going to be covered by the co-financing from the OPEC Fund for International Development so this is an additional cost now that the bridge has been properly conceptualized and the design elements have been set out. My understanding is that the process for design, the tendering of the design has commenced so there is an understanding of what the ballpark is but we have to be able to proceed with the project once we have all of that in place. It is also in my understanding that the OPEC Fund is allocating sufficient funding that Government’s Counterpart contribution indeed will be covered by the loan itself.”

Michael Peyrefitte, Senator

“We are transparent, you know what the money is for and you will get a bridge that is well built so that you can be safe and secure Senator Courtney and you want to know where the money went Senator Lizarraga just write. Mr. Waight would gladly give you the details and explanation that Senator Barnett just gave you, just get the information there is no need for grandstanding. The money is not missing, the money is right there and accounted for.”

Aldo Salazar, Senator

“The thing is this, we are trying to build a road that is of an international standard in Belize from Belize City to the International Airport. We completed the 3.5 miles of road from HaulOver to the airport that was in 2016-2016 now we are working on the other part South of the Bridge and then now we need the bridge that is not a rush. We’ve been working on this for three years now, how can that be a rush? We are not rushing.”

Osmani Salas, Senator

“We have heard that we can use the Freedom of Information Act to access information that we need, we can call any government office to get any information that we need but we have to be real as well. It’s not an equal situation here, to a great extent and I’m sure I will be challenged by my colleagues on the government side we have to go with what we are presented, we have to go with what is here and so look we have all the right to ask where is the money and if the money is left over what are the plans for that and with all due respect to my colleagues on the government side the explanation is not sufficient to me.”

Godwin Hulse, Senator

“Senators the issue here is that the government comes back to say ‘OPEC has now agreed to fund the other 68% of civil works’ I will however make sure Senator Courtney that the project execution unit and those people don’t have any confusion with this bridge because the last thing we want is confusion and it will not be politically dictated because it’s not politicians who design bridges its engineers.”