The proposed Puerto Azul project in the Lighthouse Atoll Range has become a lightning rod for environmentalists who are determined not to be shut out of the consultative process leading to a possible green light for the investors. A group of environmental organizations have written to Senator Godwin Hulse, who chairs the Cabinet’s Sub-Committee on Investment, asking to be included in that process. While Senator Hulse did not give a yes-or-no response to journalists on Wednesday, he did offer reassurances that the Government would thoroughly evaluate any proposal brought to them by the developers. That evaluation would be done using its five criteria of socio-economic feasibility, legality, revenue for Government and foreign exchange, creation of meaningful jobs and environmental and cultural preservation and enhancement. Minister Hulse explains how the last would work in Puerto Azul’s case.
“We must preserve the environment, and our cultural heritage, and enhance it, if necessary. Those 5 criteria are analysed by a technical committee, staffed with people from BELTRAIDE, the Department of Environment, Department of Tourism, Department of Investment – they all sit on that, including high technical people, who sit and analyse the finance. And then, when all that is all okay, we go back to Cabinet, and we say, ‘Well, all 5 have been met.’ If one of the 5 doesn’t measure up, we say no dice. We don’t even go back to Cabinet, but to say that we’re still studying. Puerto Azul is not at that stage yet. They have not yet submitted any full report. What they did ask for is if they are able to go ahead with their own environmental study, because the initial green light said – don’t mess around with the reef. So if you’re going to do a study to show that you’re not going to mess around with the reef and there’s not going to be anything adverse, then we will proceed on the others. But like the Prime Minister said if any one fails we are at a no go.”
Seator Hulse says the developers will get as much time as they need to get it all right. They are in Belize to pursue further studies but Hulse says there will be no high-level meetings until the documentation is complete.
Senator Godwin Hulse
“ We intend to make sure that all these projects are a win-win for Government, and people of Belize, and the investor. Nobody is going to come here to lose, but the people of Belize can’t lose either. If the project brings nothing to Belize, we don’t gain, we don’t preserve our environment, and we don’t maintain the control of our country, we don’t want it. It’s as simple as that, no matter who it is. So, there is no question that any project, as long as we have the committee, and I continue to chair it, that will circumvent these processes. It’s not going to happen.”
“They are in Belize already. Have they made any attempt to set up a meeting with you, or with the committee?
Senator Godwin Hulse
“No, no, and they won’t do that, because there is no need for a meeting until; they have some documentation, serious documentation, to present to us. There would be no reason to meet with them , unless they are prepared to say, ‘Here is our full proposal.’ I know that the Ministry of the Environment, perhaps, may meet [with them]because they have gotten the green light to begin to do that study. As I said, that’s only one of five[criteria].