Features — 23 August 2013 — by Audrey Matura-Shepherd

It is devastatingly painful to listen, read and realize that our political leaders of the UDP are no different from the PUP. It’s like with the same mouth that they curse the past Musa administration for their sweetheart deals, they then turn around and defend their own sweetheart deals. Also with the same hand with pointed finger that they point at the Musa administration for their flagrant abuse of power, they turn around and use that same hand to shake hands with the devil. It is amazing, and I pray sufficient right-thinking Belizeans have eyes to see their deception, ears to sieve through their lies and heart to decipher hypocrisy.

I will keep writing and exposing their own secret agreements like the Providence Energy Ltd. oil contract, but can also draw parallel with their modus operandi in the ongoing treatment of the Norwegian Cruise Line issue.

Not legally binding

So Minister Godwin Hulse keeps saying that the Memorandum of Understanding is not legally binding, and suggests that thus it is of no significance and legal effect … so I ask what is therefore the need for it to encompass the proposed terms? Is it that this very smart Minister does not appreciate that an MOU is to reflect the intention of the contracting party and thus the terms contained are the very terms which will form the final contract? If we do not oppose and criticize the “terms” being agreed via the MOU, when must we show we do not agree with the terms? We should be so stupid as to then clamour against it after the contract? Isn’t the best time to oppose, now, when the intent of the parties is being chiseled out? Of what use will it be to wait until the fully legally binding contract is signed to say we did not agree if we have access to the information now?

As a matter of fact, despicably so, Godwin Hulse is trying to give the impression that the terms in the MOU, which I oppose, are not going to be the terms that end up in the contract. But if this is so, how come after six (6) drafts, the most offensive terms have not yet been removed or changed? I think of great disservice to the country, especially in Southern Belize, is the fact that the proposed NCL deal with government is contrary to the very development proposal of government through the Belize Tourism Board, which is effectively controlled by the government.

I just cannot process in my mind the hypocrisy and audacity of a government to go so contrary to their own commissioned study, that clearly is contrary to the proposal they are getting into with NCL and which is contrary to the wishes of the people directly living in their path of destruction. Really, this is surreal! So am I to expect in the legally binding agreement anything different and better than this bull—t this government is trying to sell us? Aren’t the terms in this same MOU going to be the basis of the final legally binding contract? Fool di talk… you think fool di listen?

Head tax is a rip-off

And just when I thought their audacity and outright sellout of our country could not get any worse, I finally hear the most disgusting explanation about why we will give back money to the cruise line rather than gaining money, and thus “bam,”! I see the similarity with the oil contracts.

In case readers are not aware, the main form of revenues to the government’s coffers would be a head tax, which is the monetary value assigned to each person who comes on the cruise and calls at port in Belize. The country would collect US$7.00 for each visitor. This causes several concerns. Firstly, the US$7.00 per person is so cheap it is like we are running a low-scale prostitution ring in our country, where we see ourselves as low-class prostitutes so we accept the least money though we must give full service. Secondly, despite this already being low, the MOU now calls for the government to return to NCL US$4.00 of the seven…yeah, what nonsense? So why not be just upfront and frank and say all we are getting for head tax is US$3.00? I say the government cannot say it as it truly is, because to do so is to admit that this is the lowest and worst head-tax deal in the world. Come on, Godwin! What type of business acumen is this? Nonsense! Nonsense!

In addition, according to Singh, the average head tax is US$ 8.25… if this is so US$3.00 is not even 50% of that? How does the government justify accepting far way below the average? How? And then have the bold-face to claim it will bring in revenue? Sorry, but it does not add up.

I guess once in political power, leaders seem to be totally self-convinced that we must have been fools to support them to win in the first place, and if we are so fool we must be fool enough that they can convince us of any ridiculous decision and we will accept. I guess that this is exactly what has been happening to them when CEO Mike Singh, with no shame, explained that NCL is being given a 25-year exclusive cruise-line right so it can recover its investment. But apart from the profits that NCL is expected to make, let’s not forget that in addition we have agreed to give NCL back US$4.00 of the tax that should have rightfully been going to the government coffers.

If no “licky licky”… why hide?

A couple weeks ago I wrote that once we have to do something and hide, it is because we know it is bad. So I wonder why Colin Murphy – NCL’s VP, Destination & Strategic Development, at his grand press conference in Matalon “declined to disclose the price tag” for the approximate 75 acres they purchased in southern Belize for this US $50M development? He cited confidentiality as the reason… well, we, the people, need to know because he has now taken possession privately of a piece of Belizean real estate that forms the patrimony of Belize, not Norway nor NCL. And to think our government officials stood by and tacitly supported that response.

Then, fortuitously, after that Godwin Hulse wants to assure us that there is no “licky likcy”. I would also want to know from whom it was purchased? How much? Who were the attorneys in the deal? Was there any government official or employee involved in any way?

Hulse adds that he “does not want any negative to surround any potential investment that comes to this country”… wow! And double wow! The Godwin of old would have gone on the media and asked for transparency and for the voice of the people to be heard, but now cloaked with a Ministerial title he was handed blinders, and he sadly cannot see the minute the government went against the “pocket tourism model” it had originally planned for the south. They in government introduced the negativity. They are negative to the concerns of the people of Placencia, to the BTIA, to the tour operators and to the environmental concerns which they hope to get away with by using a 2009 EIA done for a Krystal Sea Ltd. development which is apparently so different from this Disney fantasy Murphy is talking about.

Mike Singh reportedly swore he had “no private interest in the project” but I think the reporters asked the wrong question … since legally he personally may not have an interest, but a company onshore or offshore in which he has an interest or is director, may stand to benefit. That is the matter I would want him to answer, because legally speaking he may be telling the truth since he, the legal person, is different from the company in which he has shares or is a director.

Back to the money

Based on the press conference, not only is the head tax low, but the prospects of getting a decent increase are again so slim, thanks to the “unfair” terms for us, the people, as contained in the MOU. We not only get US$3.00 head tax but as reported at the press conference, the master negotiator and spokesperson for the government, Godwin Hulse, explained that they foresee a possible increase by a dollar [I hope he meant a US dollar] every FIVE (5) years. Yes, you got that right: not every year, but every five years!

So with an exclusive cruise line contract for 25 years, at the end of it we would have seen a possible increase of five dollars over 25 years. But this unfortunately does not represent the increase expected in head tax at the end of the exclusivity because, again for reasons unknown, the government has agreed in the MOU, which will form the terms of the binding contract, that whatever increase will be shared 50/50 with NCL.

So we can only add to that US$3.00, a measly US$2.50 [I hope he meant US dollars]. From getting a
US $3.00 head tax in 2015, by 2040 we should be getting US$5.50 if the government decides to effect the provisions allowing for increase. Now keep in mind that we still have to share the increase, despite already paying US$4.00 to NCL so they recover their investment…. So the extra US$2.50 for them is just the cream on the cake. Also keep in mind that the US$5.50 we could possibly get by 2040 is still not even close to reaching the average US$8.25 our government representatives spoke about in an attempt to discredit critics who have shown that in other regional countries head taxes are as high as US$60.00.

Sorry people, but it’s just one more bad deal for us Belizeans, done in our face!

Dügü … it’s sacred

I am wondering about the Garifuna Dügü NCL hopes to display to highlight the Garifuna culture. I wonder if they will actually get Garifuna people to be employed to play out a ritual which is so sacred and personal to the people. It is not meant to be exploited and taken lightly. It is not “Disney” matter. Do the people in the ritual have to be authentic Garifuna? Or do they plan to mask and imitate, using actors, the true people whose culture they now want to exploit?

Has anyone ever wondered why the Garifuna people have never made Dügü public, or made a festival of it? Or done videos and public productions of it? I wonder with whom NCL discussed this plan to expose and exploit a very sacred and privately practiced part of this culture? I honestly would want to hear the reaction of the Garifuna Council and the Garifuna people about this.

So Hugh Harley, a former Walt Disney employee out of touch with our reality, had this to say at the August 14 press conference “In the afternoon we are going to do a big drum circle out on the beach. At three o’clock in the afternoon, we will tell the guests, guess what? We’re going to do the dance called dügü. Why? Because nobody ever gets a chance to see that.” [emphasis mine]

Mr. Harley, a.k.a. Mr. Disney, needs to consider why “nobody ever gets to see it.” I am Belizean and know about it, but know it is not my place to just show up and feel entitled to look on as though it is a show … but Mr.Disney will now make it into a story…

I will await the final contract that will arise from the MOU and to see what the EIA will produce… I hope they know that they still have to do consultation under the revised EIA, in case they think buying a ready-made one for a totally different scheme will shield them from facing the people!

God open the eyes and hearts of our blinded leaders and remove their spirit of exploitation over us, your people. God bless Belize!

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