SAN PEDRO, Ambergris Caye, Wed. Feb. 25, 2021– On Wednesday, the Minister of Civil Aviation and the Blue Economy, Andre Perez, hosted a virtual press conference to reveal the findings of an audit conducted on the financial records of the Hol-Chan Marine Reserve. The Minister revealed thatthe audit exposed the mismanagement of millions of dollars by the reserve’s executive board during a three-year period from January 2017 to March 2020.
The accounts for the Hol-Chan reserve, which is a highly sought-after diving/snorkeling site around the world, indicated huge losses in revenue, around 1.7 million dollars, over that period, according to the Minister, and shockingly over four million dollars was either not properly accounted for, or possibly misappropriated.
During the period in question, capital expenditure increased by one million dollars, but the financial records do not corroborate the spending — in fact, no paper trail is available, according to the Minister. At this time, the reserve currently owes two local banks, Belize Bank and Atlantic Bank, a combined total of $400,000. In addition to this debt, the marine reserve also has unpaid overdraft facilities topping six hundred thousand dollars.
Despite this dire financial reality, Hol-Chan’s management will have to write off about $55,000 in collections. The audit revealed that there is about $69,000 in collections that may also be unrecoverable.
According to Minister Perez’s presentation, members of the executive board which manages the reserve allegedly declared expenses that could not be verified. He outlined that around $800,000 in assets remains unaccounted for.
An additional $55,000 was given to the staff as loans. Interestingly, however, according to the Ministry, most of the funds allegedly went to the executive director, who was to finalize repayment by March 2020. This debt also remains unpaid.
Inconsistency between the visitor logs and the collection ledgers also reveals that the revenue going to the reserve may have been siphoned off fraudulently. To date, one accountant has been fired, but no legal action has been taken to recover any of the lost revenue.
Minister Perez declared that the irregularities found at the Hol-Chan Marine Reserve are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the mismanagement that occurred during the UDP’s 13 years in government during his presentation.