The Irony of the Protected Areas Conservation Trust

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Posted: Tuesday, December 6, 2016. 8:37 a.m. CST.

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By Richard Harrison: “In 1996, Belize was considered a pioneer with the passing of the PACT Act. Today, the protected areas landscape continues to take shape and expand. Currently there are 103 protected areas that form a vast national protected areas system (NPAS), with categories that encompass forest reserves, nature reserves, national parks, marine reserves, private reserves, wildlife sanctuaries, natural monuments, bird sanctuaries, spawning aggregation reserves and archaeological reserves.

In the twenty years since the Protected Areas Conservation Trust was established, PACT has been accredited national implementing entity (NIE) status for the Adaptation Fund as well as granted a fiduciary role for such agencies as the World Bank, the Meso-American Reef Fund (MAR Fund), the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Belize Nature Conservation Fund (BNCF). In October 2015, the amended PACT legislation was passed and like the PACT Act before it, it represents a bold step in the direction of actualizing and accommodating the needs of the country’s protected areas system.

The Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT) is Belize’s national conservation trust. Revenues for the Trust are primarily derived from a Conservation Fee of US$ 3.75 paid by overnight visitors, a fifteen per cent commission from cruise ship passenger head tax, fiduciary services, and interest earned on its Term Deposits. PACT redistributes the revenue throughout the National Protected Areas System (NPAS) by providing funding for projects that support conservation and promote environmentally sound management of Belize’s natural and cultural resources.

Did you know that 50% of PACT’s revenue is derived from the PACT Conservation Fee paid by visitors when they depart from Belize? PACT also earns revenue from the Cruise Ship Passenger Head Tax paid by visitors to Belize upon their arrival. To date, PACT has invested over BZ$ 31 million dollars in protected areas management in Belize through the awarding of grants. Additional sources of revenues for the Trust include 20% on concession arrangements within the protected areas, 20% of all recreation-related licence fees and permit fees collected in conjunction with protected areas and donations. PACT is committed to contributing to the sustainable management and development of Belize’s natural and cultural assets for the benefit of Belizeans and the global community.” ~ PACT Website

Since 1996, overnight tourism arrivals have averaged 230,000 visitors. This means that 4,600,000 visitors have paid US$3.75 towards PACT revenues. This amount should total US$17,250,000 million.

Since, by PACT’s own account, 50% of its total revenue comes from this PACT Conservation Fee, the total revenues of PACT since its start up can be estimated at around US$34,500,000 or BZ$69,000,000.

Their website claims that to date PACT has invested BZ$31 million in protected areas management. The returns on this “investment” is not self-evident….and there are all kinds of poetry and prose justification for it….with little or nothing to quantify how this “investment” has improved the lives of Belizeans and visitors.

Assuming that administration overheads cost 20%, or a total of BZ$13.8 million over 20 years….the PACT should have a surplus war chest of minimum BZ$24.2 million….after their BZ$31 million grant-giving exercise has been expense.

However, if PACT is anything like the other parts of the “government outside the government”…..those so-called statutory bodies that have been created by politicians to serve their will and the will of the status quo….then they know very good how to live the life of the rich and famous….with administration overheads running as high as 40-50%…..in which case the surplus would only be around BZ$10.4 million, or less.

This money should be spent instead, or at least in part, on cleaning up the contamination of humans on the Belize environment, especially those caused by tourism growth.

Liquid waste from the municipalities are seeping directly or indirectly into the surface and ground waters…at a rate of increase commensurate with the rate of growth of tourism and the local population….including the rapidly growing cruise tourism sector.

So, while we are “investing” in the “protected areas”…..the municipalities quality of life is in rapid decline….we have to shower in water that often smells like poop, especially in the dry season….when a speed boat passes the coast it raises the foul smell of poop that lingers for a while in the air….all because there is no liquid waste management infrastructure in place….the tourism properties have no system to connect to, and thus have to build their own expensive mitigation systems, or commit the sin of contamination operating under the radar complete with political cover….plastics and other litter are piling up on the coast and riverbanks, and no one is cleaning it up…one cannot swim in some of the rivers and coastal areas now, much less fish….the water is getting darker and more oily with time, complete with agricultural chemicals run-off…..thank goodness for hurricanes and torrential thunder storms that come periodically to clear away and/or dilute some of the mess.

PACT revenues will continue to grow as overnight and cruise tourism grows….it is not unrealistic to project that total revenues will exceed BZ$100 million within the next 10 years at the current rate of growth….or over BZ$6 million per year.

The PACT needs a comprehensive independent audit….especially a management audit, to streamline it so that administration overhead costs do not exceed 15-20%….in which case the amount that would have been available for investment would have been around BZ$55 million…..with 50% going to so-called “protected areas management” and the other 50% going towards cleaning up some of the mess (or preventing the contamination) being caused by the local and visiting population. The PACT should publish annual reports, complete with audited financial statements, so that they become more transparent and answerable to the people of Belize.

This is how the next 20 years of PACT can improve its service and value to Belize.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

This article was written by Richard Harrison, Belizean investor in production and services businesses in Belize. He holds a Master’s in Business Administration degree from Lancaster University.

© 2016, BreakingBelizeNews.com. This article is the copyrighted property of Breaking Belize News. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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