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Dec 29, 2008

NICH president in hot seat over major secret contract

Story PictureA major controversy has exploded and fireworks are erupting between the President of NICH, Diane Haylock and her immediate boss, the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, Marcel Cardona. Since last week News Five has had in possession a copy of a contract signed between Haylock and businessman David Gegg, giving him exclusive rights to construct and operate a permanent concrete structure on the public premises at the Nohoch Che’en archaeological site, also known as Caves Branch six miles off the Western Highway. And since then the minister has maintained that he knew nothing of the document. A news release from the ministry today states that at no time did it or Cabinet take the policy decision to privatize the site.

Paragraph three point one on page one of the contract states that the company, meaning Gegg’s Cruise Solutions tour business, will construct and operate a dining and kitchen facility for seating of up to two hundred persons, gift shop and photo shop at the reserve. That structure, which Gegg intends to house a restaurant, will cater to the cruise tourists which Gegg’s tour company called Cruise Solutions bring into Belize for one-day expeditions at the site. And while the construction has already begun, by all accounts, at least the ones we could reach today, the contract is worthless. Minister Cardona reconfirmed to News Five today that the document, its contents and even news of its existence were kept in secret unknown to him and the members of the Board of Directors for NICH. Cardona said he and the Board found out about the agreement between Haylock and Gegg at a special Board Meeting on December nineteenth. Haylock, he claimed, did not ask for a vote or approval for the contract, but merely informed them of its existence. Cardona was expressly clear in pointing out that a decision of this magnitude to allow private individuals to operate their personal business at a public archaeological site is a major policy decision. To bolster his argument, there needs to be a copy of the Board’s Resolution approving the contract – and that document has been hard to come by. Cardona’s concern about the matter is that privatization of archaeological sites could only mean these sites will no longer be for Belizeans since they will be under private control.

The contract, in point fourteen, also committed Cruise Solutions to pay NICH sixty thousand dollars annually in twelve monthly installments of five thousand dollars for conducting business at the site. But Haylock’s contract does not provide for such executive decisions and according to the minister, she is required to report to him on the daily operations of NICH. And as for the construction which Gegg is presently engaged in at the site, Cardona says the Ministry is prepared to compensate Gegg for the investment he has already made on the project. In a telephone conversation with News Five late this evening, NICH Board member, Isiris Rodriguez said they knew nothing of the contract and that they only found out during the December nineteenth Board meeting.

Marion Ali
“How did you come to find out of it?”

Voice of Isiris Rodriguez, Board Member, NICH
“At the meeting it was a part of the discussion that we had because they were explaining the various incidental happenings of Caves Branch in relation to the situation that there was a tour guide company and they said that they were in the process of finalizing contracts. Miss Haylock is required to go ahead with the contract because there are not many places or lands for small businesses or people that have small shops to be there.”

Marion Ali
“As a board, what position have you taken on this matter? Did your fellow board members know of it before you?”

Voice of Isiris Rodriguez
“We were all unaware of it, from my point of view, no. I believe that everyone that attended the meeting did not know about the contract”

News Five attempted to contact Haylock who is out of the country and will not be back until next week. David Gegg told News Five last week that the board was apprised of the contract.

What has further complicated matters is that the Administrator at NICH, Victor Espat, has fired off a letter informing Haylock of his resignation. Espat does not specify in the document the reasons for his prompt departure, but he implied that while he has informed Haylock of the reasons for his leaving, he has opted to refrain from listing those reasons in the letter in order to quote “preserve the integrity of this institution” unquote.

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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