Last Friday’s House Meeting brought about numerous allegations of corruption and land greed. Former Minister of Lands Hugo Patt did not take the allegations quietly as he had his turn to respond, particularly to the story on the 26 acres of land in the Belama area. In this instance the Parliamentarian may have put his foot in his mouth when he confessed that the lands were given to former UDP Senator Roosevelt Blades to prevent the Briceno administration from misusing the land.
Hon. Hugo Patt, Former Minister of Lands: “In the case of the twenty six acres that the government purchased from Ms.Barbara Harris it was a land that was identified and it was offered to the constituency of Collet. A design was made, a plan was presented of some one hundred twenty / one hundred and thirty house lots and these were to be issued to single mothers, these were to be issued to youths, these were to be issued to couples who were either renting or who were either living with a family member. When we started to identify these people it was very close to the election and it is these same people that came to us and indicated to us that look they have a genuine concern; one is that the election was so close and secondly they feared that if the elections went a way and the now party came into government that these lands would be taken away. So it was on the basis of that and realizing that it would take some time, a couple of days for us to be able to process the one hundred and twenty/ one hundred and thirty applications that majority of these people came to us and told us look we don’t know that we will be able to pay these lands within the time that is left and we fear that knowing the government that might come into power, the party that might come into power, that we might lose these lands. It was on the basis of that that actually an idea was explored as to how it is that we can put these lands in trust for the people of Collet. It was never meant for us to get six million dollars from Belizean tax payers money and actually benefit somebody. It was never meant for us to take that six million and actually give the value of six million dollars to Mr.Blades for twenty six thousand – and it was not twenty six thousand as far as I could recall it would have been fifty eight thousand and when you look at the figure of fifty eight thousand each lot that we issued as purchase price as a consequence of COVID-19 and as a consequence of the impacts of COVID-19 on the economy and on the pockets of Belizeans we were issuing purchase prices at the subsidized rate of $500 per lot. It doesn’t really matter if it was town, it doesn’t really matter if it was a city, it did not really matter if it was a village. We extended that subsidized rate across the board so that when you look at the figures it was not done to benefit one particular person. One hundred and twenty or one hundred and thirty single mothers, one hundred and twenty/ one hundred and thirty persons youths and one hundred and twenty / one hundred and thirty couples would have benefited. And I want to make it clear Madam Speaker because the way in which the narrative was presented it was presented in such a way that it seemed that everything that we did was a scheme, that it was corrupt and that was never the case.”
The backstory to the Belama lands is that the Dean Barrow administration had purchased the 26 acres for over six million dollars but opted to sell it to Blades for a mere twenty six thousand dollars. Patt retaliated at the government basically telling them not to throw stones, or as some would say, ‘nuh throw shade’.
Hon. Hugo Patt, Former Minister of Lands: “When you want to present a situation where it’s gonna cost tax payers money we can speak of a typical example that comes to mind. Primrose Gabourel. Primrose Gabourel was issued a portion of the Caribbean Sea under your administration. This happened either in 2006 or 2007, it was issued as a parcel of land. Primrose Gabourel was issued a purchase for a little over $2,000. Primrose Gabourel got a title and it is the same administration that acquired back the land. The lands department at the time did not inform Primrose Gabourel that that land was acquired and the situation with this particular land became sensational because a couple of years ago you would recall that Primrose Gabourel went on the basis that she had a legal document from the Lands Department, she had a land title for that portion of the Caribbean Sea, went ahead and actually started to develop the land, actually started to fill the land. The Department of Environment was alerted to the fact that somebody was filling the sea, permits were not obtained, the necessary documentation for you to move into the maritime areas of this country was not obtained and so the Department of the Environment intervened only to find out that the person had a title for this. Now when you look at the consequences of those actions you would realize that this administration gave this land, took it back, without even informing the people and member it will come to your desk. Primrose Gabourel is suing the government nothing less than $80 million dollars. When you look at the case a person who got a land for over $2,000 and is now suing the government for $80 million dollars for something that you can’t trace back, for something that you won’t get anything in return that is something that you can question.”
A typical House Meeting in Belize would not be complete without the sarcasm and stone throwing. In this case, Lands Minister Cordel Hyde was sure to respond to his predecessor Hugo Patt.
Hon. Cordel Hyde, Minister of Natural Resources: “These folks are trouble. We listened all day to the member from Collet complain about the illustrations, the stories, the facts, the revelations we made today about all that went wrong in their government – freshly went wrong in their government and over the last thirteen years because he doesn’t want us to talk about those. But now the member from Corozal North is gonna bring up something from about fifteen or twenty or I don’t know how long ago, but they don’t want to talk about what just happened. There’s a fundamental difference between that side and this side and I’ll give you an example. Way back in 2008 when elections were coming and it looked as if though the PUP would lose – in fact the PUP went on to get murdered, there were five or six of us over there. There were seventy acres of government land in Lake Independence, seventy acres. I was being hounded by all manner of people to subdivide that land and issue it to private developers but you know what I said ? I said listen it’s the last of the government land in the city let’s not do that. Let’s leave these lands to be subdivided, to be distributed as a result of careful planning, careful land use planning. Even though I know we had very good chance of loosing I resisted the temptation to do anything with those lands because we didn’t have enough time to get it done and the way the democracy works is that when there are elections and a new government comes in then they are responsible for taking care of the state’s and the people’s resources and these are lands in Lake Independence of which I was the area representative from many years before. You’re talking about lands that the Government of Belize paid for in the Freetown constituency that you were trying to hold in trust for the Collet residents something wrong with that you don’t see that ? And because elections were coming and you couldn’t issue those as you would like you decided to put it in the hands of a crony for a pittance. That’s six million dollars, we are paying for the land you know ? Six million and sixty seven thousand plus interest so if the land was sold for twenty six or thirty three or fifty eight or a hundred it’s a giveaway and there’s no guarantee that once the election passes and this man has possession of this land that he will do what you intend for him to do. So the best thing would have been to leave that alone, let the masses decide what they want to do and the masses of the people chose us and so now we have a responsibility to correct that. That’s why I said make the man come for his money and behave himself and we’ll make sure that single mothers and first time land owners get the land.”