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Government’s ‘no’ to Port of Belize expansion goes to independent tribunal: who will bell the cat?

Posted: Thursday, January 12, 2023. 10:55 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The developers for the Port of Belize cargo expansion, cruise terminal and tourism village project have lodged a formal appeal of the decision made by the Chief Environmental Officer to reject its proposal in December, based on a recommendation by a wide majority of the National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC).

The appeal is to a three-member tribunal per Section 27 of the Environmental Protection Act.

Minister of Sustainable Development, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management Orlando Habet today outlined that the tribunal membership consists of a member of the Magistracy or Judiciary; the Senator representing the business community, and an environmental professional selected by himself as Minister.

Asked whether the law should be changed, the Minister said the tribunal is at least nominally independent under the law and governs its proceedings including whether it will be meeting in public or behind closed doors: “…based on section twenty-seven, if you follow through, it also tells you that the tribunal will form its own proceedings, will guide itself with their own principles and proceedings. So we don’t know if they will say it is going to be a public hearing or not or if it will be in closed quarters.”

The Minister added that in the future amendments to the regulation could be made to widen the number of participants, but that it is too late for this matter as it is in process.

As for who makes up the tribunal, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry has said that its representative on NEAC, although absent, had voted in favour of the project back in late November. The Business Senator, currently Kevin Herrera, will have a seat on the tribunal.

The Minister suggested that experience, rather than nationality, may guide his selection: “From the environmental side, we have to get somebody who is a professional with a lot of experience. What the law doesn’t say is if it has to be local or it can be somebody international. From my interpretation, it is open so we can bring somebody from Australia, from England, from the U.S. that is a professional in the field.”

However, it is reported that Senator Herrera is the brother of the project’s local consultant. Asked whether that means he should recuse himself due to a conflict of interest, the Minister said he would leave that to the Chamber, but that if he steps down his replacement should be a fellow Senator: “I wouldn’t be able to comment on whether or not they should. It would be something that the chamber, if that’s their nomination, will have to make a decision on so that then they can have that type of transparency with the public and then also the senator if he decides that he wants to recuse himself, then the same business community to nominate someone else. But for that then it would have to be a senator so that makes it a narrow time for a replacement.”

Minister Habet says that within a month or so, they are expecting to select its representative on the tribunal.

 

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