$14 million loan mostly for property acquisitions
BELMOPAN, Fri. Nov. 23, 2018– On Friday, in the House of Representatives, the deputy leader of the People’s United Party, Hon. Cordel Hyde, questioned a bill the government put forward for the borrowing of some BZ$14 million from the Inter-American Development Bank, for the purpose of supplementing a BZ$54 million loan which the government had acquired for the purpose of rehabilitating the George Price Highway, between Roaring Creek Village and Santa Elena Town.
Hyde said the request for more funds did not “look right” to him. “I am wondering how we got our early calculations so wrong where this project is concerned,” Hyde said. “You are talking about thirty percent off base…Who is advising the government? What is happening here? It does not look right to me because we have seen this before too,” he remarked.
The Minister of Works, Honorable Rene Montero, responded that the PUP deputy hadn’t gotten “his facts together.” He said they needed more money for the project “because a lot of land has to be acquired.” “That [land acquisition] is the reason why we have that price for that road and also we are taking into consideration a lot of safety features,” Minister Montero said. “We are widening the road and all of these things…this is the facts, Madam Speaker. We have to acquire a lot of land so we can widen those streets and make it safe for the people in that area,” Montero went on to say.
The Prime Minister, Honorable Dean Barrow, corroborated Minister Montero’s explanation for the near 30% cost overrun. Hon. Barrow said that the government had believed it could “negotiate reasonable prices from landowners” for the widening of the road. “Of course it never, ever turns out that way,” the Prime Minister said. “People have you over a barrel. They know that you must acquire their lands and they insist on getting prices for that acquisition that any reasonable person would consider extortionate. But so it is,” he said.
The government of Belize can, at any time it deems it necessary, acquire lands for a public purpose. This public purpose can be for village expansion, building a bridge (a Belize government acquired land in Belize City for the construction of the Bel-China Bridge), building a hospital, constructing recreation areas, building roads, etc. If the individual or other entity which owns the desired property demands compensation for the property that the government is acquiring, and this is usually the case, the government has to remunerate accordingly. The government, being quite experienced in this exercise, would have sound knowledge of the cost of the property it has decided to acquire in the public’s interest. Sometimes, however, a property owner will not agree with the government’s assessment of their property. Then, the property owner will forward an estimate by a licensed property valuer they have hired for that purpose. If the government and the property owner cannot agree on a price, the matter would then go to arbitration.
People who are familiar with the way the process works, told us that in producing estimates for the rehabilitation of the highway, the government had to have, in the planning phase, estimated the cost of acquiring necessary properties to allow for the widening of the road. And this estimate was off, somewhere in the region of BZ$14 million. The government’s explanation is – EXTORTIONATE.