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House of Representatives approves Port of Belize acquisition as parties spar over Ashcroft influence

Port of Belize (Belize City)

Posted: Monday, December 11, 2023. 1:01 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: There was bipartisan, however conditional, agreement in the House of Representatives on Thursday over the Government’s plan to take over management of the Port of Belize Limited, which had been under receivership to the Belize Bank Limited.

The Port of Belize City has been a flashpoint for nearly two decades because of both labor disputes with stevedores represented by the Christian Workers’ Union (CWU) as well as the recent efforts to link development of the Port with a cruise port intended to bring jobs to the surrounding area. There has been litigation against the Government for the process of environmental impact assessment as well as the stevedores for allegedly causing losses in operational time and finance.

The breakdown of the deal is as follows: $166.7 million for the port and 600 acres of adjoining lands, a nearly 50 percent discount from the Ashcroft Alliance’s valuation and a further $30.6 million for various arbitral awards and litigation partially tied to the dispute.

Prime Minister John Briceño said, “We can confidently declare that at this price, and if the current profits of the port can be maintained as they will be, the profits can themselves finance the purchase. In other words, there will be no need for any taxpayer monies to pay for the purchase of this port and the 83.37 million dollars will not be paid upfront, nor will it be paid all in U.S. dollars. The seller has accepted an upfront payment of 38 million U.S. dollars, while the remaining 45.37 million U.S. will be paid, with four Belize dollar Treasury notes redeemable over five years.” The total settlement payment is 197 million dollars, a discount of 64 percent on the entire package.

Critically, all related claims and cases against the Government and Union will be withdrawn and Waterloo and the Ashcroft alliance will abandon the idea of a cruise ship terminal in the Belize district – but Ashcroft gets a development concession for the Radisson Fort George Hotel owned by Belize Hotels Limited, per Briceno: “The hotel’s owner and an Ashcroft consortium affiliate applied for a fiscal incentive concession to support the 57 million dollars of fresh investments in the property. Cabinet, while viewing the investment favorably, had stayed the approval process. Given the various outstanding matters between government and the consortium. In response, B.H.L. proceeded with the rebuilding but withdrew its commitment to construct a conference center. Well, it has now been agreed that a conference center will be constructed and BHL will benefit from a fiscal incentive, such incentive not being at all unusual for a tourism investment of this magnitude.”

It has been noted that there was heavy pressure from the Ashcroft side including public appeals through television advertisements that, it appears, forced the Government’s hand.

We will have highlights of the debate later on as well as the debate in the Senate which is ongoing today, Monday.

 

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