It’s been less than a week since Belize elected a new government and already investigations and audits within certain ministries have already begun. In the Ministry of Infrastructure Development which was formerly the Ministry of Works the accounts department has been temporarily shut down. The Briceno administration has amalgamated the Ministries of Works and Housing which is now headed by Minister Julius Espat. Espat spoke on the assets of the ministries being brought in from their various locations and he also spoke on several infrastructural contracts that he had brought into question prior to last Wednesday’s elections.
Hon. Julius Espat, Minister of Infrastructure Development: “Right now we have instructed the Chief Engineer that the accounts department at the Ministry of Works needs to be locked down, it has already been locked down. We have also given instructions to the police that no equipment nor no files will be taken out of the ministry until we get in, that’s just the first phase until we do an in depth analysis but to be fair we have to speak to everybody. I think the public servants for too long have been quiet and they have to tell us what happened. How is it that bulldozers are lost and you don’t know and you don’t report it ? It can’t happen just like that it’s not like you’re talking about a little Matchbox car.”
Reporter: So you’re aware of what happened with the former Minister of Works and machinery belonging to the government on his property ?
Hon. Julius Espat, Minister of Infrastructure Development: “I watch television as much as everybody so I am aware.”
Reporter: What happened there I mean how many were recovered and I understand I saw one of the UDP aligned blogs on social media saying that there were accidents while the machinery was being transported.
Hon. Julius Espat, Minister of Infrastructure Development: “That’s not the last of it. We’ll find out where they are and where they’re located but yes there was abuse, I will go to the level that there was theft and if there is theft we will find out who is the person responsible and that person will have to follow the law.”
Reporter: Meaning they’ll be prosecuted.
Hon. Julius Espat, Minister of Infrastructure Development: “I am not a prosecutor I will just present the information to the relative authorities for them to be prosecuted if necessary but it has to happen.”
Reporter: Did you listen to what Mr.Arguelles shared in response to what you said about that $8 million supposedly missing in terms of the which building was it- the Foreign Affairs one, he provided an explanation saying they’re using a kind of glass that is climate change resilient what is your response to that ?
Hon. Julius Espat, Minister of Infrastructure Development: “I’m an architect by profession he can try to fool people out there you can’t fool us. I mean first world meaning that what it doesn’t apply to Belize and he’s insulting all the other professionals in this country that he’s the only person in the entire country that knows to build first world ? Well anybody given a multi million dollar project or a billion dollar project can make first world happen but we have to be conscientious of the fact that we are not a first world country, we have to design our building so that they can be environmentally friendly. We have to design our buildings so that they can breath properly we don’t want no two inch thick glass when it’s not necessary that’s for colder climates you have to design your buildings so that they are applicable and reflect your culture. Have you seen that building ? Does it reflect anything that has to do with Belize? The only thing that it is reflecting is that it is a $15 million dollar contract that was worth $7 million at the highest. You can’t justify it any other way.”
Espat has been at the centre of the criticisms launched at the Barrow administration when it came to the contract processes and awards given under the UDP term. With Espat now in the driver’s seat he was asked if he promises to do things differently including his personal refusal to get a government vehicle.
Hon. Julius Espat, Minister of Infrastructure Development: “I would be a hypocrite if I would continue along the pace and so you would be the one to alert me if we are doing the same thing but that’s not the intent. The intent is fairness. As I mentioned in that report there are forty registered architects in the country, there is over a hundred registered engineers, there’s probably over a thousand registered contractors are you telling me only the Arguelleses were able and capable of designing and building buildings ? Are you telling me that Imer Hernandez was the only contractor capable of building roads? That is what is wrong and there’s no way that they can justify that just like they cannot justify a Range Rover being like a transformer type vehicle. It is arrogance and its highest.”
Reporter: So then what kind of vehicle will you be getting as minister ?
Hon. Julius Espat, Minister of Infrastructure Development: “I am not asking for any government vehicle I will be using my own private vehicle.”
Reporter: And in that vein do you consider – this is a question personally as a minister – that the salaries for ministers should be reviewed along with allowances given the hardships that our people are suffering under this pandemic ?
Hon. Julius Espat, Minister of Infrastructure Development: “I don’t even know what the salaries are to be honest with you. I know I’ll be taking a pay cut any way you take it. I’m coming from the private sector and I’m willing to do that on behalf of the people of Belize. I won’t be getting any government vehicle I’ve already informed the Prime Minister yesterday that I will not be accepting any government vehicle I’ll be using my own.”
Reporter: What about gas? Fuel ?
Hon. Julius Espat, Minister of Infrastructure Development: “I suppose I’ll have to get fuel.”