By Marion Ali, Staff Reporter
At Friday’s House meeting in Belmopan, Toledo East Area Representative, Mike Espat questioned the reasoning behind the government’s latest show of support for the Port Loyola Cruise port project.
Espat, in raising the matter, referred to a study which he said showed the project would not be viable or environmentally sound for that location. He also questioned the potential investor, Michael Ashcroft, with whom the Barrow administration had had legal feuds before over BTL, and was left having to find millions of dollars to settle the re-nationalization of that company.
“The Prime Minister had a big fight with Michael Ashcroft, with investment, took away B.T.L., had to pay millions of dollars that the Belizean people have to pay back, and now I understand the Prime Minister, in his speech, said they will now go back and they will study the Port of Belize project, along with who – with Michael Ashcroft? So what kind of game is going on here with the government and Michael Ashcroft? We know the study that was done at the Port of Belize, and the advice that they got. They are saying that this project is not feasible for that area, and yet we are going back again to study the same thing all over again,” Espat questioned.
In responding to his query, Prime Minister Dean Barrow suggested that Espat had a personal interest in the project because his brother, businessman Luke Espat, had proposed the first idea there and had initiated the opening of the Carnival Cruise port, which never materialised under the People’s United Party (PUP) goverment several years ago.
“I don’t know which study the member is speaking of. He says that that study, unknown to me, concluded; that it was not feasible to put a cruise port at Port Loyola? That’s not my understanding. My understanding was that the study commissioned by Carnival Cruise Lines concluded – just the opposite. The reason the port never got built was because of your fine brother, wasn’t it. You talk about making sure we give advantage to Belizeans? No greater advantage could have been given to a Belizean than was given by your government to your brother. With respect to the Port Loyola cruise port…as usual, he cocked up and chased Carnival away.”
Earlier this month, Barrow, in a meeting with Stake Bank developer, Mike Feinstein had informed him of the two interested parties in the Port project. That meeting was not fruitful because Feinstein had requested for 25 of exclusivity, something that Barrow indicated the government was not willing to entertain.
Stake Bank is located seven miles offshore Belize City and the proposal for that project had been on hold for at least 10 years, until October 2015 when the Supreme Court ruled in Feinstein’s favour, that despite an agreement between the existing Fort Street Tourism Village (FSTV) and the government, which prevented Feinstein’s project from getting underway.
But stakeholders in the cruise tourism industry have long been saying that the docking facilty which the Stake Bank project is designed for, will cater to the tourism needs of this era, when Oasis-class ships will be expected to call on Belize.