With 84 percent of Belize’s bondholders’ approval for the buyout of the superbond final negotiations are underway with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) for the Blue Bonds Program. It is a program that will see the payoff of the superbond through a loan with interest rates between three to four percent. By all indications, it is a sound investment; so much so, that even one bondholder commended the country on its creativity in lowering the country’s debt. Under the Blue Bonds Program Belize will have its reef and a portion of its ocean territory protected from the dangers of oil exploration and dredging. Senator Osmany Salas told Love News that the work is not limited to protection but that there will be other initiatives, as he understands it, under the umbrella of the Ministry of the Blue Economy.
Senator Osmany Salas, Belize Network of NGO’s: “We don’t know what the conservation asks are or the commitments that government will sign onto in terms of marine conservation we don’t know and I really look forward to being informed about that as soon as possible. But my understanding is that it will not only be about locking up marine resources, not at all. Proper marine resources management runs the gamut from core marine protection and conservation to also Blue economic development. So there certainly will be opportunities for sustainable, sound economic development within our blue spaces, what we refer to as the blue economy. So there will be tremendous opportunity for that. This is definitely not only about locking up spaces, not at all. I saw an interview yesterday that the Financial Secretary gave in the media that was very sobering and very informative. So the blue bonds initiative will essentially deal with about 12% of our external debt obligations; we still have 88% to deal with. So with the blue bonds initiative once everything is signed, sealed and delivered it will result in substantial debt relief over time. So over time the country will pay dramatically less than we otherwise would have paid under the superbond so that will be huge savings over time. I don’t know the exact amount but it’s about close to half, I think, that we will be saving. That’s major but the immediate positive effects with the economy in relation to cash flow will not be felt immediately so the Financial Secretary was referring to that and that is something we must all recognize. But over time it will be substantial relief and so the government I’m pretty sure is also having to look at the rest of the external debt portfolio, how to deal with that because it’s massive, it is massive. Blue bonds initiative as I mentioned only addresses 12%.”
Once the Blue Bond Program is finalized the Government of Belize is expected to release the details of the agreement. So far, we can tell you that the Government will be putting in its share towards the protection of the area with an initial investment of twenty three point four million dollars. According to Senator Salas there will be a special committee created to monitor the program.
Senator Osmany Salas, Belize Network of NGO’s: “In relation to the Blue Blonds initiative one of the very important aspects of that is that it will capitalize an endowment for marine conservation and marine resources management. According to a press release from government one of the earlier press releases they did refer to capitalizing initially like a $23.4 million US dollar endowment if I have the figures right and every year they would add to that over the life of the initiative and a local board will be set up to manage that, administer that and to control and monitor how that is used. And my understanding is that the board will be majority non government. But the devil is in the details and I look forward to the details being shared as soon as it can be.”
The National Trade Union Congress (NTUCB) has also weighed in on the Blue Bonds Program. In a release issued yesterday, the union noted that they have met with government officials to discuss the program. They say they are satisfied with the explanation given to them and commend the government in seeking ways to reduce the country’s debt. The release goes on to say, quote, “while the details of the contractual agreement with TNC was not provided, the NTUCB was pleased to learn that the current efforts of the government sought to reduce the country’s debt from 127% of GDP to an estimated 115%, reduce the national debt by an estimated five hundred million Belize dollars and reduce the superbond to manageable terms in consideration of other existing debt obligations.” End of quote. Further in its release, however, the NTUCB did list three demands to the Government. The first being full disclosure of the TNC Agreement once it is finalized. The second being a commitment from the government for efforts at immediate economic reform and measures that safeguards against debt unsustainability (equal to 78% debt to GDP) as recommended by the IMF; and thirdly, the importance of a Social Partnership Mechanism to safeguard Belize’s commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals; the attainment of which requires cooperation and commitment from the labour force representative.