Senator Lizarraga Says EPZ Legislation Sloppy and Rushed
The senate met today in Belmopan and Belize's Export Processing Zone amendment bill was the primary focus of discussion. As we have been reporting, the WTO says Belize's EPZ regulations violate its rules on subsidies. So now, EPZ's will be replaced with Designated Processing Areas, or DPA's. As you heard Prime Minister Barrow say at last Wednesday's House meeting, the government is on a tight deadline - the new laws have to be in place by the end of this month or Belize can face sanctions. Well, Business Senator Mark Lizarraga says deadline or not, there are some requirements in this new legislation that can affect investor confidence. Besides that, Lizarraga says that this amendment bill was done in a hurry and isn't clear enough.
Hon. Mark Lizarraga, Business Sector Senator
"If you look at part 5 section 18 of the law, it states that an approve company shall be issued a DPS status for a period of not more than 10 years. Mr. President I dent know if we all know it but under the EPZ laws that we are repealing today, many companies had in fact enjoyed certain benefits and had been given benefits for periods up to 20 years. Now, those benefits have been sweep away by this piece of legislation and yes there will be those that will argue that after the 10 year period you can reapply, but that reapplication is not guaranteed. It is at the discretion and at the will of the DPAC, the committee. That contract that companies had, that contract that they made all their calculations with. 'I'm coming to invest in this jurisdiction because I will enjoy certain benefits for a certain period of 20 years and all my return on investments was calculated based on those assumptions. Now the assumptions have changed. Belize, once again becomes less attractive with more uncertainty for investors. The laws can change, the rules can change any moment. That is the message that we are sending today."
"The prospect of operating now in an atmosphere of uncertainty. We hear this again from yet another sector in our country "Uncertainty." And this uncertainty of course is because the EPZ act is being repealed and is being replaced with a severely, their words "gutted substitute" called the designated processing area bill of 2018. Another repeating message that we heard from this sectors was that yes consultation was done last minute, but these things we knew were coming upon us for a long time and that we should have had more consultation over a given period of time and that it is a travesty that we seem to be passing legislation all the time at the 11th hour and in such a rush when you are affecting people's livelihoods, you are affecting investor confidence, investor climate. When you have legislation that is less that clear and is left up to interpretation, not by the law makers, but by the enforcers. We have seen what has happened. So why did we not take the time to make this piece of legislation as clear as it should have."
Lizarraga also commented that the government should have followed all the WTO rules and regulations from the onset to avoid having to scramble now to get the new laws in place. He also indirectly took a jab at PUP leader John Briceno who claimed at the house meeting that he didn't have time to read the bill.
Hon. Mark Lizarraga, Business Sector Senator
"These laws that affect us today, we entered into agreements with the WTO. We should have known. We should have plan. We should have had strategy to deal with them. It's nothing new. It's nothing that the WTO or the you or other people top for us overnight. We signed those agreements. Nobody put a gun to our heads to sign those agreements and if so we should have begun addressing those concerns from then. We can't choose to comply with certain laws and not comply with other laws. If there are obligations, there are obligations, but we have to find a way to carve our own future. To be masters of our own destiny and to work together to achieve that. It's only by working together seriously and making it a priority."
"How you think I feel when I hear legislators come to this house and say they have not even completely read the pieces of legislation before them and they are not familiar with it. That should never have happened, we see so many instances of sloppy drafting as well. Just this morning we had to be presented with another paper on another piece of legislation. Who is taking these things seriously man?"
EPZ Amendment Bill not Popular among Senators
NGO Senator Osmany Salas and PUP Senator Valerie Woods also shared their concerns with the EPZ amendment bill.
Senator Courtenay Says DPAC Composition Questionable
PUP Senator Eamon Courtenay also weighed in saying he has issue with the power the Minister has in appointing members of the Designated Processing Areas committee. Here is what he had to say.
Hon. Eamon Courtenay, PUP Senator
"One of the issues that concerns me is the role of the minister that is being given to the minister responsible for designated processing areas under this piece of legislation and if we take a look at clause 3 of the bill, it says the DPAC shall consists of no more than 10 person who shall be appointed by the minister as representatives of the following and then it lists a number of ministries and then when it comes to the private sector one representative from the chamber of commerce, but it is not nominated by the chamber of commerce. So it's the minister being given power to choose and say that person will represent the chamber of commerce. The same applies to the DPA developers, DPA businesses and special DPAs and one representative from the industrial sector and one from the services sector - all within the discretion of the minister. You go down to clause 6. It says the minister shall appoint for among the members one member to be the chair to preside over meetings, but the very next clause says, the committee shall at its first meeting select from among its members a deputy chair. Why can't the committee select its chair? Why must the minister have the right to choose who should be the chairman of this committee?"