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When will Senate Inquiry Into Definitive Agreement Commence?

Sep 7, 2023

When will Senate Inquiry Into Definitive Agreement Commence?

A date is yet to be confirmed for the start of a public hearing to be conducted by a Senate Special Select Committee.  Nonetheless, gears are in motion for an upcoming investigation into the signing of the controversial document between the Government of Belize and Portico Enterprises Limited.  On Wednesday, a notice was issued by the Clerk of the National Assembly inviting all media houses to submit tenders for the live broadcasting of the inquiry.  The Definitive Agreement which was signed by David Gegg, on behalf of Portico, and former Minister of Economic Development Erwin Contreras is also at the center of a lawsuit brought against Contreras.  We begin our newscast tonight by looking back at what has transpired since the document came to light and what can be expected once the hearings get underway.  News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

A notice has been issued by the National Assembly inviting all media houses to bid for a contract to broadcast the public hearings of the upcoming Senate Special Select Committee.  The session to examine evidence regarding the signing of the possibly dishonest and immoral Definitive Agreement between the Government of Belize and Portico Enterprises Ltd. was requested by NGO Senator Janelle Chanona.  Amid the debacle that ensued when the dubious agreement finally came to light, Chanona’s call for an inquiry was answered.  She was also selected by her peers in the upper house to lead the investigation.

Janelle Chanona

Janelle Chanona, Chairperson, Senate Special Select Committee [File: August 16th, 2023]

“Yes, the members have asked me to lead on this, but truly we will be guided throughout by terms of references set on the motion that was passed by the Senate and we will do so within the powers and procedures set out in the constitution, as per the functions of the Senate in conducting inquiries of this nature.”

As we’ve reported, the controversial deal was signed by the former Minister of Economic Development several weeks prior to the last general elections that were held in November 2020.  It was reportedly done without the knowledge of his cabinet colleagues, including the former prime minister and the attorney general.

Michael Peyrefitte

Michael Peyrefitte, Former Attorney General

“I repeat this position, I was aware that there was a definitive agreement going around because they wanted me to sign one.  I said, I will not sign that.  I did not become aware that it was signed by one of our ministers at the time until earlier in this year when everybody found that out.  I was the one who wrote to the prime minister in the first place to say, “Prime Minister, I am being informed that there is a signed definitive agreement going around and I want to see it.”

That thirty-one page document, dated October 1st, 2020, was endorsed by Erwin Contreras.  He is being sued by Waterloo Investment Holdings Ltd., the parent company for the Port of Belize Ltd.  In his defense, Contreras denies that the Definitive Agreement was signed hastily and in secret.  He  goes on to say that the Government of Belize was in negotiations with the then attorney general, as well as the principals of Port of Magical Belize.  According to Contreras, as far as he was aware, multiple drafts were being exchanged.

Michael Peyrefitte

“What he said in his defense is totally untrue, there was never negotiations going on.  But then, you could say this to yourself, let’s take it at its maximum, let’s just say there were negotiations going on between the government and Portico, let’s just say that, and I am not saying that that was what was happening.  But let’s just say that that was what was happening, why would you sign in the middle of negotiations, why don’t you wait for the negotiations to be over before you sign?  So, to me, it’s inconsistent with what he’s saying, but that’s my response to that.”

While that matter will be settled in the High Court, the pending Senate Special Select inquiry will review all documents tied to the signing of the Definitive Agreement, paperwork related to the presentation of that agreement, as well as draft legislation to cabinet.

Janelle Chanona

“We are certainly minded to work as expeditiously as possible.  All senators have expressed we really want to get this started and through, working towards recommendations.  It was clear that we have a tradition to break, so to speak.  We don’t want our report on this matter to sit on a shelf, we want that it can be acted upon and that it proves meaningful.  And that is really the mandate we are working towards and of course we will be keeping the public up to date on  everything that we can in terms of scheduling, etc.”

Isani Cayetano for News Five.