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Aug 14, 2013

NCL MOU signed and more jobs on ships and on island

Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Memorandum of Understanding has been signed. The MOU which was shared in the media was the sixth draft according to Godwin Hulse, who led the ministerial committee that negotiated with NCL. Although the MOU is not legally binding, it presents a more palatable view of the development. However, there are grey areas that environmentalists have questioned before the signing. For example, the development on Harvest Caye will use an Environmental Impact Assessment for a different project that was originally developed for the island. According to the C.E.O. of Ministry of Trade and Investment, Mike Singh, who championed the NCL development, there will be an amendment to the EIA to reflect the investment. But the seven U.S. dollars head tax was a main concern of the Belize Tourism Industry Association. According to Singh, four U.S. dollars from the head tax will be returned to NCL.

 

Mike Singh, C.E.O., Ministry of Trade & Investment

Mike Singh

“Expediency is a consideration, I will admit to that. But there have been substantial studies on this island—and I think the EIA is online—that covers probably sixty to seventy percent of the same issues that NCL will have to do. The rest of the issues that are on there, which is actually reducing the amount of construction going on there will be in respected to the issues. But the actual physical change on the island is actually less than what has already been approved. So it is felt that yes, we need to go through the process to address the change issues and to address them in the form of an amendment which is a normal procedure that is acceptable under the EIA process. There’s one item where the MOU developer undertakes to generate a minimum of twenty-five percent manifested passengers on tours, but not to exceed the recommended visitor site carrying capacities to these terrestrial attraction sites established by the Belize Tourism Board and site managers. To commit and employ and contract Belizeans in accordance to the labor laws of Belize and at no time employ foreign employees in excess of twenty-five percent of the total workforce during all phases of the project. In addition to establish a graduated scale and phase out of foreign employees within the first five years of the project. That no foreign employee should be permitted to provide the following services: entertainment, boat captain, crew, tour guide and tour operator and to further commit that opportunities will be made available to Belizean owned businesses to operate over concession, established island and the hub. Again that is to ensure that we are not building a project where you are locking out not just the Belizean opportunities, but also the Belizean businesses and the Belizean culture in general. Many of these fees that you see are collected by governments that also have to invest in port facilities and maintain port facilities. The difference is that NCL will be taking on all those costs which is the rationale for the funds being paid back to NCL which is the same that happens in Belize City. The difference with Belize City is that there is much greater investment, there is a specific time frame for payback that has been calculated and that within our agreement, we’ve also allocated for a gradual increase in the head tax every five years which is the next line. The head tax of seven dollars for passengers will be paid to the Belize Tourism Board whereby four dollars shall be paid to the port but the balance of three dollars will be allocated to the government inclusive of all government fees except for those specified in clause nine which includes the port fees that we indicated.”

 

Godwin Hulse

Godwin Hulse, Chairman, Cabinet Subcommittee

“It’s expanding cruise tourism, but as you see there is building to it a progressive increase as we go along and that was the rational for that.”

 

Reporter

“So who gets that increase because it says it can increase once every five years?”

 

Godwin Hulse

“It says we will split it…this time it will be split fifty-fifty. It is what comes to the country. What comes to the country is the visitor coming to spend his money. You don’t want to create a situation where you shy away people especially when you see that chart of what obtains in the region.”

 

The port development will be using duty free exemptions for equipment.  The presenters said that the government reserves the right to review the head tax every five years and while they may entertain a head tax increase, that increase will also be shared with NCL.

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