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May 26, 2023

Former U.D.P. A.G. says Portico’s Definitive Agreement is Unlawful

Tonight, we take a closer look into the Definitive Agreement between the Government of Belize and Portico.  While the binding contract between both parties was signed just one month before the last general elections, former members of the Barrow administration are on record stating that they were unaware of such an agreement.  U.D.P. Chairman Michael Peyrefitte, has criticized the Definitive Agreement between the Government of Belize and Portico Enterprise Limited (Port of Magical Belize), calling it abhorrent and illegal. The agreement grants significant privileges to Portico for its Port of Magical Belize development project.  It also provides tax exemptions, tax compensation, foreign currency guarantees, and legislation that solidify Portico’s position. News Five’s Hipolito Novelo starts our coverage with an in-depth look at the Definitive Agreement.


Michael Peyrefitte

Michael Peyrefitte, Former UDP Attorney General



Hipolito Novelo Reporting

That’s what former U.D.P. Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte says this Definitive Agreement is. The Definitive Agreement between the Government of Belize and Portico Enterprise limited (Port of Magical Belize) signed a month before the general elections, on October first, 2020, is revealing.  The once mysterious document is now in the public domain and its contents are mind-boggling. It is arguably the brightest of all green lights given to a multi-million dollar development project. The thirty-one page document bears the signature of former UDP Minister of Economic Development, Petroleum, Investment, Trade and Commerce, Erwin Contreras who has proven to be as elusive as the Definitive Agreement. He told us today that he preferred not to comment, since the matter is proceeding before the court.  He repeated that statement when we asked him if he had informed cabinet that he had signed the Definitive Agreement. Tracy Panton, who was the chair of Cabinet’s investment committee when the agreement was signed, says she was not aware of the agreement.


Tracy Panton

Tracy Panton, Former Chair, Investment Committee (File: February 23rd, 2023)

“Certainly under the Barrow administration the government was pro investment.  We had established a cabinet subcommittee on investments that would look at these investment proposals that would be brought to the government from time to time.  All the key priority sectors sat on that committee, including the attorney general’s ministry.  Where it came to that particular investment, indeed, we had a Memorandum of Understanding which is the first step in the process for all investors, all serious investors in any major projects in the country.  And so, I know for sure that we had a Memorandum of Understanding for that particular project.  I am not aware of any definitive agreement which is usually the last stage of really cementing the investment opportunity in the country.  You know, the government has to ensure that the investor has the right, has the capital available, that all the permissions have been granted, that sort of thing.  When I left, or when we left the government administration, that project was not there yet.  Certainly, none was discussed with the cabinet subcommittee on investment and none was discussed with me directly.”


Peyrefitte says the same.


Michael Peyrefitte

“That document was signed by Erwin Contreras in October 2020 and in my view that is a shame. It is abhorrent. And in my view opinion it is completely illegal. It was wrong when he did it. And if the PUP want to hug up that document and claim that they are so bound by it then they are equally responsible for that document because if they want to endorse it.”


The Definitive Agreement was signed long before Portico received environmental clearance from the Department of the Environment; something that Peyrefitte says is highly irregular. And, this Definitive Agreement is a grand tax holiday for Portico – tax exemptions, indisputable tax compensation, guaranteed foreign currency and a legislation that would cement it all.


Michael Peyrefitte

“These people are getting tax stabilization accommodations? In other words then, if any taxes are passed that affect them, at the end of the year they calculate it and the government have to give them back the money. This document cannot fly. This document is giving a private enterprise accommodations that no business in this country has ever been given. And then to make it even more insulting, at paragraph 33, I think of the document, it says that none of these parties could have disclosed this document, but not only like, in other words, that if the government of Belize giving away so much wanted to disclose this government to the public, it had to have had Portico’s permission to imagine that that’s absolutely crazy.”


The agreement binds the government legally, with virtually no wiggle room to free its self from the fix. The terms protect Portico locally and externally.


Michael Peyrefitte

“Everything’s been thrown out the window. They’ve been indemnified. Royal Caribbean and Portico are being put into a position where they can’t fail. Even if they fail, they can’t fail. They’re getting a free ride. They’re getting a complete free ride with access to U. S. dollars, Euros, foreign currency, everything. And whatever they come up short on, the government has to provide and fill the gap. Including, like I said, the taxes and any other thing that they want to do and the government cannot claim now that it’s a sovereign government. They are responsible. That sovereign guarantee they want to remove. That sovereign protection. In other words, they want Belize to pretty much just naked itself and bend over.”
Reporting for News Five, I am Hipolito Novelo.

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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