Senate Inquiry Resumes: First Witness Examined on Portico’s Definitive Agreement

Senate Inquiry Resumes: First Witness Examined on Portico’s Definitive Agreement

The second session of the Senate Inquiry surrounding Portico’s Definitive Agreement opened this morning in Belmopan.  The first witness called to the floor was the Executive Director of Beltraide, Dr Leroy Almendarez.  His one-hour interrogation was based primarily on the required steps for any investor or business to reach the point of having a definitive agreement.  As the former Directorate of Foreign Trade, Dr Almendarez explained that he has neither seen nor peruse the agreement as he will not give acknowledgment to a document that he considers invalid.

Dr. Leroy Almendarez, Executive Director, BELTRAIDE: “My initial response was I didn’t know it existed. I think that I wasn’t in shock because you can’t be in shock about something that doesn’t exist but to know that one was signed, to know that something was signed outside of the knowledge of those who may or should have known about it to know that something could have been signed when something did not go through the full process it does open your eyes and I think that’s where the shock would have come in because as far as I know that thing called a definitive agreement in terms of process it did not reach there. So yes I was shocked.”

Janelle Chanona, Chair of Senate Select Committee: “Can I get you to expound. You have reference several times this morning that the definitive agreement does not exist, did not exist can you -“

Dr. Leroy Almendarez, Executive Director, BELTRAIDE: “But if I don’t know about something to me it doesn’t exist. That’s basically it. You know like I said I think there were people who never worked at BELTRAIDE. I think when I heard someone from within the media say that this thing exist and I’m just saying that but to say I said that it doesn’t exist it simply means it doesn’t exist. Which means for me, now Chair, the process that we go through when we assess an application, when I’m notified that this application was approved on the conditions or without conditions that has been approved and I can notify that applicant that you were approved it’s because I have full knowledge of the process. Where this is concerned and as far as I’m concerned this- whatever was out there and that’s why I have no interest in reading it, did not satisfy those conditions that we emphasized even when I and there’s one other thing I remember I think I heard this as well when the lawyer David Morales sent some email to our investment manager and said “Okay I’m forwarding these documents.” now the Belize Invest Manager reported to me. I wasn’t copied in that. And so when he responded in all the professionalism that he displayed and said listen you still have these things outstanding and the chair was notified and he wrote the chair and said he’s writing on behalf of the principal and the chair would have responded and said “it did not get there, we’re not there.” it was because I was copied in that email. But as I’m saying and as I sit here this whatever exists out there I will not honor it to read it simply because it did not go through the process and as far as I’m concerned it dosen’t exist. That’s why I keep emphasizing that. I know Senator Herrera asked about certain things that may be in there but you see if I was to read that and try to interpret what was probably approved in there it would conjecture, inference, hypothesis, which I don’t care to do. That’s my position.”

Additionally, during his testimony, Dr Almendarez noted that there were several missing elements in the process.  Among those missing elements was the environmental study.  

Dr. Leroy Almendarez, Executive Director, BELTRAIDE: “If you went through this there were things that were missing. For example the EIA was not completed. Proof of funding and so therefore it meant that whatever step that was, because you notice it says throughout it continues to speak about ‘source of funding’ that has to be ascertained and so therefore if it was not then it simply means that in this case this project should not have proceeded because there were those things that were outstanding. And our job at BELTRAIDE is to inform whatever investor it is that until you satisfy these conditions this application does not move. As Portico is concerned and like I said for me these are certain of course I must also state that I joined BELTRAIDE in 2018 these conversations had taken place already.”

The afternoon session saw the Lands Commissioner, Talbert Brackett, testify.  The session primarily dealt with questions surrounding the requirements, processes and procedures surrounding land distribution.  Meanwhile, the questions presented surrounding the Portico business could not have been answered directly.

Senator Kevin Herrera: “You mentioned that the lands related to the Portico investment are private. Would you  be able to tell us when those became private and if you don’t have that information now would you be able to get that to the committee ? And as well whose name were they transferred in if they went private from the ministry and at what time. Would you be able to tell us whose name those were transferred to ?”

Talbert Brackett, Commissioner of Lands: “Once I get a directive, investigation can be filed.”

Senator Kevin Herrera: “Well I as a member of the Committee would like to have that information. I don’t know what the process would be for you internally but I mean I would really like to see that information.”

Talbert Brackett, Commissioner of Lands: “Sure, you could write to the CEO and the CEO would send a directive for us to do the investigation. “

Janelle Chanona, Chairperson of the Senate Special Select Committee: “Along the same vein, so the land you’re referring to would be the one on the coast and to some degree inland that would have been private or crown land at one point and then private ? But the seabed would have been government land.” 

Talbert Brackett, Commissioner of Lands: “The seabed is national land.”

Janelle Chanona, Chairperson of the Senate Special Select Committee: “So right now does the proposed developer own the seabed ? Has already applied for the ownership of the seabed and if so how much ?”

Talbert Brackett, Commissioner of Lands: “Okay, my knowledge of that is that they had applied but it is still in process.”

Janelle Chanona, Chairperson of the Senate Special Select Committee: “You can’t say which stage of the process ?”

Talbert Brackett, Commissioner of Lands: “I could check and I could report to you but they had applied.”

Janelle Chanona, Chairperson of the Senate Special Select Committee: “And for how many acres they applied ?” 

Talbert Brackett, Commissioner of Lands: “I wouldn’t have that specific amount here but I could recall that they had applied and it is in process. “

Janelle Chanona, Chairperson of the Senate Special Select Committee:  “Okay. Is there a law that applies to a citizen getting more than five hundred acres? Is there any stipulation ?” 


Talbert Brackett, Commissioner of Lands: “If you apply for over five hundred acres it’s usually Cabinet make that decision.”

The Senate Inquiry wrapped up just after two o’clock this afternoon.

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