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Arguelles brothers awarded over $103 million in contracts under the UDP, says PUP

“The new Foreign Affairs building’s cost is bloated by about 8 million dollars…” – Julius Espat, PUP Cayo South

BELIZE CITY, Tues. Nov. 3, 2020– During the PUP’s press conference held earlier this week, Julius Espat, Cayo South Representative, alleged that International Environments Limited (iE) has received over 100 million dollars in construction contracts from the Barrow administration.

The owners of iE, architect brothers Daniel and Carlo Arguelles, have worked on dozens of new structures in Belize, including the new Belize City Center and the new City Hall.

Espat said that the Arguelles brothers were given preferential treatment and unfairly enriched by means of the award of these contracts.

He said, “I went into the Association of Professional Architects of Belize; I looked at the registry — there are 40 official registered architects in the country.”

He went on to say, “Then I looked at the engineers association, APEB. There are 102 qualified engineers that are resident in this country, and numerous and hundreds of other potential contractors that have the professional expertise that could have done all of this work, and we could have shared the money equally among our Belizean professionals and contractors.”

The discovery was made after Espat reached out to other industry professionals to perform a cost-value analysis of the new Foreign Affairs building being erected by International Environments Limited (IE).

“I did a survey as to what would the most expensive local high-end structure in this country’s cost per square foot, and the highest number we came up with, including fees, professional fees, landscaping, furnishing and everything of a building of 25,000 square feet, would be about $280 per square foot.

“You calculate a building of 25,000 square feet, times it by $280 per square feet, at the high end, and it will give you an approximate cost of 7 million dollars for a building of this type,” Espat said.

The contract awarded to iE is for $14,986,000.50, approximately 15 million dollars. According to Espat, the contract was bloated by about 8 million dollars.

The ethical concerns surrounding the granting, and possible bloating of these contracts, are coupled with the fact that the funds were sent directly from the donors of the funds for the project, the Republic of China (Taiwan), to the account of iE. The legal advisor to the PUP, Eamon Courtney, said this action is an outright breach of the legal and fiduciary obligations of Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who also held the Minister of Finance portfolio at the time the contract was granted.

Courtenay also said that the contract between the Government of Belize and iE was not tabled in the National Assembly, breaching the legal requirements provided for in the Finance and Audit Reform Act to disclose all spending of over 5 million dollars.

“By section 114 of the Constitution, all monies raised or received by Belize must be deposited in the Consolidated Revenue Fund or by a special fund established by law to receive such monies. It is unlawful; it is unconstitutional for public monies donated by Taiwan to be paid directly to iE,” he said.

Courtenay added, “It is difficult to understand why it is that a Government that has made a pledge to good governance and transparency would have found a reason to enter into an arrangement in which 15 million dollars donated to Belize was not deposited in the Consolidated Revenue Fund.”

Courtenay said that because the grant was directly transferred to the Arguelles brothers’ company account, the Auditor General and Public Accounts Committee could not perform its role of oversight.

The PUP have said that if they win the coming general elections, then a forensic audit will be undertaken to investigate any illegality or wrongdoing surrounding this contract.

PUP leader John Briceño alluded to the possible implementation of an Asset Recovery legislation to recover any public property illegally obtained through corrupt contracts.

Daniel Arguelles, in his defense, told local media that the information presented by the PUP is not totally accurate, but did not outrightly deny any of the allegations. He said that some of the projects were executed in partnership with other companies, and that iE worked only as designers or overseers on others.

He also objected to any efforts by critics to compare the business relationship iE has with GOB with that enjoyed by Imer Hernandez, a known UDP “favorite contractor” whose company has received multiple development contracts from the UDP over recent years.

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