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Saturday, April 13, 2024

To – David


Young sailors stand on the shoulder of a Master and Commander: Charles Bartlett Hyde

Photo: (right) Charles Bartlett Hyde Contributed: Harbour Regatta...

Storm clouds!

A tribute to C.B. Hyde Saturday, April 6,...

Tribunal formality

EditorialTribunal formality

Last week Belizeans learned that Waterloo had appealed the decision by the National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC) to reject the group’s multi-million-dollar mega project to build a cruise port terminal at the Port of Belize Ltd. (PBL) that would be able to berth the largest cruise ships, and to improve the cargo facilities at the port. As a consequence of the appeal, a three-member tribunal that can go as far as overruling the NEAC’s decision is being set up. If the decision by the NEAC wasn’t near unanimous, there would be serious questions about the possibility of the tribunal actually overturning the NEAC’s verdict.

The only vote for Waterloo was that of the Belize Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BCCI) representative, and the position of that body wasn’t stated until AFTER the NEAC had met and voted on the project. The BCCI said its representative couldn’t attend the NEAC meeting and register the organization’s YES vote because of “extenuating circumstances.” There are questions that must be asked of the BCCI. Did their representative not attend the meeting because s/he was too embarrassed to register a YES vote for a project that our non-business professionals found terribly wanting? Was the BCCI representative more comfortable going through the back door to show support for Waterloo?

The members of the NEAC are almost exclusively top professionals in Belize, many of them scientists and engineers. Their job is to scrutinize large projects for the Department of the Environment. Probably the most notable project the NEAC has been tasked to assess was the Chalillo Dam, which it approved in 2001. NEAC members, without receiving any financial remuneration, pored over a reported 1,500 pages of data before concluding that that project should go ahead.

A former NEAC member who participated in the review of the Chalillo Dam proposal said committee members knew that the government of the day was fully behind the project, but the committee was extremely professional. On one side of the scale two decades ago was that we depended heavily on imported diesel to power the electricity grid, that the cost of electricity kept increasing, and blackouts were a too-common feature of life in Belize. On the other side of the scale, the NEAC looked at the effect the dam would have on the flora and fauna; the dam’s physical structure; and the mitigating measures in the event of a dam failure. The NEAC member said they knew the dam would stabilize the cost of electricity, not reduce it, and that at certain times of the year the fish in the Macal River would be too toxic to eat.

After reviewing the project, the NEAC, with the notable exception of the representative for BACONGO (Belize Alliance of Conservation Non-Governmental Organizations), voted to approve the project. A News5 story of November 7, 2001 said that had the NEAC rejected the Chalillo Dam project, BEL, the primary concerned party, could “still appeal to the Minister of Natural Resources”, who could have appointed “a tribunal to render a second opinion, after which the minister [could] rule thumbs up or down.”

Unlike politicians and lawyers, Belize’s professionals in the science/engineering fields don’t have a reputation of being “buyable”. In the not so distant debate on GMOs, our scientific community stood firm against the introduction of GMO corn to our country. There were a few who were pro-GMO, but in the end GMO corn was blocked from entry into Belize. Today, many farmers who were singing of the virtues of the new corn varieties modified to resist insects and tolerate glyphosate and glufosinate herbicides, are happy GMO corn varieties were not allowed in Belize.

We can only speculate on what the government would have done if the NEAC had overwhelmingly said no to the Chalillo Dam. If a government were to override a near unanimous decision of the NEAC, future governments would have great difficulty finding men and women in the scientific and engineering fields to serve on that body. There are professionals who will sell their souls, bow down for lucre, but our professionals in the science/engineering fields have, fortunately, shown that they make their decisions based on sound principles.

Last week’s Friday Amandala noted that the Waterloo project had met significant pushback from the environmental community, that that group had “highlighted the extensive damage that could be caused to the Belize Barrier Reef and the country’s marine areas by the dumping of millions of cubic meters of dredged material near shore.” More than 20,000 Belizeans signed a petition calling for the government to turn down the project.

There are reasons why there is much poverty in our land. Our country has invested in the trickledown economics philosophy and depended on foreign investment, and the harvest has been poor. The PUP government of 1998-2003 bought wholesale into the aforementioned ideas. The trickledown economics philosophy has had some success in the US, because they are the land of plenty. Not only is the US the most powerful nation on the planet militarily, but her businessmen are all over the globe winning wealth for their nation in tourism projects, agro businesses, and banking. The crumbs in Belize have never provided for livable wages for the masses.

The Waterloo project proposal saga actually begins with the atrocious decision by a Belize government to privatize the publicly owned/built PBL in Belize City. Our government didn’t sell PBL directly into foreign ownership, but we have to wonder if that wasn’t the hoped-for end.

After the GOB spent tens of millions of dollars to improve the port, it was sold to a Belizean, who failed on his obligations. After the government’s “preferred” owner failed, the port ended up in a receivership, the foreign-controlled Waterloo, where it has languished for over a decade. The Prime Minister has noted that it is urgent for the cargo facilities at PBL to be improved. But the Waterloo group insists that it will only invest to improve the cargo facilities at PBL if its chairman’s dream of a cruise tourism port gets the green light. And the NEAC has ruled that that project is not sound.

There are reasons other than environmental considerations for the lack of receptiveness to Waterloo’s cruise port ambitions. One of those is the number of tourists we can serve as a cruise destination. When a UDP government gave another cruise port project, Port Coral at Stake Bank, the go ahead in 2017, the ambition of Waterloo to build a cruise port in Belize City should have ended.

If the tribunal were to go as far as overruling the NEAC, it would smell worse than stagnant soap water. In this instance, with the NEAC’s near unanimous position, the tribunal can’t be seen as much more than a formality. Waterloo has appealed. The law says that the matter must go before a three-member tribunal.

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To – David

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