As we go to press tonight, the Ministry of Natural Resources is in lockdown mode after reports surfaced that UDP Minister Rene Montero is in the process of selling a piece of land which does not belong to him, but is actually owned by the Social Security Board. While very reliable sources have told us that the conveyance is being processed, none of the higher ups at the Ministry would confirm this information for the Belize Times and Minister Gaspar Vega refused to take our calls.
The land in question is an island measuring 3.69 acres located 3.5 miles north of Ambergris Caye. In 2005, the island, known as Cayo Frances, was granted to the Social Security Board by the Government of Belize. Two years later in 2007, despite SSB holding the title for that land, Rene Montero was also given that island as a grant by then Minister Florencio Marin Sr. According to a source from the Ministry of Lands, Montero is in the process of selling the island, and that is when the documents proving that the land is already owned by the Social Security Board surfaced. That source claims that Montero is fully aware that the land is not legally his, and is trying to get the deed of conveyance expedited in the Ministry of Lands.
Unconfirmed reports from a source at the SSB suggest that the company is aware of the situation but is keeping hush about it. That source also claims that in the past SSB had been offered as much as $1.5million dollars for the 3.69 acre island, but had refused to sell. The Belize Times has not been able to confirm why exactly Rene Montero was granted the extremely valuable island off the coast of Ambergris Caye in 2007.
Of note at this point is that when the Hon. Gaspar Vega stood in the House of Representatives in 2008 and read off a list of parcels of land which he alleged were given away by the previous administration, there was absolutely no mention of the 3.69 acre island given to Rene Montero.
During our investigation, the Belize Times was also able to dig up another document showing that UDP Minister Rene Montero has been reaping the benefits of his political affiliation. Despite persistent reports by Minister Vega that the Ministry is in lockdown while audits are being done, we have been able to get hold of another document in which UDP Minister Rene Montero is gifted with 3.00 acres of land. That land is situated ‘on the west coast of Bannister Bogue Caye, Spanish Lookout Caye Area, Belize District’ – an extremely valuable piece of island property. Montero received title for that land through a Grant on August 12, 2008 which was signed by Minister Gaspar Vega.
Despite our investigations, the Belize Times was unable to find out why Vega granted his Cabinet colleague 3.00 acres of valuable island property. The reason on the grant document is ‘RETURN OF LAND ACQUIRED,’ but our source at the Ministry of Lands was unable to find any record of any land which had been acquired from Rene Montero at any time.
And while the 3.00acres of an island given to a UDP Minister smacks of greed and corruption within the UDP Government, the pressing issue at this point is the island which is owned by SSB. To date, there has been no official word from SSB, the Unions, the Chamber of Commerce or the Better Business Bureau, all represented on the Board and supposedly now with knowledge of the situation.
Our attempts to reach Minister Rene Montero this afternoon for comment were futile. The Belize Times will follow up this story in the Ministry of Lands, where a deed of conveyance is apparently being hushed up and expedited. Legal experts we spoke to state unequivocally that the SSB does own the land, since it was granted title first, in 2005, and that UDP Minister Renen Montero has no legal right to the island.
The Belize Times