REPORT #156 Jan 2000

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

There is a disturbing article in the REPORTER newspaper of Dec. 26th, 1999 written by a Mr. David Mortensen.

In it there is the story of how a used tire waste product steam generator electricity producing system would be feasible. What happened? This quote is taken from the article!

"What happened? Why was the plant not built? It seems like this was a good deal for everyone. We eventually met with the BEL board ( at the time a government body ), and it was apparent that they had been TOLD this was not a deal that Mr. Fonseca wanted. We were told privately that a 'deal' had already been cut by someone higher up on the political hiearchy and that we were wasting our time."

Apparently in brief, back in 1990, the previous Minister of Energy, Carlos Diaz had asked for a feasability study for a tire burning generating steam plant. The study was done and it seemed like it was a go, with comparable rates to what we pay for Mexican electricity and far cheaper than anything the hydro dam project can produce. It was self financed as a private enterprise venture. The article goes into considerable technical detail befitting a small half page article using condensed form. The only qualms I had with the article was the question of waste products and smokestack emission control. The plant was to be located near Mango Creek area. Tires apparently beat bagasse (cane waste) in the number of BTU's produced per pound by a very large amount. The plant would have produced 5 megawatts of power, 24 hours a day.

From the REPORTER article, the insinuation is that Minister Fonseca shot down the project. Wonder why? What grounds? Reading this article reminds me of the problems inherent with a small political party clique having control of policy and government. Back in the early days of building Fishing Cooperatives in Belize, my outsiders viewpoint, some previous Canadian cooperative experience, made my opinions on cooperatives worth some consultation to members. I knew I was a smart ass intellectual, because I knew many more things and understood the processes better than primitive uneducated island fishermen. While that may have been true; over the years, it became a humbling experience in general meetings. What happened over time, was that a hundred or more fishermen, could bring up points and concerns that I never even considered. This smart alec intellectual was astounded more than once at the wisdom from group consensus, from so-called uneducated pragmatic fishermen. They weren't as swift to arrive at conclusions as I, but invariably with practise and experience their final consensus turned out to be better fitting for the time, situation and place. I learned a lesson, a very valuable humbling lesson. Smarter is not necessarily of any value.

As an analogy this falls short, but I'm just wondering if the situation with a port town intellectual like appointed Minister Fonseca isn't comparable. I'd much rather have the decisions made on the tire burning electrical plant project made by a hundred ordinary citizens down in Mango Creek, San Pedro Columbia, Sittee River, and Placentia than by Mr. Fonseca up in Belmopan any day. I say this with the hindsight of my own humbling experience. Whether he is right or wrong, I cannot say, but feel very uneasy, that one man has the authority to shoot down any policy deal, without public debate and a consensus.

Someone brought up another of Minister Fonseca's policy decisions. The borrowing this first year in office of around $400 million in foreign loans, running the National Debt up to nearly a BILLION dollars. It was pointed out to me, that with an annual revenue of $450 million for the government, of which 26% should go to paying off interest and principal, this actually only left $330 million to run the country with. The point being made by the contributor, was that if you double the debt, which is almost what Minister Fonseca has approved this past year in the name of the PUP party, you double the amount necessary to pay back interest and some principal. That means, interest and principal would now be about $230 million each year. Taking the same amount of general annual revenue the government has; which is at the low point an estimated $450 million, this now only leaves $220 million to run the country. The situation is like a teeter-totter, the more you borrow, the less you actually have to run the country. Until poof! The bubble bursts and the IMF bone breakers come in. This worries me a great deal.

If there is any point to this, it is I would prefer the decision on both the steam generating electrical plant and the foreign borrowing, to be the subject of debate and consensus of several hundred different opinions. And the actual policy decision made, like in Co-operatives, from out in the boonies by uneducated rural pragmatic sensible people. Not smart ass Alec's like myself. Leaving those Belmopan Wallah's to simply manage and carry out the decisions of the voters later. Either good or bad! Let Belmopan propose, but the districts dispose!

(The figures used for annual government revenue and debt repayment are only approximate guesses taken from the newspapers.)

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