Amandala has obtained shocking documents revealing that under Gaspar Vegaís watch the Government of Belize entered into an agreement to pay BZ$1 million for a parcel of land they had sold a businessman for $6,500 just three years earlier.

The Government of Belize sold the businessman a portion of mangrove supposedly measuring a little over two acres on the banks of a channel leading to the lagoon on the west side of Placencia, and then turned around three years later and re-acquired the same portion of mangrove for a whopping $1 million. The documents reveal that on February 15, 2012, Ron J Limited purchased block 36, parcel 3246, of Placencia North from the Government of Belize for $6,540.30.

However, our sources say that the proposed developments by Ron J Limited on that particular piece of land would have affected the access to the lagoon of a highly connected member of the United Democratic Party. The well-connected UDP reportedly complained and a decision was made for Government to repossess the said mangrove.

Whether what followed was a Cabinet decision, we canít say. What we do know is that on July 14, 2015, an agreement was signed for Government to re-acquire the parcel of mangrove from Ron J Limited for $1 million, the same parcel government had sold the businessman for $6,500. That agreement was signed by Natural Resources CEO Sharon Ramclam on behalf of the Government.

According to the agreement we have been able to examine, an initial down-payment of $25,000 was made with monthly installments of $20,000 beginning August 2015. Our sources say there are many more of these highly suspect agreements that led to Government paying out millions upon millions of dollars at market value for land they had sold for a pittance ó in this case, netting the businessman, an exponential rate of return.

According to CEO Ramclam, she set up a small team in the Ministry of Natural Resources in January of this year to scrutinize the Compensation files, but apparently, that work is still incomplete.

The salient fact is that these huge sums are being paid, not out of grants, or gifts from other countries or entities, but from hard-earned taxpayersí dollars.

Amandala


Lands Dept. Ran The Money for Ron J

Earlier on in the news, we told you about Government's win against the Ashcroft Alliance in court. That triggered a blustery government statement about PUP corruption. But the Barrow Administration is embroiled in its own moral battle as the land compensation scandal is just starting to break.

10 days ago, documents surfaced which show a questionable land deal between the Ministry of Natural Resources and a company, Ron J Limited. It involves a piece of land on the Placencia Peninsula. Reports are that it is a 2+ acre parcel of mangrove land, which is located on the banks of a channel leading to the Lagoon on the west side of Placencia. These documents show that in January 2012, the principals of the company Ron J Limited bought the land for just over 6,300 dollars. Here is the lands Registry Certificate which shows that Ron J owned the land.

Also, you can see here where Gaspar Vega, the then Lands Minister sold the land. Now, such prime land on the peninsula at market value is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, as we will show you, in a short while, but the Natural Resources Ministry sold it for less than 10 thousand.

This piece of land was the only access which nearby landowners had to the lagoon, and it appears that those landowners complained to Government, eventually getting them to buy it back. The Government did so, but ended up compensating Ron J Limited at an exponential profit margin of 1 million dollars. That's right, the company got an over 990 thousand dollar windfall for a parcel of land which they bought for just over 6 thousand dollars, all at the expense of Belizean taxpayers.

It's the kind of deal, which raises immediate red flags after review, and once again, it happened under the watch of the then minister Gaspar Vega. 11 days ago, the Prime Minister was asked about it, and here's what he had to say then:

Mike Rudon, Belize Times
"Sir are you familiar with a transaction, another compensation transaction in which land which was transferred from Gaspar Vega to another party Ron J for $6,000 a little over was flipped shortly after for a million dollars? From $6,000 to a million dollars?"

Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
"I don't know of the new minister can speak to what you are asking."

Hon. Vanessa Retreage, Minister of Natural Resources
"Mike, I will say that the Ron J Limited is one of the companies that is on the current list of compensation payments. I have not examine the contents of that file as yet, but it is currently on the compensation list. So whether it was transferred in its public/private capacity, I don't know. Because I have not look, but it currently sits on the compensation list. I have actually instructed as the CEO said, payment ceased until we have had an opportunity to look at all these matters."

Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
"The current minister has told you that she is familiar with the name and that that name is on the compensation list. I don't know sir, I'm not at the ministry of lands and I don't deal with compensation. I explained to your colleague earlier we transfer the annual allocation and that's the last we have to do with it. So I don't know."

The current Minister of Natural Resources confirmed that the Ron J compensation is one of the files currently under review. We checked who are the owners of Ron J and it is registered at number 10 Albert Street, a residential and business address close to Atlantic Bank. The shareholders are persons of Indian descent, and the directors are John Najendran, Sharon Peters and Richard Wilson.

Finsec Has Limited Oversight on Compensation Payouts

This morning at the Supreme Court we asked Financial Secretary, Joseph Waight, about the procedure, and why these alarming land compensation deals went mostly unquestioned when the Ministry of Finance was transferring the huge sums of money being requested by the Ministry of Natural Resources.

He told us that the bureaucrats at the Finance Ministry trusted that whatever the officials at the Natural Resources Ministry presented to them, was legitimate, and so, they never dug deeper into each compensation case:

Joseph Waight, Financial Secretary
"Annually, the cabinet, the legislature approves a budget. Within that budget there is a line for land acquisition and compensation. I think last year it was 10-11 million, I am not sure and within that the Ministry of Natural Resources pays first, court orders, settlement - second. So court orders go first and there is no escaping that. Usually court orders are paid over a period of time. There is legal cost as well and then there is settlement. All of them have some payment schedule. I would not be able to say how much of those compensations are link to duplication of titles. I really don't know."

Daniel Ortiz, 7News
"After the money is paid over to the Ministry of Natural Resources, does the finance ministry have any sort of oversight mechanism as to how these compensation are handled?"

Joseph Waight, Financial Secretary
"Generally at the time of budget request, they give a list of what compensations are due. Often it's far more than what we can afford. Therefore the payment plans. But cabinet, the legislator approves 10-11 million about that and then the ministry disburses according to court orders and settlement agreements."

Daniel Ortiz, 7News
"Are you saying that the finance ministry has a list of these people who are due compensation during the budget phase?"

Joseph Waight, Financial Secretary
"The request would be supported by a list of compensation payments, court orders and settlement agreements and what they need to be paid over the fiscal year. Usually it's paid monthly. On that list there is not the origins of the compensation are not in the list. The submission is supported by a listing of claimants, the amount that has been paid and the amount outstanding and the total request, then cabinet agrees or decides how much of that is paid. But it doesn't in details as to the origins as what those claims are."

Daniel Ortiz, 7News
"Given that the finance ministry tracks these things, are you able to say if you all track the trends and to see if there is any fluctuations, if there is any figures that in a huge out as compare to the trend over the years and have there ever been a year or such where you as financial secretary were concerned that maybe the natural resources ministry was paying out too much in compensation?"

Joseph Waight, Financial Secretary
"We have to rely on submissions. The big payments are often court judgements. Court judgements determine market value and a lot of it is accrued interest these are compensation that's been outstanding for some time and the ministry then negotiates with - we submit back to the court a payment schedule. The court normally agrees. Of course interest runs the same time. So a lot of it is compounded interest over the years. But we don't do the assessment and we don't do the evaluation. That really is the job of and the responsibility of the ministry itself. When it comes to us we have to take it on face value that these numbers are good and correct."

Today's Amandala reported that in their investigations, the Barrow Administration has paid out compensation to the tune of about 70 million dollars over a period of 8 years. This is unconfirmed.

Channel 7