The House of Representatives met today in Belmopan. The main item on the agenda was Sugar Industry and Cogeneration Project Development Bill, 2012. The Bill was introduced by the Prime Minister and taken through all its stages at today’s sitting. What the Bill does is provide for certain exemptions from taxes and duties to attract new capital investment into the sugar industry. That new investment is by American Sugar Refining, the Delaware-based company that has acquired majority shareholding in Belize Sugar Industries Limited. At the introduction of the Bill, the Prime Minister said the list of incentives is nothing out of the ordinary for an investment of the magnitude as ASR is making in the sugar industry.
RIGHT HONORABLE DEAN BARROW
“It is well known, Mr. Speaker that in return for an investment of this magnitude, Governments all over the developing world offer the sorts of concessions and exemptions that we are offering by way of this Bill and without this there will be no deal; without this the industry would collapse; without this the loans that have already been called by the previous financiers of BSI would see the company being put into foreclosure; without this the dividends due to the factory workers would not have been paid – half of those dividends even before the passage of this Bill have already now been paid to those workers.”
When it came time for the debate, members of the Opposition People’s United Party stuck to the party’s stated stance of opposing the piece of legislation saying that it gives an unfair advantage American Sugar Refining and will end up hurting the small cane farmers. While members of the ruling party’s side of the House came out in full support of the Bill, first to speak was the member for Orange Walk Central John Briceno.
Area Representative (People’s United Party)
Orange Walk Central
“But before we can support this Bill, Mr. Speaker there are several issues that are of concern and we would like some answers. The Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association, Mr. Speaker raised a number of issues and they overlap with my presentation so I would like to refer to a letter that the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association sent to the Prime Minister dated the twenty fifth of September which was yesterday and they raised a number of issues. The first issue that they raised, Mr. Speaker is that the Government had given the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association a commitment that they would be consulted on any terms and conditions on the exemptions that were to be granted to ASR and they are saying that they were never consulted when these arrangements were being worked out and they are saying and I quote, ‘that this does not reflect a good faith towards us, one of the key stake holders in the sugar industry.’”
When he rose to contribute to the debate, the Leader of the Opposition Francis Fonseca appealed to the government not to pass the Bill today and allow for consultation with the cane farmers on the issue.
HONORABLE FRANCIS FONSECA
Leader of the Opposition
“We need to defer this Bill; there is no need for us to rush through this Bill today. Our farmers need to be properly informed on what is taking place here today; they need to be properly consulted; we need to listen to them – I know that is not something that comes easy to the UDP Government, you don’t think you can learn anything from anyone else but this is one time you need to listen and learn from the cane farmers of this country. So, Mr. Speaker we are calling on the Government; we want to work with you on this matter, we want to save the cane industry for the future development of this country; we are calling on you today to do the right thing - defer this Bill so that we can properly consult with the real stake holders of this industry, the cane farmers of this country – we ask the Prime Minister one last time – let us do the right thing – defer the bill and make sure that we have a proper conversation and discussion with these cane farmers and make sure that they receive equal treatment when the Bill comes back to the House.”
In winding up the debate, the Prime Minister began by indicating that the opposition’s call for a deferment of the passage of the Bill was not an option. That prompted PUP representatives to walk out of the Chambers of the House, leaving the Prime Minister to bring the debate to a close and a vote on the Bill.
RIGHT HONORABLE DEAN BARROW
“You know I said earlier, Leader of the Opposition – it reminds me of another speech of his, man, you had your chance – please shut up and sit – oh you’re not going because I am coming to you next….For them to come and suggest that this is some unprecedented giveaway is absolutely disingenuous, fraudulent, dishonest and meant to try to torpedo a piece of legislation that is very clearly in the best interest of the industry of the cane farmers and generally, of the economy of this country of Belize.”
After a committee of the whole house on the Bill, it was returned to the floor without amendments and passed its third reading. The Bill now goes to the Senate for ratification. Also passed through the House today were the Belize City Council Municipal Bond Bill and the companion Belize City Council Amendment Bill, 2012.
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