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Jul 23, 2009

Chief Forest Officer didn’t know about Krooman transaction

Nine point six acres of land parceled off in the Krooman Reserve in the Antelope Street Extension area of Belize City and issued to businessman, Jack Chawla, for a potato chip factory has sparked huge outcry. The reserve, the only one in the city, serves to drain waters entering Belize City from the Savannahs. News Five today spoke to PM Barrow, who told us that the Minister of Natural Resources, has the right to de-reserve the land and parcel it out. But when we checked, we could find no proof that the area has been de-reserved, which would mean that the transaction is also illegal. The Chief Forest Officer, Wilbur Sabido, says he is not aware of the procedures that took place with this particular transaction.

Wilbur Sabido, Chief Forest Officer
“I’m not too exactly clear on the processes in as far as the land transactions that took place in as far as Krooman reserve is concerned. All that I am privy to is that certainly we were aware that certain land was issued around the reserve. I wasn’t necessarily clear on whether or not it is within the actual reserve. So, again, that is where our particular technical team has been contacted to go out and do that particular assessment.”

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“Cabinet was informed by the Minister of Natural Resources that no title has yet been issued, that indeed there was an agreement for his ministry to give or sell Mr. Charles this nine acres or whatever the amount is. There are two types of reserve. There are national reserves and there is what is known as a Ministerial reserve or a ministry reserve. You have a national reserve, for you to award any land there you have to de-reserve it. Where there is a Ministry Reserve, that only lasts for a period and I gather that this was a ministry’s reserve and it has expired. So that’s not the issue; it doesn’t matter whether it was a ministry’s reserve—it was a ministry’s reserve but that does not in anywise prevent the Ministry from very easily giving land in the area. The question is whether that is the right thing to do in terms of the concerns raised about the ecology of the area. We asked the Minister to have Mr. Charles cease and desist from the process of filling that he was engaged in. As I understand it, a fair portion of the area has already been filled so that by the time the request or the order for him to stop would have been given to him, to some extent, the ship may have sailed. But I really need to be made aware of all the facts in terms of the implications of the commercial development of that portion of land before I and Cabinet can take a final decision. The filling that Charles has done is the kind of filling that certainly is at a cost or certainly the government would not have been able to undertake right at this moment. So if you were faced with that question, which I insist only arises if you first determine that development of any sort is consistent with the lagoon and the functions that the lagoon in fact performs, then we would. Sure we want to provide house lots but we also want to provide jobs.”

Wilbur Sabido
“The National Park Systems Act does give the Minister certain discretions based on the technical input that he receives for certain areas to be de-reserved or for certain boundaries of certain protected areas to be adjusted. I, again, am not privy to all the information behind any amendments or boundary adjustments that have been made on the Krooman Reserve. After we get our assessment from our field team, there would be a variety of options that we would probably recommend. One would be to probably try and salvage those areas and restore certain areas that have been affected. Definitely, the Minister might need to give consideration to the possible de-reserving of certain areas and re-acquiring of certain lands and. Again, I really can’t speak to that because as far as I know, I don’t have the information at hand to say what the recommendations would be. But certainly, what mentioned before are likely.”

Marion Ali
“It strikes me as interesting that the approval would have been given before the assessment was done. So here you go giving an approval for development and then you send out a team after the development starts to find out well what’s the extent of the damage being done by the development.”

Wilbur Sabido
“Yeah, like I mentioned, how the processes for the issuance of land in that particular area were carried out, I cannot again speak to that because that is not within the scope…”

Marion Ali
“This falls under the Minister of…”

Wilbur Sabido
“That falls within the Lands and Survey Department, of which the Forest Department and three other departments fall within the Ministry of Natural Resources.”

Sabido says the assessment will determine the potential impact of the project being carried out on the land and thereafter recommendations will be made as to what actions can be taken to salvage the land if necessary.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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