BELMOPAN, Thurs. Nov. 16, 2023
Earlier this week, a purported list showing Belize’s delegation to COP28 happening from November 30 to December 12 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) began circulating. It lists a total of 57 names and includes government officials as well as representatives from different stakeholder entities and groups, and also one member of the media. The list is gaining some traction because the Briceño Administration also faced criticism last year when a hefty delegation attended COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Last year, the government even sponsored some travel for mainstream media. Officials explained at the time that travel for much of the delegation was sponsored through grant funding. In the case of the wife of the Minister of Sustainable Development and Climate Change who joined him on the trip, he said her travel was paid out of pocket. As a result of all the criticism, the Prime Minister made the decision that, going forward, he would review all the duty leave forms of ministers to determine whose travel is absolutely necessary.
Cabinet Secretary Stuart Leslie poured cold water on the list now circulating; he said that applications for travel must come to him first, after which they go to the Prime Minister and then to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Leslie told the media this has not happened because the delegation is not yet finalized. He said he did not know the origin of the list making the rounds on social media. He called it nonsense.
Leslie remarked that as far as he is aware, set to go are the Minister of Sustainable Development, Hon. Orlando Habet; the minister with responsibility for the Blue Economy, who is still the Prime Minister given that Hon. Andre Perez remains on a leave of absence; and a representative of the Ministry of Finance. He says he knows of those for sure because they have already applied to travel. In all, Leslie says he’s only seen 6 or 7 applications for travel.
Asked if the list, would be publicized when it is finalized, Leslie said it has not been their practice, but it’s public information. He added that travel expenses for most of the delegation that is going to COP28 is being funded by either the UN environmental program or some other environmental agency. He said there is no cost to the taxpayers to cover expenses for the Belize delegation. The comment was in direct response to the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Moses “Shyne” Barrow who says those who need not attend COP28 are simply taking advantage of their positions to live a lavish and luxurious life on taxpayers’ dollars, even as members of the public are punishing economically. Hon. Barrow said it is not prudent, responsible spending.
Listed on the document is Minister Kevin Bernard, and Minister Michel Chebat responsible for Public Utilities, Energy, Logistics & E-Governance. Chebat today told the media he is not going to COP28 and does not know how his name came to be on the list in circulation. He said he has not even submitted an application for duty leave, and only the Prime Minister decides who gets to travel.