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Senators question consultations on Processing Areas Amendment Bill and the role of the Minister

The Senate met this morning to debate four bills that were brought from the House of Representatives. The first presented for debate was the Designated Processing Areas Bill 2018. The bill aims to facilitate investment, production of value adding of enterprises in Belize in national priority sectors, and to ensure compliance with regulations and standards, and stimulate employments among other things. Senator Mark Lizarraga, representing the business sector, said there was much to be considered and clarified before passing the bill, while Senator Eamon Courtney questioned the role of the Minister that has been stipulated in the bill. Here is an excerpt of their presentation.

Senator Mark Lizarraga: “Mr. President we have before us today a bill to repeal and replace the Export Processing Zone Act and to facilitate investment, production of value adding of enterprises and national priority sectors and to stimulate employment, the transfer of technology and economic development. I must start off by saying that I fail to see how this Bill will achieve many of its stated objectives. It is absolutely not clear how this Bill is going to stimulate employment, facilitate the transfer of technology or even economic development. It’s very questionable. Mr. President, the Prime Minister himself has said that it is quite possible that we will need to be back in this very house in the near future to make more amendments because Mr. President in reality the very stated purpose for us having to deal with this Bill may not have been met. If the de facto reality is to limit benefits only to exporters we believe it will not satisfy the ASCM standards. We question Mr. President, why did we not just change the tax laws and do the extensive tax reforms that the business community has been championing for, screaming for for ages and we believe that we will still have problems after this Act is passed. Mr. President we have received submissions from several, many in fact. As the Prime Minister rightly said there have been lots of hurried consultations in this matter trying to see if we could address all the concerns of the business community. Another repeating message that we heard from the sectors was that yes consultation was done last minute but these things we knew were coming upon us a long time ago and that we should have had more consultations over a given period of time and that it is a travesty that we seem to be passing legislation all the time and in a rush. When you are affecting people’s livelihoods you are affecting investor confidence; the investor climate. We need to be very clear about what the standards are and what standards are going to be applied. Those standards need to be designed and implemented as a tool to encourage participation, not to discourage participation. Standards need to be identified not only for local; the law isn’t even clear who is going to be responsible for applying the standards, again uncertainty. These things are important Mr. President because it all affects the investment climate, it all lends to uncertainty and when you are investing your money you don’t want to be in an uncertain climate. We are fast becoming known as a jurisdiction of uncertainty.”

Eamon Courtney: “We are dealing with designated processing areas. We are dealing with investments, we are dealing with fiscal incentives, we are dealing with attracting investment. Why do we have two representatives from the Attorney General’s Ministry on an Appeal Court and then the President of the Chamber of Commerce and a representative from the private sector. I thought the President of the Chamber of Commerce was representing the private sector. Mr. President there is a difficulty with establishing boards like this to make decisions in respect of massive investments by people and when you look at the board and you ask what are the skill set that the person serving on the board brings to the appeal board and you have to ask yourself the question, there is no clarity, what is the purpose of this membership? Is this something that has been hurriedly put together? You will notice that the Minister shall appoint a member of the appeal board to be the chair and that the Minister may terminate a member of the board for inability or misbehaviour or on the ground of any employment or interest which appears to the Minister to be incompatible with the functions of a member of the board. That doesn’t give confidence to people that there appeal is going to be heard by a board over which the Minister have this power to remove these persons virtually within her or his discretion. Mr. President like those who have spoken before me: all I can say is if it is indeed that are passing this legislation to meet some deadline and the Government side is determined that it wants to meet that deadline, I think that we should take up the promise of the Prime Minister that more than likely these pieces of legislation will come back before these Chambers in the not too distant future when we can have sober discussion and debate about it and fix the things that appear to us not to be perfect, thank you Mr. President.”