BELIZE CITY, Wed. Jan. 13, 2016–The Government of Belize has issued a statement confirming that it has been in talks with at least two companies which are interested in partnering in a venture to establish a new cruise port on the Southside of Belize City, at Port of Belize.
As we reported in the midweek edition of Amandala, rumors of the discussions between the Government of Belize and British billionaire Michael Ashcroft, whose Turks and Caicos bank, British Caribbean Bank, has the Port of Belize under receivership, had reached the ears of Michael Feinstein, who had proposed a US$100 million mega-tourism enterprise with a cruise port at Stake Bank, off the coast of Belize City.
The release, which was issued Tuesday, said: “Cabinet noted that as an option, it is reviewing numerous studies that have been done over the past two decades which identifies the Port of Belize as a viable facility. The Government has recently received expressions of interest to develop the Port of Belize from two companies so far. One is the company that currently controls the receivership, Ports Investment Limited (PIL), and Hertzog International Incorporated.”
Although Parliament has approved a bill to grant exemptions on the payment of taxes and duties to Feinstein’s Stake Bank project, the legislation has yet to be brought into force.
Government said that Feinstein – who went to court last year to challenge the exclusivity granted to the owners of the Fort Street Tourism Village in Belize City – wants a 25-year exclusive contract, but Cabinet in its meeting on Tuesday decided that he won’t get it.
When we asked Feinstein about that today, he said that although that proposal was put on the table prior to the Supreme Court case, he has not pursued it since.
“After I went to court [and challenged that exclusivity], how will I go back to ask for that now, when I just asked for that in court and won?” Feinstein replied.
He told us that the commercial agreement for Stake Bank had been lying on a desk for a long time, but the Government never signed it, and Feinstein said that it won’t be valid until Prime Minister Dean Barrow signs the statutory instrument to bring it into force.
On Monday, Feinstein told us that he won’t pursue his Stake Bank project—not while the Government is entertaining prospects of a partnership with a director competitor.
However, the developer also told us that the only way he will revisit the project is if the Government guarantees his loan, since the Government is entertaining other options that could put his investment in jeopardy.
Feinstein said that he asked to meet with the Prime Minister on Friday, not to request an exclusive license but to clarify the state of affairs after he heard reports of Government’s talks with other investors to develop a docking facility at Port of Belize.
Cabinet reported that, “…in its consideration [it] recalled that in 2004, under the Musa administration, the Government of Belize had signed an agreement with the Fort Street Tourism Village (FSTV), giving the port exclusivity in the Belize District.
“Mr. Michael Feinstein was the main investor in FSTV at the time. Years later when Michael Feinstein sought to develop the Stake Bank Project which would be an additional port in Belize City, he ran into difficulties resulting from this 2004 agreement.
“Mr. Feinstein took the matter to the Supreme Court and in October 2015, the Court ruled that those four provisions on exclusivity in the agreement were unlawful.”
The release added that in the face of the Court’s decision which found the exclusivity clause contained in the agreement between FSTV and GOB “to be unlawful, unenforceable and incompatible with the proper discharge of GOB’s responsibilities; and are ultra vires the powers of the Executive to make,” the Cabinet cannot entertain Feinstein’s request.
The release added that Feinstein’s position is that, if he cannot get exclusivity, he may have to withdraw the project.
Speaking with us on Monday, Feinstein stated: “The fact that Prime Minister could actually entertain that when I am about to start a project makes it impossible. It makes no business sense to go down that road.”
The impasse over Stake Bank has been dragging on for quite some time. As we reported to you last May, there were problems resolving just how the project would proceed.
In speaking with our newspaper, Prime Minister Barrow had expressed reservations over the financing of the Stake Bank project. He had told us that three local banks, First Caribbean, Heritage Bank and the Belize Bank, were interested but have not made a firm commitment, and the prospective financing did not include the cost of building the causeway to Belize City.
Barrow had added that his conversation with one of the three banks had convinced him that the banks will not finance the project unless they have iron-clad guarantees as to the viability of the project, such as a guarantee on the amount of passengers and a dedicated revenue stream, such as the head tax, to service the debt.
When we spoke with him on Monday, Feinstein said that financing had been secured, but his concern was the move by Government to entertain the new docking facility at Port of Belize under a private-public partnership.
In his New Year’s Message, Barrow had said that, “…the Supreme Court ruling on Belize City Port exclusivity—or lack thereof—clears the way for us to green-light a new, Old Capital alongside docking facility.”
He added that, “The new cruise port will be built by the private sector in some form of partnership with Government…” but did not at the time identify the private sector partners with whom the Government could pursue such an enterprise.
Speaking with the media Tuesday, Prime Minister Barrow said, “We know that Luke Espat and Carnival were going to build at Port Loyola and Carnival had done its studies and knew that Port Loyola option was feasible. Mr. Feinstein tells me that was then, and now, because the ships have grown bigger, he is positive that Port Loyola is not an option. Well, we need to hear that from the experts that are going to be retained by those that have an interest in Port Loyola. So for us it’s wait and see.”