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Fireworks over Taiwan loan for road to Sarteneja

Posted: Friday, August 16, 2019. 2:22 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes:After Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s statement repudiating Mainland China and reaffirming relations with Taiwan, the introduction of the loan motion for US $50 million (BZ$100 million) from the Taiwan Export-Import Bank for the upgrade of the Corozal Town to Sarteneja Road and construction of two bridges was expected to be fiery, and so it was.

The Opposition People’s United Party used it mostly as an opportunity to hit back at the Government’s assertions of any “cozying up” to Mainland China and question the Government’s own intentions.

It started with Lake Independence area rep Cordel Hyde, who pointed out that the Government has not appointed a Contractor General in 18 months, since Godwin Arzu stood down. The Ministry of Works, he said, should not be trusted with the money in light of the excesses of Fabers’ Road (almost eight million for a mile) and the Caracol Road ($180 million for 50 miles).

Both Hyde and Florencio Marin, Jr., area representative for Corozal Southeast (of which Sarteneja is part) question whether, as Marin put it, “Do [the] Taiwanese trust you?”

The Ministry, as is usual, decides who the contractor is by tender, but the funds will be controlled by a Taiwanese company in Guatemala (Overseas Engineering and Construction Company), as revealed by Kareem Musa. And according to Marin, the contracts carry a “corruption clause” which allows that any trial must be held in the Southern District of New York as opposed to Belize – an unhappy callback for a Government that has defended cases from London to Washington, to New York itself.

While Marin is in support, he has his reservations: Taiwan, he said, appears to be the “only credible component,” of the plan. He promised to be out personally to oversee the project and inaugurate it as a member of the Government.

During his presentation, Musa quoted the Prime Minister (as Leader of the Opposition, in 2005) and Belmopan area representative John Saldivar separately as deploring the close relationship of Belize and Taiwan under the P.U.P. Now, he said, even Taiwan appears to be helping Belize at arms’ length, not like Venezuela and Petrocaribe.

Musa also pointed fingers at two Government ministers, Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber and Dangriga area representative Frank Mena, for traveling to Mainland China, which they both denied. Mena said he was in, among other places, the ‘Special Administrative Region’ of Hong Kong, which is administered by but technically not part of the PRC.

The Prime Minister wrapped up the debate by promising to amend the Contractor General Act to remove disqualification from being able to serve in other offices with the Government, which he said was proving a hindrance in finding a replacement.

He also reminded that unlike the PUP, which was explicitly told by various multilaterals that they could not borrow further because of issues with previous funding, the multilaterals provide proper oversight, concessionary terms of repayment and trust the current administration.

The motion has been approved and goes to the Senate.

 

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