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Senate Debates over 100 million in road works

Today the senate met at the National Assembly building. The senators discussed the loans from the Kuwaiti fund and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) that amounted to over 100 million for roads and infrastructure. But a little more on that later.  There were a few housekeeping issues for the senators before they debated the loans. The bills brought from the house included the Retired Persons Incentives Amendment Bill, 2018; the International Business Companies Amendment Bill, 2019 and the International Financial Services Commission Amendment Bill, 2019. Papers tabled from the house included the Central Bank of Belize’s Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for 2019; the Annual Report and Statement of Accounts for the Central Bank for 2017 and 2016 respectively. The audited financial statements for the Coastal Zone Management and Authority for its financial year that ended March 31, 2018 was also tabled. In relation to motions, the reappointment of the Ombudsman Motion, 2019 made way for the Ombudsman Lionel Arzu to be reappointed for an additional year, taking effect from April 1, 2019. Another motions brought before the senate included the appointment of several individuals including: Armead Gabourel, Lisbeth Delgado, Wilmot Simmons, Nestor Vasquez, Zoe Roberson Zetina and Claudet Grinage as members of the Integrity Commission.  Perhaps the most discussed item on the Senate’s agenda was the infrastructural developments.  The Coastal Highway upgrading is estimated to cost 73 million dollars. It will result in the paving of 36.6 miles that connects the George Price Highway near mile 30 and Democracia Village to the Hummingbird Highway at Mile 9.  The loan also includes funding to acquire 44 acres of land needed to widen and realign the road. There is also a component for bridge repairs, safety improvement and climate adaptation works. The Senate also approved a motion that the Government of Belize may into a loan with the Caribbean Development Bank for the Second Road Safety Project to the tune of 11.8 million dollars. The funds would be used to help support safety of road users, post-crash response and capacity building for agencies involved in road safety management in Belize. Six million Kuwaiti Dinaris or the equivalent sum of 40 million dollars was also tabled from the Kuwait Fund to pave an additional 26 miles CARACOL Road, when combined with previous funds spent on upgrading other parts of the road, it would take the total cost of the road above 100 million. The senators were divided particularly on where those funds should be spend and also wanted to examine the contracts for those loans.  

Mark Lizarraga Senator for Business: “We have been promised details of the contracts. Last Contractor General reports that we saw was when the Contractor General reminded the Government of its obligation to provide contracts to parliament. We have been getting the loan agreements and these are not the contracts. Why is that important? Because we still don’t know what it is that we are getting for these millions and millions that we are spending. I cannot tell you specifically what it is that we are getting so that is one very important reason. Two we know we don’t have a Contractor General but that these contracts are going to the Attorney General’s Office for evaluation. The very Attorney General that has promised to provide us these contracts so there is no excuse for us not to be provided these contracts because he promised to do so in the last Senate meeting that we had. Today thankfully again the leader of Government businesses has promised that he would provide us with those contracts so we know what it is we are getting for the monies that we are spending. The overriding concern of course is the justification for these projects.”

Elena Smith President BNTU:We are quite concerned about our debt and the amount that is being borrowed because at the end of the day it is going to be the workers who will have to pay back these things and these things come in several forms: In terms of infrastructure because you always hear persons commenting after our comments that oh you are against infrastructure and you are against development. That is not the case but we need to prioritize, is that more important than education? Health care? And other aspects? It cannot be and so while we are saying that it is important for these roads to be fixed, it can be done in other manners. We can then put our priority in other areas that are of more importance, that we believe are more important. When we look at thee people in the south: what type of roads do they have? How our school children have to suffer when the rainy season comes. When the buses get stuck on the road and they have to come out and walk. These people from Graham Creek that you are aware of how do they get to their school? and their homes? Those are areas of concerns and so then it makes us wonder why is it that these people cannot get even a gravel road for them to be able to move freely on those roads whereas these other areas you are spending so much millions. You have heard how do we account for all of these? What sort of inflammation are we being given to make proper decisions and so the NTUCB made it clear today that they are not supporting these loans for those reasons.”

Aldo Salazar Senator: Take for example the road through what is now the coastal road. We need to consider the impact that it will have on the economy as a whole. I mean people who have to go to Dangriga now or down south will be able to traverse that road, we will be able to save money on fuel. We don’t realize that there is a lot of citrus going down through the Humming Bird and that will now be a better avenue for them, there are alot of communities there. I read from an article on the ILO website and there are other articles that speak about how infrastructure really affects poverty alleviation so I accept the loan notions. Even the Caracol one in which I think had more a position I have always supported that. I think we cannot focus on Caracol itself, the temple itself. That is not the only purpose for this road, there are communities there so there is the issue of the Chiquibul, there is access to the Chiquibul and there that is the use to the Belize Defense Force.”