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PM addresses financial crisis facing Northern Fishermen Co-op

GeneralPM addresses financial crisis facing Northern Fishermen Co-op

Photo: Northern Fishermen Co-operative Society Limited

by Kristen Ku

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. June 13, 2024

Prime Minister John Briceño has commented on the financial troubles faced by the Northern Fishermen Cooperative Society Limited, Belize’s largest fisherman cooperative, in a recent interview this week.

Northern Co-op is currently facing severe financial trouble, as reports reveal that Belize Bank plans to take action against the cooperative due to a nonperforming $11 million loan.

This situation is alarming, not only because the cooperative must meet payroll obligations, but also because the lobster season begins next month, requiring the cooperative to pay for the catch brought in by its over 700 members.

Yesterday, the PM acknowledged the government’s responsibility to help sustain the cooperative movement, stating, “It is indeed historic. When you think about the development of this country, about fisheries, you always think about the Northern Fishermen Cooperative. As a government, we have the responsibility to be able to see how we can help them to keep the cooperative movement alive.”

Prime Minister Briceño added that the Central Bank of Belize has expressed serious concerns about the cooperative’s viability and cash flow. However, there is hope, thanks to HRCU’s willingness to work with the cooperative by reducing interest rates and extending loan terms.

“We had a meeting – I think it was last week Wednesday – with the Credit Union, with the Cooperative Department, Central Bank, Belize Bank, all of us around the table. We are working on a plan, and some of what the plan has to do is that the registrar will also now sit on the board to ensure that they do not take certain decisions that can affect them, such as lending to members, because the members out-vote them, and I mean the membership, not the board.” Briceno explained.

This is not the first time the cooperative has faced financial difficulties. Similar issues arose in 2004 and 2007, during which HRCU bailed out the cooperative. This time, efforts to transfer the loan to HRCU under more manageable terms were reportedly blocked by the Central Bank of Belize.

When asked about the possibility of the Central Bank allowing HRCU to take over the impaired debt, Prime Minister Briceño was cautiously optimistic. “It will allow, depending on what are going to be the terms. We’ve already spoken to the Belize Bank, and we are asking them to write off their interest and penalties so that we can save the institution. So, I think that the Central Bank will give an agreement, provided that these things are met; and once that is met, we will be able to do that,” he said.

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