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PM says GOB is serious about its Blue Bond commitments

HeadlinePM says GOB is serious about its Blue Bond commitments

by Khaila Gentle

BELIZE CITY, Wed. Sept. 7, 2022

Prime Minister Hon. John Briceño, in a response letter sent to the country’s conservation NGO, has said that the Government has been fully compliant with all commitments made under the Blue Bond loan agreement.

On August 25, twelve conservation NGO signed a letter addressed to the Prime Minister requesting that the Government pause all Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) until environmental regulations and laws have been appropriately amended and enacted. The reason for the request, said the letter, was to ensure that the Government is not compromising any commitments made under the Blue Bond agreement.

This week, the Prime Minister has finally written back to the NGOs. In his letter, he explains that the Blue Bond Unit is an arm within his office that serves to ensure that the Government is being compliant with all its financial and conservation obligations. Upon receiving the letter from the NGO community, the Unit sought legal counsel on the matter and then reassured the Government that it is still in full compliance with all its agreements, those being the Blue Loan Agreement and the Conservation Fund Agreement.

“There is no question that my government will ensure that any EIA approvals are granted in adherence to Belize’s laws and regulations,” he added.

The Prime Minister says that the suggestion that all EIAs should be paused because of the agreement is “a clear overreach”.

“Conservation and development are not antithetical to one another. In fact, my government believes that our future lies in achieving the congruence through sustainable human development,” he wrote.

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister spoke with CTV3 News and stated that the government takes the letter from the NGOs seriously. He also, however, reiterated his assertion that development and conservation are both important.

“As a government we have made a commitment to this country to be able to reduce poverty, but to reduce poverty you have to grow the economy and to create opportunities for everyone. We have to develop, but responsibly. That is why we have the EIA process, and that’s what we’re doing with all projects,” he said.

In response to the Prime Minister, the Senator for NGOs, Janelle Chanona has pointed out that the letter did not fully address all of the conservation NGO’s concerns. She also added that the community has no wish to “stop development” but to simply “put a pause on certain things” in the name of creating a proper plan.

“If we’re failing to plan, then we’re planning to fail, and we can’t afford to fail. That’s the big picture here. It has to be that all of us know that there’s a plan,” she said.

Senator Chanona underscored the fact that the conservation NGOs are, in no way, anti-development.

In reference specifically to cruise port proposals submitted to the Department of Environment, Chanona commented while on the 7News morning show, Sunup, “… when you look at the numbers, it’s very clear. We have, I think, upwards of 90% of our tourism dollars coming from the overnight stay, but really only 9% coming from cruise. So again, when you look at the cost-benefit analysis, and you say, okay, if we’re going to do cruise, let’s figure out how, where, and why to do it. Because if we’re going to be negatively impacting or degrading sites—because it’s not just marine—it’s also where are they going to go? You know, what’s the carrying capacity of those sites? They’re talking about oasis ships, like, it’s a great thing that, you know, thousands more will come. But what does that mean for, you know, bathroom facilities at Altun Ha? … And that’s why we really say this is on our letter because it’s going to impact all of us …. So it’s really that we’re going into this eyes wide open and figuring out where it is. But bottom line, we’ve known that overnight tourism is where it’s going. And I think the investment towards that has reflected that. But for whatever reason, the administration has said, you know, we let market forces decide, and I’m still trying to reconcile that, because again, if we’re not planning, then even the economic feasibility of all of those ports within that area, I’m struggling to figure out, and I haven’t got an explanation yet for that in terms of how that’s going to work.”

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