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By Hon. Gilroy Usher

“Where liberty dwells, there is my country”–Benjamin Franklin

The Definitive Agreement (DA) signed by UDP Minister of Economic Development Erwin Contreras on October 1st, 2020, on behalf of the Government of Belize with Port Magical for a massive cruise ship project offshore less than two months before the 2020 general election is another example of how leaders betray betterment for the people for selfish gain.

For those reasons, I do not support the Definitive Agreement as it is, but I fully support re-negotiation of mega investment with the people first.

The agreement is for 25 years. With it, the government agrees to, among other things, exempt the developer from duties and numerous taxes. The agreement also exempts the developer from income and business taxes and capital gain taxes as well as taxes and duties on land transactions for the project, and it authorizes the developer to collect toll fees, pilotage and tonnage fees, and service fees, among other fees for itself.

To top off the sweetheart deal, the agreement grants exclusivity for Port Magical to operate in a 25-mile radius.

The latter is a major concession that opens the country to costly litigation. That is the reality since both the Feinstein Stake Bank Cruise Project, which is more than 75% complete, and Ashcroft’s proposed Port of Belize bulk cargo and Cruise Tourism project are within an eight-mile radius of Port Magical.

Such a concession would stop the development of Stake Bank and Port of Belize dead in their tracks and force their possible sellout to Port Magical or force the government to pay compensation to those two companies that would make the compensation to Ashcroft for BTL seem like peanuts.

Those and many other tremendous giveaways and commitments made to Port Magical in the Definitive Agreement mean Belizeans will pay for the full cost of the investment. The Definitive Agreement is, therefore, the mother of all sellouts of the best interest of the people. It is worst than the deal the former Prime Minister made with Ashcroft when he agreed to pay the British billionaire $600 million as compensation for BTL , a company that was worth $100 million at best when it was nationalized by the previous administration.

Since the exposure of the Definitive Agreement (really the Biggest Sellout Agreement), Ministers of the previous administration that gave birth to the Definitive Agreement now refuse to touch it with a ten-foot pole and vehemently condemn it at every opportunity.

Their sincerity in condemning the agreement, however, is highly questionable.

With David Gegg as their local partner, Port Magical's discussion with the previous administration for the investment started from 2017.

During that three-year span until Minster Contreras signed the agreement on behalf of the government of Belize, there had to be countless meetings with senior officials in government on regular bases for there to be satisfaction on the contents of the Definitive Agreement.

The idea that Minister Contreras, who is neither an economist, an attorney, nor a financial analyst, sat in an office with a representative from Port Magical and drafted the Definitive Agreement all alone without any input from powerful persons in the Cabinet, knowing fully well that they would have needed the backing of those same powerful members of Cabinet for its acceptance is hogwash and neither here nor there.

It was as a result of those discussions that the law partner of the then-attorney General was tasked to draft the Definitive Agreement. In politics, business is sent to law firms and other establishments by choice. You can bet your life on that. And the Chairman of the Cabinet Investment Committee at the time has stated that the Definitive Agreement was only a Memorandum of Understanding between Port Magical and then administration.

Obviously, the key players in the previous administration were fully aware of the Definitive Agreement, and are just playing good politics now by denying absolutely any knowledge of it prior to the last general election.

The previous administration’s betrayal of the trust of the people with the Definitive Agreement is symptomatic of their thirteen years reign in government.

The Supreme Court found the former Prime Minister guilty of spending over $1 billion dollars of taxpayers' money with absolutely no permission from parliament as is required by law for any spending over $10 million.

And during all that illegal spending spree, not a single Minister at the time raised any concern about the need for accountability and openness in government and they treated the DA the same way. Due to self-interest, members of Cabinet who knew about the Definitive Agreement acted like the three monkeys who heard nothing, saw nothing, and did nothing.

For maximum development from cruise tourism, it’s mandatory that Belize have proper docking facilities for cruise vessels large and small. Tendering is too costly, too risky, and too time consuming for cruise lines, who want to give their guests the best experience at any port, including Belize.

We must all work together to make proper docking facilities for cruise ships a reality in Belize as soon as possible.

We must also recognize persons who are looking after special interests in tourism instead of opportunities to make life better for all Belizeans.

One of the main reasons why the Port of Belize bulk cargo and cruise tourism project was denied approval was because of concerns about the safety of the reef and the population near its development if it was allowed to store massive amounts of dredged material in the sea near the development and inland on its property nearby.

It has now been revealed that with the Definitive Agreement Port Magical would need to dredge far more material than Port of Belize, is closer to the reef than Port of Belize, and would have to dump all its dredge material into the sea as the development is miles from the shore.

Interestingly also, pointing to all sorts of reasons, environmentalists have voiced bitter opposition to the request of Stake Bank to build a necessary causeway from the island to the shore, which is a distance of approximately three miles. On the other hand, Port Magical would have to build a causeway of almost eight miles to enable cruise ship passengers to travel by bus and other land transport inland to enjoy the other beautiful parts of Belize.

Given what Stake Bank is experiencing with its request for permission to build its necessary causeway, on what basis does Port Magical believe it will get approval to build a necessary causeway that would be more than twice the length of the causeway needed by Stake Bank?

For maximum benefit from tourism in all its areas, we must always have leaders who protect the rights and interests of the Belizean people and the country of Belize at all times.

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