Norwegian Cruise Line proposals discussed in the House

vlcsnap-2013-08-08-07h48m42s74The House of Representatives convened Wednesday where bills were introduced and read for the first time. Those are the Customs and Excise Duties (Amendment) Bill, 2013, the International Financial Services Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2013, Trusts (Amendment) Bill, 2013; Financial Intelligence Unit (Amendment) Bill, 2013; Customs Regulation (Amendment) Bill, 2013; International Foundations (Amendment) Bill, 2013; Accounting Records (Maintenance) Bill, 2013; Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2013; Gaming Control (Amendment) Bill, 2013; Firearms (Amendment) Bill, 2013; Interception of Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2013;Non-Governmental Organizations (Amendment) Bill, 2013; Criminal Code (Amendment) Bill, 2013; and Anglican Diocese of Belize Bill, 2013. Bill No. 1 {Customs and Excise Duties (Amendment) Bill, 2013} was also read a second and a third time.  It is now going to the Senate for its approval. The Honourable Prime Minister also introduced ten Write-Off Motions which were referred to the Finance and Economic Development Committee for examination, consideration and report.    There were also three Government Motions which were introduced and approved by the House.  The Caribbean Development Bank – Youth and Community Transformation Project Loan Motion, 2013; Implications of the Decision of the Caribbean Court of Justice on the Public Policy of Belize Motion, 2013; and Capitalization of National Bank of Belize Limited – Motion, 2013. We brought you highlights of yesterday’s sitting, including discussions on the Caribbean development bank youth and community transformation project, the recent CCJ ruling, and Hon. Julius Espat’s PAC restructuring motion – which was dismissed. Another issue of national importance debated in the House is the joint venture between GOB and Norwegian Cruise Line for a cruise port at Harvest Caye in southern Belize. Area Representative for Toledo East, the Hon. Michael Espat, started the discussion by stating that while he is not against the proposed terminal, there are a number of concerns voiced by residents in the south that he hopes will be taken into consideration by the Government.

Hon Michael Espat – Area Representative for Toledo East: 

vlcsnap-2013-08-09-08h22m44s43As I said before, we are not objecting to the project, and the people down there are not objecting to the project.  There are certain individuals who have concerns.  One of the concerns was the adequate supply of fresh water, being taken out of Independence Village to service Norwegian Cruise Line.

Disposal of waste is another concern raised by the Village Council inPlacencia. How will we get rid of the waste and we still have not had any kind of response from the people that are involved in this project. There was also the exclusivity of traders. We are talking about village councils that belong to the U.D.P. We’re not talking about village councils that are P.U.P.  This is their concern that we are raising here today, because the concern of those people is for a village, a village that is very prosperous and has a good future ahead of them. That is why they are raising these concerns.  The tendering process: They believe that they will be left out, because nobody is trying to protect them, according to what we were told, and we have seen what happened in Belize City, where we went from small tenders to million dollar tenders. The small people can’t understand that.  They really want to be a part and parcel of this project. 

There are over a hundred and ninety tour guides and ninety in Placencia alone registered between Independence and Placencia and they are also concerned. You heard people complaining about the overnight stays in Belize and the cruise ships will affect that. What the tour guides are saying to us today in Placencia is that people with hotels that have overnight stays are not suing their services. These hotels get their own tour guide and they are bypassed and taken out of the big projects and be bypassed again.

The concern of the twenty-five years exclusivity, Prime Minister, they are concerned about and I don’t know if you are aware that the Big Creek Port has spent millions of dollars over the past years to create the Big Creek Port that we have today; millions of dollars. And in their business plan, they also had a cruise terminal project for Big Creek. We don’t know if it will be this year or next year, but if these people get twenty-five years exclusivity that is dropping Big Creek. 

We still need, Prime Minister, some consultation with our mayors in both Punta Gorda Town and Dangriga Town. We need to consult with the Area representatives in those areas, so that we know exactly how this project will end, and how much benefit our people in that area will get.  I think we have an obligation, we have a duty, to perform.  We will not accept any commercial agreement that excludes our people.

 Prime Minister Dean Barrow then responded to the Minister’s presentation, while adding that though a non-binding MOU is in place, sealing the deal with NCL will be a lengthy and democratic process.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow: 

vlcsnap-2013-08-09-08h50m00s48I do understand what you’re saying.  You have some concerns and everyone that you’ve listed is absolutely genuine. What I want to tell you, though, is that some of the more serious ones have already been taken care of and the others will in due course as the project evolves and as the process evolves.

The process is at a point where the Cabinet approved a draft MOU; the Minister of Investment was to sign it; he may well have signed it by now.  The thing is though that the M.O.U is not the be all and end all of the process; first of all, the MOU is not binding but we have in that MOU as a signal of where we are coming from and as a way of alerting the developer, put certain positions very clearly; one is that every tour, that the people who come on Norwegian cruise line to the south will take must be tours done by Belizean tour guides.  The employment, as you said, what they’re doing is putting a facility, the dock facility on Harvest Caye, if the process continues; all that construction is to be done by Belizeans; as you said this a project that will create a great deal of employment and a sort of concentration of employment at the beginning, but the MOU makes clear that Belizeans must be the primary beneficiaries of this understanding. 

You talk about water. BWS can do reverse osmosis. So that sort of thing can be taken care of. But the point I really want to make is that the MOU, and we can get you a copy [as soon as the Minister signs it]. Furthermore, even after that MOU is signed, remember that these people still have to go and do an EIA for whatever construction they want with respect to the dock, whatever dredging, and that EIA will involve a process of Public Consultation.  So, Mr Member, there is no question at all of anything being done behind the backs of the Belizean people. You will clearly be a part of the Public Consultation.  We, like you, believe that the project, altogether, is for the good of the South.

You spoke about exclusivity; well, you have been in Government, you know how these things are.  The people are saying, ‘we want to come, we want to bring development in the south but we need an exclusive’. We had to make a determination.  We did know that the people in Big Creek are expanding but as far as we were aware this is principally an expansion of their container port, their commercial port. They do say that in their business model, they contemplate the possibility, as well, of a cruise port.  We didn’t see that the cruise port and the container port could work side by side.  I have since met with the people from Big Creek and they say they believe they could have brought it off.  However if the NCL project goes through, we are prepared to go with the exclusive since that is one of the conditions of NCL., a ‘bird in the hand’ so to speak.  The container port people who are saying they could also do a cruise port, maybe they could, maybe they couldn’t, we would have to wait too long to find out.  So we want to go with what’s certain.

With the project, will come the inclusion of head tax. Now residents are requesting that a portion of those monies collected be put toward a Village Development Fund. Toledo East’s Area Representative brought up the matter. The PM stated that monies will be reserved, but not for a Village Development Fund, but rather a Site Development Fund. The two debated the matter on the floor.

Hon Michael Espat – Area Representative for Toledo East:

The head tax which is seven dollars US and we understand, Prime Minister, I don’t know if it is true, that they were asking for a Village Development Fund and they said that you did not agree. I don’t know, I am just reporting what I was told at the meetings with my colleagues, because what they are asking for is that some of this head tax goes to a village development fund.  Now, we all know the critical situation in our villages in the south. We all know that they lack financing. Oh, we go out there, we campaign and we try and get a PUP village council or we try to get a UDP village council, and at the end of the day they are strapped.  They have to come and beg the government for every single thing they need.  These people are looking to the future,  These people want empowerment.  It was the People’s United Party government that did the Village Council Act in order to empower these village councils.  Today, there is no respect for the village councils in our constituencies even for the UDP ones,  and that’s one of our problems in this country. We are taken for granted because we support a political party. We need to stop this foolishness, we are all Belizeans. We want this country to grow and if good comes to the country, all us of will benefit,  but if we keep fighting with each other, quarreling with each other,  we are going absolutely nowhere.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow: 

I think it’s 17 cents is being reserved not for village development but for site development for the Jaguar Reserve and all the places that the people go to including marine reserves.  The 32 cents will go into that fund.  We couldn’t very well say put it into a village development fund.  Who are the villages?  Is it just Placencia?  They are closest. So I’m afraid  the monies will go into a fund that will look after the sites, the various tourist sites in the area.

Hon Michael Espat – Area Representative for Toledo East:

The people feel like we keep ignoring them.  Yes, we know that the sites  needs to be improved and developed, but these village don’t have any source of income, and this is what we are crying for.  We could do like PACT.  We give money to PACT.  PACT gives it to who applies for it.  So you create a development fund.  If a village needs to do something, they can apply to that body to get what they need, and then that application is processed.  That is all we are asking for.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow: 

When it appeared that Placencia might not be included in this, the Village Council in Placencia said there can be no calls from that ship to Placencia.  You can’t at the same time be saying that part of the money from the Head Tax will go to a Placencia development fund.  How far do we go? 

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