BELIZE CITY, Fri. May 28, 2021– On Friday, the Minister responsible for Ports, Rodwell Ferguson, brought a motion to get the National Assembly’s approval for the revocation of the 25-year lease granted to Recological Systems Limited (RSL) to operate the Commerce Bight Port. The motion was passed with the vote of the PUP majority in the House, and the lease granted to RSL was canceled.
The Motion to Consider the Approval by the National Assembly of the Disposition of the Commerce Bight Port to RSL, 2021, as it was titled, was passed in the House of Representatives after being reviewed by various committees.
The agreement had been signed by Hon. Edmond Castro, formerly the Minister of Transport and National Emergency Management in the last (UDP) administration, reportedly two days before the November 2020 general elections, and according to Minister Ferguson, contrary to the Finance and Audit Reform Act.
As previously reported, the lease granted to Recological Systems Limited was granted for a period of 25 years at a fee of just $5,000 per year, despite the port having an annual rental value of $300,000.00, according to Minister Ferguson.
“The former Minister could not have placed a Motion for the approval of the leasing of the port to Recological for the approval of the National Assembly, with the National Assembly having been dissolved on the 6th day of October 2020,” Minister Ferguson’s motion stated.
He added that an internal inquiry was done by his Ministry, and he discovered that the lease was not presented to the National Assembly.
“I now wish to have the National Assembly resolve whether to approve the said lease. Now, therefore, be it reserved that the lease dated the 9th day of November 2020 of the Commerce Bight Port for 25 years for the sum of $5 thousand and 1% of its gross revenue for the proceeding year to be approved or disapproved, copies of the lease and the valuation report are here to annex,” Minister Ferguson stated.
Before a debate surrounding the lease sank into a tense verbal exchange between the Leader of the Opposition, Patrick Faber, and the Speaker of the House, Valerie Woods, Hon. Faber stated that the Opposition viewed the motion as baseless, saying that it should not have been on the agenda for the House sitting that day.
He further commented that the then UDP government did not have to bring the agreement to the House, since it did not involve the disposing of assets — with the property being merely leased to RSL.
Opposition Leader Faber said, “If I am allowed to read what the Finance and Audit Act says, Madam Speaker, with your permission. The Finance and Audit Act, in section 2022, I believe. It says the government shall, before disposing of any public assets with an aggregate value of above $2 million, obtain the approval of the National Assembly, to be signified by a resolution made in that behalf and published in the Gazette. It is talking about disposing of assets, not about leasing assets or renting assets.”
In response, Prime Minister John Briceño stated, “You look at this, this is a corrupt agreement. Two days before the election they signed off an important asset, an expensive asset that may have a value of over $3 million. The actual market value is way beyond $3 million. And you will tell me that 2 days before the election, hear who of all, Castro, signed this thing knowing that the National Assembly has been dissolved and they can’t bring it to pass it for resolution. It has to come to the House. By the way, in 25 years the Government will not have access to this thing, man.”