PACT Bill Voted Down in Senate, Making Legislative History
For one of the rare instances in Belizean legislative history, the ‘noes’ had it in the Senate with regard to the Protected Areas Conservation Trust (Amendment) Bill on its second reading. The amendment proposed to introduce a development fee to be collected from any border administered with support from PACT, and was one of the Government’s revenue measures for the Budget. But it was widely condemned as unwisely siphoning off needed money for the management of protected areas. It was also said to be unnecessary with such large holes in the Budget such as more than fifty million in uncollected taxes over two years. At the end of the debate, a division was called and the bill narrowly voted down, seven to six, with all social partner senators voting with the Opposition. We have highlights of the debate, with representations from Senators Osmany Salas and Valerie Woods, both of whom have experience with the conservation community.
Osmany Salas, Senator, Non-Governmental Organizations
“I see this proposal to introduce “a development fee” using the Protected Areas Conservation Trust Act as a tinkering of what has been a good legislation and that will not have any direct bearing on the financing needs for our protected areas system. The financing gap is huge, and I thought we should put all efforts into reducing the financing gap for our national parks and protected areas that form the basis for our tourism product. That is making a mockery, the way I look at it, of the Protected Areas Conversation Trust and the Act.”
Valerie Woods, P.U.P. Senator
“For those who may not even be aware of why this is such a slap in the face, frankly, to the conservation groups out there in Belize, we have to appreciate that it took years and governments – ‘cause it wasn’t a P.U.P. thing, or a U.D.P. thing; it was successive and different governments that made the PACT model what it was; and in one swoop, we are going to undo all of that effort. And why are we going to undo it, when we look at the very same Budget that we just went through, and we recognize there is over fifty-five million dollars out there in taxes, that stands uncollected. And if we collect it, it would more than make up for what this thirty-two dollars and fifty cents would bring in.”
As the amendment is essentially a Money Bill, we are told that the Government has the option of amending and re-presenting the Bill. It has been noted that the entire Budget itself, if the vote had gone the other way, could have been delayed for up to three months with no major effect on the Public Service or the last tranche of salary adjustments for teachers and public officers.