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Dec 1, 2016

Debt for Nature: Oil Jitters Cost Belize $200 Million?

John Burgos

Why would Government turn down a debt-for-nature swap programme? That is the hundred million dollar question tonight. Documents have surfaced showing that The Nature Conservancy approached Government about seven years ago with a proposal that would see funders buy out around one hundred million U.S. dollars worth of Belize’s superbond debt. The proceeds would have set up by way of a trust to finance conservation programmes. But Belize had to commit to climate conservation and development commitments, including the adoption of the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan; the strengthening of EIA regulations to ensure compliance and transparency; as well as increase in coverage of marine protected areas. There are other commitments some of which have been ongoing for several years, but would see some bolstering under the signing of this proposal. According to information available, The Nature Conservancy had secured around sixty million U.S. dollars in commitments and there were letters of intentions from other funders who were supportive of the proposal. There was extensive dialogue over this proposal which reportedly started at the Office of the Prime Minister and would later go through several key present and past Government officials. But after years of back and forth, G.O.B. would only go on to say no to the proposal about a year and a half ago. In light of Belize’s superbond troubles, proponents of the proposal say that this could have helped to make a dent in that bond, albeit a small one – some twenty percent or so. But importantly, it would have provided for around twelve million a year for marine conservation. Conservationists think that refusing this deal was a bad idea. Today, News Five caught up with John Burgos who told us what this kind of proposal would have meant for Belize had we signed it.

 

John Burgos, Executive Director, B.T.I.A.

“We are beginning to hear of more projects and initiatives that are being offered to Government from conservation groups from around the world that would subsidize and finance some of Belizean debt, in a debt-for-nature-swap programme. We found out that over six years the Government was negotiating with The Nature Conservancy over a hundred million dollar programme whereby they had strict guidelines that were focused on banning offshore oil drilling, on increasing the marine and coastline reserves which would only yield benefits to the tourism industry, to the fishing industry, to the Belizeans as a whole. And we are still wondering why Government refused that offer. You are talking about a hundred million dollars US. Right now the Government is going out to try to re-negotiate the Super Bond; this funding that was on the table could have been used towards that. All you needed to do was to meet the specific requirements that formed part of that program. Right now, we are just getting to find out all the details of this information. One of the individuals name that was involved in the process mentioned that this was brought to the table years ago. But you have to understand that this was just finalized and denied in March or April of last year, 2015.”

 

Reporter

“And the environmental groups were not consulted as far as you are aware?”

 

John Burgos

“No. We are just getting to know of this offer. We are just getting to know that this offer is on the table. So, what the Coalition will be doing is to present this information to the public, to the people, the stakeholders and we want to hear from Government about what are the reasons why they didn’t support such a great program. I mean, we are talking about a program that was offering an opportunity for Belize to be a leader in conservation worldwide. The magnitude would have been great in terms of promoting Belize as a green destination and a sustainable tourism destination.”

 

We reached out to Country Rep for The Nature Conservancy for comment but were told that he is out of the country.

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2 Responses for “Debt for Nature: Oil Jitters Cost Belize $200 Million?”

  1. Mike G. says:

    Typical GOB! Tourism is our financial mainstay and nature is our product . . why can’t the PM get that through his hard head? Guess the smell of OIL $$$ is gumming up his thought process.

  2. Clue says:

    Because the restrictions were too binding and the hustle would have been minimal due to rigorous oversights. Also, they already knew they had their hands out to allow offshore drilling and this would have hampered their hustle.

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