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Apr 30, 1999

Minister of Tourism challenges U.D.P. arguments

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Minister of Tourism Mark Espat refused to let Dean Barrow’s comments go unchallenged, however, and cited the establishment of several casinos under the U.D.P. administration.

Mark Espat, Minister of Tourism

“Let me also remind the Leader of the Opposition that it was during a U.D.P. town board tenure in San Pedro and during a U.D.P. government tenure here in Belmopan that a casino by the name of the “Palace” in San Pedro has been operating for the past 4 years or so. Let me also remind the Leader of the Opposition that that casino is less than a mile or, I should say, a few hundred yards away from the San Pedro High School. Another casino operates on Central American Boulevard in Belize City in the vicinity of primary and secondary schools called “Archie’s”. That also opened up during the tenure of the previous government.

I also must make the point that it was the former Minister of Tourism that signed a letter of intent with one company called Dolphin Corporations issuing a gaming license to that company even in the absence of any gaming legislation.”

The U.D.P. may have lost the gaming control debate but regained some ground when Dean Barrow brought up the issue of a sizable donation of pickup trucks to the Ministry of National Security by Caye Chapel Enterprise’s Larry Addington. He said that in view of complaints by the Belize Audubon Society and the Caye Caulker Tour Guide Association about a golf course and resort project being carried out on Caye Chapel, a gift valued at over a million dollars was blatant corruption. While he did not blame the Ministry of National Security for accepting much needed equipment, he questioned why the Ministry of Natural Resources had not raised the question of ethics since its own Department of the Environment was investigating the alleged violations of Caye Chapel’s project agreement. Minister of Natural Resources Johnny Briceño responded that his ministry was unaware of the gift until it was announced in Cabinet and that it was still engaged in discussions with Caye Chapel Enterprises about the impact of its expansion on the environment.

But while the debate about the ethics of any Ministry accepting donations from investors who have yet to complete their projects will no doubt continue, the Opposition also question the granting of a contract to Housing Minister Dickie Bradley’s sister-in-law for the collection of rents and arrears under the Ministry’s housing scheme. When Michael Finnegan asked if this was not nepotism and why there had been no public invitation of tender bids, the Prime Minister responded that this was an “internal tender”.

On an issue that will affect thousands of people living in Belize illegally, the Ministry of National Security will launch an amnesty program. Minister Jorge Espat gave a preliminary outline of the plan today which he said will begin mid-May after an extensive public education plan. It is intended to grant amnesty to people who have been living in Belize illegally for at least four years, or are married to Belizeans or have Belizean children. Those who are processed by the Immigration Department will be given identification cards.

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