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Jun 1, 1999

Fonseca talks about electricity, bananas and taxes

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One of those natural resources is water, more specifically the power of falling water to generate electricity. News Five’s Stewart Krohn asked Fonseca if the Chalillo Dam Project, which has been criticized as environmentally dangerous and economically unfeasible, was still a “done deal”.

Ralph Fonseca, Minister of Economic Development

“Well it certainly is, as long as all of the studies prove it to be a project that should be done. We’re still waiting for the last studies to come in but all the indications so far are that the engineers are finding what they expected to find – firm foundations, enough water – that type of thing. As far as we know nothing has gone off target yet. The environmental study should be finished the end of this month, I think and the entire study should be finished in about one more month. From all that we’ve heard it is the type of project that we should do.”

Q: “A lot of the criticism has shifted from the environmental to the economic. Are you satisfied at least with the data so far that this project is economically viable?”

Ralph Fonseca

“No doubt about it! The attention that shifted from the environmental aspect is because everything is proving out to be sensible and responsible. On the economic side, the only way that we will do it is if it is economical, if it brings down the cost that we’re paying right now for electricity. There’s no other way.

Every week the Prime Minister and myself and B.E.L. meet with people. We have met with people from Guatemala, from the US, from Canada that are all looking at B.S.I., looking at Libertad, all types of combinations of co-generations. We’ve met with people that are looking at co-generations with the citrus company – burning the citrus waste in an environmentally friendly way. We need all the power that we can get.”

Studies are also underway looking at the prospects of Belize joining up with the Central American electricity grid, an arrangement under which Belize could buy or sell electrical energy within the region at the most efficient rate.

Another issue very much on Belize’s economic plate is the continuing wrangle over bananas. Just back from talks with U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright Fonseca hinted that there is still room for a settlement favorable to Belize and Caribbean growers.

Ralph Fonseca

“We are very optimistic to the point that we have told the banana growers not to stop their expansion program. The formal message from the State Department is that they do not want to harm the Caribbean; they want to find a way to solve this problem.

More importantly number one, they understand that we need a preferential quota and two, we also need along with that quota a price incentive. Those are the two key elements. Now whether that means a waiver of this article or another article at the WTO, that’s a different matter. But they are certainly trying to work it out.”

And on the subject of the new sales tax the minister allowed that while it’s still early days, life without VAT is proceeding as planned.

Ralph Fonseca

“We have the numbers now for the first month: April. Today is the end of the second month so we really will not have those numbers for a couple of weeks although we’re computerizing very fast. I am sure we will have this information by October actually. But the April figures show that we’ve gotten about eighty percent of what we expected with only about seventy percent of the sales tax agents registered, so we’re very optimistic.”

While Fonseca was speaking to the press in the hallway, back at the Audubon AGM, members were voting to change the political complexion of the society’s board. Former Tourism Director Kevin Gonzales slipped past Lita Krohn and Luz Hunter to become first vice president… while Norris Hall, a one-time radical environmentalist whose views have mellowed since becoming a hired gun for the Chalillo Project, was routed by Ambrose Tillett who now becomes second vice president. Tillett is the husband of U.D.P. senator Audrey Matura Tillett. In what was perhaps the most dramatic moment of the night, the brand new Mitsubishi pickup raffled by Audubon was won by Frank Quiros of Slaughterhouse Road in Belize City.

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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