The loan triggers fiery debate at House meeting
BELMOPAN, Fri. Aug. 16, 2019– This morning, Prime Minister Dean Barrow tabled a motion for a loan of US $50 million ($100 million Belize) from the Republic of China (Taiwan) for the rehabilitation of 47 miles of road from Corozal Town to Sarteneja Village and the upgrading of two bridges, Pueblo Nuevo and Laguna Seca.
In his introduction of the motion, Barrow told the House that US$50 million of financial support from the Export Import Bank in the Republic of China would be received by the government in the form of a long-term loan with low interest rates. The loan is for 20 years and it has a grace period of 5 years, Barrow explained.
“Disbursement schedule: to be disbursed over five calendar years commencing from the date of signing, with each disbursement being in accordance with project milestones and consisting of an aggregate amount not exceeding fifty million. Repayment in thirty consecutive equal or nearly equal as possible semi-annual principal installments commencing sixty-six months after the date of the first advance made under the agreement. Rate of interest: six months LIBOR plus one percent per annum,” Barrow stated.
During the debate which followed, the Opposition People’s United Party parliamentarians launched their attack on the government, beginning with the PUP National Deputy Leader, Hon. Cordel Hyde, the Lake Independence area representative, who took the government to task for not having a Contractor General in place to ensure proper accountability of the monies being borrowed.
Hyde also highlighted the disparities in the amount of monies the government has been spending for various road construction projects. In the case of the one mile of road that was paved on Fabers Road, it cost around 8 million dollars. Hyde described it as a “fraud.”
Hon. Hyde told the House, “… today, the government has tabled, or will table when it‘s all said and done, four loan motions for a hundred and sixty-eight million dollars; twenty million of that; they deferred the Education Loan Motion, so it‘s going to be a hundred and forty-eight million. And out of that hundred and forty-eight million, a hundred million is for a road.”
Hon. Hyde continued, adding, “I want to say two things, Madam Speaker. One, we on this side of the House have serious concerns that a hundred million dollars is going to be entrusted to the Ministry of Works, when we don‘t have a Contractor General. We have not had a Contractor General for over a year, probably eighteen months … we‘ve heard all kinds of sordid stories from the Ministry of Works as it relates to these contracts, but we are going to entrust the men at the Ministry of Works with a hundred million dollars.
“Now, this hundred million dollars is going to pave, I assume, forty-seven miles of road and we’ll get two bridges. I hope it’s paved because that would say that they paid probably a little over a million dollars per mile of road. What that does, Madam Speaker, is that it exposes the massive fraud that took place with Fabers Road.”
Hon. Florencio Marin, Jr., the area representative for the Corozal Southeast, where the Taiwanese loan will be used, is supportive of the move to resurface the Sarteneja Road but questioned whether Taiwan trusts the Ministry of Works. Hon. Marin said that he will be on the ground, to monitor the progress of the works.
He also said that there is a corruption clause in the contract which says that any trial concerning the contract must be held at the Southern District of New York, and not in Belize, where the Government of Belize is the recipient of the loan funds.
Hon. Kareem Musa said, “What they are not telling the Belizean people is that this money is not coming to them the way Petro Caribe [money] came to them, and the way they squandered it, like a bonanza. Believe it or not, Belize, this 50 million US dollars is going to Guatemala, to a company set up in Guatemala by the Taiwanese.”
“So now, not even the Taiwanese trust this government with money,” Hon. Musa said.
Barrow wrapped up the debate by promising to amend the Contractor General Law by removing the disqualification from serving in other areas of the government.