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#470400 - 08/17/13 06:39 AM G.O.B. Takes over Port of Belize’s Commerce Bight
Marty Offline

Since entering into receivership in January 2012, Port of Belize Limited, under the administration of Arturo Vasquez, has undertaken significant expansion of its daily operations.  The company was appropriated from businessman Luke Espat by the British Caribbean Bank for failure to service a loan portfolio upwards of sixty-four million dollars.   Along with other assets, including an adjoining acreage in Port Loyola, as well as the Commerce Bight facility in Dangriga, P.B.L. was assumed by Private Investment Limited.  While development continued here in Belize City, progress remained at a virtual standstill in the south, as a result of ongoing litigation over a lease granted to P.B.L. for the property on which the harbor sits.  That case was also inherited by the receiver.  This morning, a release was issued by government stating that P.B.L.’s tenancy has been cancelled, following a Supreme Court decision in July of last year in which an injunction restraining the termination of the lease had been discharged.   News Five spoke with Vasquez, who confirmed receiving a letter from the Ministry of Works and Transport informing him of the takeover.

Arturo Vasquez, Receiver, Port of Belize Ltd.

“I got a letter today from the government saying that this is in effect and, of course, immediately after I heard from my Commerce Bight security that they were down in Commerce Bight taking over the property.  A little history is that this has been in court before.  There was an injunction on that property and that was lifted in July of last year, so the minute that was lifted obviously the government was in a position to do this.  This property is leased.  It was supposed to be leased to own but the port never got the opportunity to purchase the property.  So, basically what is happening today really is based on the fact that the injunction was lifted.”

Isani Cayetano

Arturo Vasquez

“Now, when PIL assumed Port of Belize Ltd. were you guys made aware by its previous owners as to why there was a delinquency in terms of developing the Commerce Bight port?”

Arturo Vasquez

“The case, there was a case already in the courts for that, as to the reasons why, and it’s a lengthy case, there were several reasons why development did not happen.  One of the main reasons I can recall is that the port never got the opportunity to purchase the property.  So, I would imagine that there is a little bit of hesitation in developing something that you are not sure you may end up owning.  I have seen in the documents where it was supposed to have been a lease to own.  I have seen where government has attempted on several occasions to take over the property and I have seen where that challenge had continued.  So, I would imagine that anybody would be a little hesitant in moving ahead with development if there is never a certainty that the property will become yours.”

Government says appropriation was necessary, PM welcomes it

The revocation, according to the release, states that Port of Belize Limited failed to honor three essential requirements, including the submission of a development plan to carry out any development works at Commerce Bight, the dredging of the approach channel and the dock basin, as well as payment of the lease rental to the Government of Belize.  Despite not owning the tract of land, former owner, Luke Espat, proceeded with the construction of a private dock.  The appropriation of the port, according to the Ministry of Lands, has become necessary to meet the commercial needs of the country.

Arturo Vasquez, Receiver, Port of Belize Ltd.

“At this point, to be honest Isani, all of this is in the hands of the attorneys right now.  I would not want to speak as to what would happen after today but I know that monies were paid towards that property, maybe not for the property itself but the case basically was very clear in that the case was only addressing the land itself.  I am sure that the pier would be another matter.”

Isani Cayetano

“Now this injunction was effectively lifted on July twentieth of last year and the government has only taken decisive measure as of today.  Was there anything that the Port of Belize could have done during that time to either begin development or either commit to developing the Commerce Bight Port?”

Arturo Vasquez

“Yes, we have, actually we had, since I took over, there was a plan of development for that property.  That was actually brought up during this case because, as you can imagine, when I took over I became a witness to this case and in one of my affidavits we had mentioned that since my assuming responsibility of the port we had plans for that property.  That property is manned twenty-four-seven by security.  We keep it well kept, we try to keep everything working, lights, security, everything.”

Isani Cayetano

“What does this mean in terms of either loss of revenue if it was operational or the investment that has been placed into the facility?”

Arturo Vasquez

“Loss of revenue may not be something significant because there was not much coming through there but yes, there was some cost to it.  Investments, from what I can gather, are monies that were paid initially when this entire agreement was made.  Those are the investments that we have sitting in our books where would be amortizing the pier for that matter.”

The government says it will begin seeking outside funding to develop the Commerce Bight port in the near future. In a press release this afternoon, Prime Minister Dean Barrow says G.O.B. “will not be deterred by the challenges that may be encountered in the process and will not hesitate from taking decisive action, wherever necessary in the national interest.”

Channel 5

#470727 - 08/22/13 06:10 AM Re: G.O.B. Takes over Port of Belize’s Commerce Bight [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

The return of justice to the people of Dangriga Town and the south

By Wellington C. Ramos

On Thursday August 15, 2013, the Belize government Cabinet authorized Minister of Works and Transport Honourable Rene Montero to sign an order to revoke the lease that was granted to Luke Espat’s company Port of Belize Limited in 2002. This order gives the government of Belize the full power to take over immediate control of Commerce Bight “Jettie Pier”. Since this port was handed over to this company for nothing, the people of Dangriga were deprived of the privilege to go fishing there and seek employment to load and unload cargo vessels.

The people of Dangriga Town, Stann Creek District, the entire southern region, the citrus, banana and oil industries should all applaud this bold move taken by the UDP Barrow administration because it is in their best interest.

Since 2002, this port that played an economic and vital role in the lives of the people from Dangriga Town and Stann Creek District residents, has been closed. Nobody from Dangriga Town and Stann Creek District were allowed to go on the pier to go fishing or to seek work to load and unload cargo vessels. This is something that the residents of Dangriga Town depended on to feed their families for centuries since they arrived in the early 1800s.

When the port was given to Luke Espat and his company, it was expected that the people and government of Belize were going to be paid for the use of it. Also, that economic development was going to increase to bring more jobs to the people of Dangriga Town. Instead, they moved the shipment of citrus products 40 miles further to the Big Creek Port, which resulted in the loss of jobs to Dangriga residents. The shipment of oil from the Cayo District was also sent to the Big Creek Port despite the fact that the port in Dangriga Town is much closer and less costly.

The people of Dangriga Town, Stann Creek District and the entire southern region, have been appealing to this UDP government to take back all the ports and the airport from these private companies since their election victory in 2008.

Due to a series of lawsuits that were brought against the UDP government by billionaire Michael Ashcroft, Prime Minister Dean Barrow decided to choose his battles. Why did the PUP government decide to hand over the control and management of the ports and the airport to a private entity still puzzles me. These facilities should be controlled by the government because they are vital for our national security. There has been a significant increase in the amount of weapons and ammunition that has been entering our country since the government gave control of these facilities to private companies. This has resulted in poor black youths killing each other in Belize City, which has the largest population concentration.

It was reported recently in an article published by the Amandala dated August 15, 2013, that Michael Ashcroft intends to instruct his lawyers to seek an injunction against the government of Belize to stop the takeover. I now call on all my people in Dangriga Town, Stann Creek District and the entire southern region to rally with the government of Belize to stop Michael Ashcroft from denying us of our port.

For eleven years now, our people were denied the right to use this port to go fishing, work and provide the basics for our families. This port historically is being used by all of our families to catch fish and work to feed our families and we are accustomed to this lifestyle. Unemployment in Dangriga and Stann Creek District has skyrocketed since the port was handed over to Luke Espat and his company.

If there was ever a time in our lives when we can demonstrate that we are all men and women who are made of steel, this is the time. We cannot afford to sit down and allow Michael Ashcroft, Luke Espat or anybody else to come into our town and take away this port from us because it is necessary and vital for our survival and future. This is not about being PUP or UDP but about our people’s right to be respected and be granted justice in our town. If we allow them to get away with this, they will continue to come into our town and district to disrespect us.

I have lived in Orange walk and visited Corozal on several occasions. I can guarantee you that these people will never attempt to do this in those two northern districts because the response would be swift and explosive. I now call on all the people of Dangriga Town, Stann Creek District and the southern region to rally behind this government and stand up for something that belongs to us.

Caribbean News Now


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