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Sep 30, 2004

It?s Espat vs. Espat in Cruise Port controversy

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He’s an outspoken businessman with a reputation for shooting from the hip. As the main shareholder of the privatised Belize City port he also has a huge stake in the outcome of the deal in which Carnival Corporation will build a new cruise terminal in Port Loyola. And today Luke Espat took aim at those people–particularly minister of tourism Mark Espat–who he believes are wrongly criticising the project and for their own reasons want to see it killed.

Luke Espat, Port Developer

?My side, I think that the Belizean public–it?s unfair that this matter is being drawn into the living rooms of the Belizean people–something that is so good for this country and this is brought there in controversy by the Tourist Minister. It?s totally unfair. I think the Belizean people need to know the truth where the Minister is fully aware; was fully aware under the MOU that was signed before the contract was signed. Everything that made up that contract was done off an MOU of which he was totally aware of. The Minister got annoyed at some point, where he decided he would not be a part of the Carnival arrangement. I cannot speak for Carnival Corporation please and in no way or form am I doing so right now. And I want this very, very clear. I am speaking as the joint venture partner and as Port of Belize, our involvement that this project is so important for Belize that we need not play with it, that we need not be irresponsible about it and we need not play politics with it and especially personal politics. Because that?s what?s being manifested, personal politics with people with their own agenda, specifically the Tourist Minister.?

Janelle Chanona

?Do you think his agenda is to destroy the deal??

Luke Espat

?He has his own agenda. Maybe he should tell the Belizean public what?s his agenda–not to come up with excuses about there are clauses in the contract that talk about Belizean labour–no such thing. Could I be a part of it and Belizeans can?t be a part of it? That?s being irresponsible; totally irresponsible. The Minister wanted issues to be clarified, he misrepresented things to the Cabinet, got his okay to go and visit the contract. I was assured by the Prime Minister that they would look and please make everything available because the Minister wanted to see it, wanted to be involved at this late stage. All of a sudden the amnesia is over and at this stage he wants to be involved and I said no problem we will cooperate to the fullest to achieve whatever he claims BTB wanted to know. And I said we?ll explain it. The principal people from Carnival, Mr. Morelos, who negotiated on their side of the table for them was here and we went through this thing. After spending one day with Minster Courtney and Mrs. Rath from the BTB, we found three issues that they wanted as we called it–because we would not touch the contract–clarity, which was the policy of amount of people landing in Belize, the issue of clarifying that Belizean labour is going to be employed which is a fact all Belizeans. Then he goes around and tries to get the Hotel Association who has absolutely no interest in this type of business because they have their own interest. Here the Belizean people are the workers, the day to day workers in day to day tourism that would benefit especially him that is on the Southside; a representative of the Southside arguing against a fiscal project that is going to be on the Southside. Belizean workers are the priority in this project. And what we have to understand is above many investments in this country right now, this is one of Belize?s inward investments. We could have taken the position of the Port and said okay we will try and do a terminal and make arrangements that you pay us for each time you dock. But we never looked at it that way. We looked at it of having a name–a name that is cognizant–one of the biggest name in the world in this type of business to have them have fiscal investment in Belize, to encourage others to come with fiscal investments to Belize creating more jobs, creating more opportunities. And that?s the issue; not finding excuses. Not finding excuse and crying and going all over the place when he can achieve what he wish to achieve. If he was that responsible why didn?t he get involve from the very beginning??

As for efforts to limit the number of ships or passengers that Carnival can land in Belize, Espat suggested that the proper place for limits is at each individual tourist site…and called on Belizean entrepreneurs to use their initiative to develop new attractions to avoid overcrowding at existing locations.

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