Caye Chapel sold?

Yesterday the Prime Minister of Belize Honorable Dean Oliver Barrow gave Belizeans the bad news that they should expect austerity measures in the 2011/2012 budget. Government will experience a thirty million dollar fall off in tax revenue as a result of the drop in global oil prices and the declining oil production of Belize Natural Energy Limited. But despite the fact that cuts in expenditure are forthcoming and obligatory the Prime Minister boasted that Belize’s economy is doing quote unquote remarkably.

Honorable Dean Barrow- Prime Minister of Belize

“In terms of the main stays of the economy the position can be stated quite short all things considered we are doing remarkably well, tourism continues have a great rebound and the Minister informs me that he expects as much as a ten percent growth increase this year over last year. There is also wonderful news on sugar, last week the crop ended with the most impressive numbers in recent memory. There is 15 percent earnings Increase over last crop and the bonus to the cane farmers themselves will be in the region of $30 million. Bananas are also doing very much better than could have been imagined with improved yields and a new increased pricing arrangement with the marketers. It is the same sort of story with Citrus and at least in one instance we have seen the glimmer of what we hope will be a new cooperation between the Citrus Growers Association and CBBL. In Aquaculture the Bowen Shrimp Farm is back on track with a new investment partner. I should also mention that a letter of intent has been signed by the Sovereign Investment Fund of CATAR to buy Caye Chapel and turn it into a four seasons branded resort.

On Monday June 11th Justice Oswald Legal ruled that Governments second acquisition of Belize Telemedia Limited was null and void since there was no legal or statutory authority that sanctioned the Minister to make the acquisition order. On the day of the ruling it sounded like a win for the Ashcroft Alliance, that is, until Justice Legal ruled that he could not order a surrender of B.T.L. because of a provision in the constitution. The ruling confused lawyers of both sides and even the Prime Minister who stated yesterday, that he is prepared to compensate the former owners of BTL and BEL.

Honorable Dean Barrow- Prime Minister Of Belize

“I agree with you Jose in that the judgment left a lot of questions answered, but the central issue, the core issue of the ownership of B.T.L. and by extension B.E.L. is not any longer in any dome. The government and people own those utilities. And while there was pronouncement against the specific assumption of control order made by the Minister, no relief was given; in fact the judge specifically and expressly refused any of the relief that the previous owners sought. In my view that then is checkmate. I don’t see that we need to go back to the house to fix anything, but don’t hold me to that. I will, of course, have to get the considered opinion of the lawyers. And if it turns out that to make an assurance down the shore, we should go back to the house, we will. If the judge had found that we didn’t own the thing, we would have gone back to the house to reacquire it. We will never ever let go of the ownership of those utilities in name of this government and the people of Belize. Nobody can say to us now, well you know unless you can agree with us, we are going to seek some sort of enforcement order and try to get back the companies. But I don’t want to be unfair to Fortis or the previous owners of Telemedia. Fortis approached us offering to mediate in good faith. We are at a point where they want some sort of a confidentiality agreement signed so that when the negotiations are concluded—or rather if the negotiations fail—that things they might have said or information that they might have released in the course of the negotiations will not be circulated by the government. We are trying to work on that in a way that is consistent with our obligations to the Belizean people. But while I think they also have a challenge in court and while they did not say that as an inducement for the government to agree to the negotiations, they will drop their claim; I have the clear sense that it is an absolutely good faith approach that they have made.”

Viewers might recall that just before the General Elections were held on March 7th, the Prime Minister committed to hold a referendum on offshore drilling. But apparently the announcement was just another one of the P.M’s pre-election gimmicks. Yesterday the Prime Minister announced that due to the austerity budget, the only referendum that will take place is one where Belizeans will decide if the Belize/Guatemala territorial dispute will be heard at the International Court of Justice.

Honorable Dean Barrow- Prime Minister Of Belize

“I therefore am still perfectly comfortable with the notion of a Referendum on Offshore Drilling but again the timing of that will have to depend almost exclusively on what the numbers are looking like and I know what the numbers are looking like how the numbers come out with respect to the budget exercise in other words there is question of cost involved in that as well and quite frankly getting debt relief and coming up with a budget that can assist us in that regard so that we might have in fact far more breathing space next year is of critical importance and the timing of the offshore referendum will have to take second place to that. I don’t see it happening in the near future.”

The referendum is scheduled to take place simultaneously in Guatemala and here in Belize on October 6th 2013.