Nature Conservancy agreement a good deal: 266,000 acres of land for Belizeans

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In last Wednesday’s meeting of the Senate, Senator for Government Business Eamon Courtenay went into details of a land agreement between the Government of Belize under the Barrow administration and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). It was his attempt to humiliate the past administration, as he went on to call the deal “nefarious” and a “scandal”. He says that because of a number of tax write-offs, we now “find ourselves in this impossible situation today.” Representatives of the United Democratic Party (UDP) held a press conference on Friday to address the issue.
Senator for the UDP, Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, first explained that the lands, covering some 266,000 acres in the Yalbac, Gallon Jug, and Laguna Seca areas of Orange Walk and sold to TNC for some USD $72 million, were all privately owned lands. As a result, the agreement did not necessarily need to be presented. Still, this agreement was never hidden nor secret, since the Government, under the Barrow administration at the time, presented the agreement to Cabinet. From its inception, it was a transparent deal, one to benefit the Government and people of Belize.
Possibly the highlight of Courtenay’s presentation and what has caused raised eyebrows was that this agreement was inclusive of the write-offs of stamp duty and taxes for 50-years. He stated, wrongly, that it was the former Minister of Natural Resources, Hon. Hugo Patt, who wrote off the millions in tax which would be revenue payable to the government. He went on to state that this transaction was executed just weeks before the 2021 general elections. Hon. Peyrefitte has explained that, on the contrary, the only person who would be able to write off stamp duty tax would be the Minister of Finance, the Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow at the time. He, however, was never able to write off these taxes since the specifications of the agreement were not in order prior to the November 11 election. Signing this now lies in the hands of the current Minister of Finance, Prime Minister Briceño. During the press conference, Hon. Patrick Faber, Hon. Hugo Patt, Hon. Peyrefitte, and Hon. Barrow all said that it is their hope that PM Briceño will write-off these taxes in fear of the deal falling through.
Again, the agreement comes at a great benefit to the Government and people of Belize, given that the lands, transferred to a trust for the people of Belize, will be held aside for conservation. Hon. Peyrefitte explained that while the Government was willing to forgo these monies, the benefits over the 50 years of the waiving of these taxes would greatly outweigh the losses. Because of the agreement for the tax amnesty, not only would these conserved lands now become property of the Government and people of Belize, but we would also be able to pay certain bonds in Belize dollars versus having to find foreign currency. TNC, between some 20 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), was able to raise the monies to purchase these lands and then donate it to Government and people of Belize. The 266,000 acres are then managed by a trust of Belizeans, and as Wil Maheia, conservationist, describes it, it is a “win-win situation”. These lands form an important part of the Northern Biological Corridor. Because these lands are conserved, it will serve as an attraction to tourists and other conservationists who will then spend and contribute to our economy.
As has been stated, the agreement between the GOB and TNC comes at a great benefit to the people of Belize and the representatives of the UDP maintain that position.