The Turneffe Atoll Trust has been given authority over seventeen thousand acres of national land at the Turneffe despite being a reserve. The matter has created a stir among environmentalists, stakeholders, and the opposition, PUP. According to Opposition Leader, John Briceno, this move was made with the knowledge and approval of multiple government ministers.
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader: “Well it seems that it look like everything that this UDP government it touch there seems to be some kind of hustling or it’s shrouded in secrecy and being done quietly and all of a sudden they spring it on you with no public consultations or anything and you know when you see these kinds of stuff you need to question and you believe that there is some kind of big hustling has been happening. What has happened? Well it seems that the government has decided, two ministers – Minister Hulse the same famous Godwin Hulse remember the Mr- accountability when he was in opposition now this very same Minister in the darkness of night along with Minister Patt who is now vying to be the first deputy for the UDP has signed an agreement, has pretty much sold off 17,000 acres of the Turneffe Atoll. Now in this hemisphere there are only four atolls in this hemisphere, Belize has three of them and now we’re giving a foreign trust, the Turneffe Atoll Trust, 17,000 acres. We don’t know who these people are. They’re saying that they want to talk about managing it sustainably, protected and so forth but that’s hypocrisy, that’s BS because as it is right now the Turneffe Atoll has already been declared a marine reserve, that’s already a marine reserve, it’s being protected and ironically or what makes it worse is that this Atoll is being managed by Belizeans. There is what you call the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association that is managing this atoll. It includes the fisheries administrator, UB the University of Belize, Belize Fishermen’s Cooperative, the Association of Fishers, the Fishing Department, all of them have been managing this area and so for the government to all of a sudden say ‘I want to protect this so I’m going to give it to a foreign trust.’ it just doesn’t gel; something fishy, if I may use the word all pun intended, is happening here.”
In addition to the questions arising from the handing over of the 17 thousand acres of land to a foreign interest, Briceno says there is the other issue of how it was done. He says it never went to the House of Representatives and therefore the business is deemed illegal.
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader: “It is very important to point out that the transferring of 17,000 acres of land of the Turneffe Atoll is illegal under the National Lands Act. Under the National Lands Act on Section 6 it says that even if land is sold as a reserve it must go to the National Assembly for approval and next under the Finance and Audit Reform Act Section 22 it also says very clear that land in excess of 500 acres must go to the National Assembly for approval; none of that has been done so this is an illegal act that the UDP government has taken. But as what you say inquiring minds want to know why is government doing this ? Why are they hurriedly signing an agreement a few months into an election ? Why are they going to block off 17,00 acres of land in perpetuity in the hands of foreigners just before the elections. At the very least they should do is wait for the new government to deal with that and not them hurry quickly signing this agreement. The mother of all ironies is that the UDP government has spent almost a billion dollars in nationalizing public utility companies, remember BTL and BEL, they gone through the full works going all the way to the Caribbean Court of Justice more than once and then the Prime Minister signing a secret agreement to settle it. We spent almost a billion dollars to acquire this we even amended the constitution to ensure that these public utilities are in the hands of Belizeans in perpetuity the majority and now here we go giving a national treasure , 17,000 acres of the Turneffe Atoll to a foreign trust, to people who we don’;t know who they are ?”
The Turneffe Atoll Trust issued a press release earlier today. The release notes that the land will be kept in trust for conservation and will remain in its natural state perpetually. It goes on to read, quote, “Turneffe Atoll Trust applauds the Government of Belize, and particularly, Ministers Omar Figueroa and Hugo Patt, for their wisdom and foresight in moving this project forward. As with other Land Trusts preserving key environmental assets for Belize, such as the Northern Biological Corridor, this effort would not have been possible without their leadership. Since 2002, Turneffe Atoll Trust (TAT) has advocated for the protection and sustainable management of Turneffe Atoll. TAT led efforts in 2012 to form the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve and considers a strong Marine Reserve key to the sustainability of Turneffe. The Turneffe Land Trust will strengthen conservation efforts at Turneffe and enhance the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve.” End of quote./////