Both Norwegian Cruise Lines and the Government of Belize have confirmed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) setting a framework for a new cruise port at Harvest Caye in Southern Belize, a few miles from Placencia, a premier tourist destination.
Stakeholders in the overnight tourism sector are still not content with the decision by the Barrow administration to give the green light to the investors to push ahead with the US$50 million venture, which they say gives too many perks to the investor – and which, they say, is contrary to the tourism master plan to exclude the south from mass tourism. That plan, they say, calls for a smaller-scale, pocket tourism, which should have less negative impact.
Some have even suggested private gain as a motivation for the Norwegian agreement.
“What I resent is, people who suggest that this is some sort of giveaway or sellout. Man, it is always a balancing act,” said Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who holds the portfolios for finance and economic development.
Barrow said that while the MoU has been signed, it is not a legally binding contract. He noted that the final approval is still contingent on an approval of the Environmental Impact Assessment for the Harvest Caye port; and nothing that is legally binding would be signed until then. He also said that the MoU is a public document.
“Everything that is signed or initialed will be put out to the public. There will be no confidentiality, and no secret deals,” he told the press.
On the matters of controversy—and particularly the tax concessions—Barrow said that the parties took out the 20-year business tax exemption from the agreement; but there is some insistence that the head tax, now charged at US$7 per cruise tourist, would be increased in subsequent years.
Under the existing scenario, US$4 of that tax collected by the cruise port goes back to the investors; the remaining US$3 is split between the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) and the Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT).
Barrow also underscored the need for the investment to emphasize on job creation and income generation for Belizeans.
“There is a great insistence on ensuring that the jobs will be had by Belizeans…,” he said, adding that all tours must also be given by Belizeans and that Belizean businesses must be reserved spaces at Harvest Caye.