Chalillo Dam

Probe International slams CIDA secrecy

Letter by Probe International to Minister for International Cooperation, Maria Minna

August 28, 2001

In a letter to Canada’s federal minister responsible for CIDA, Probe International challenges the minister’s defense of CIDA’s role in Belize’s proposed Chalillo dam.

August 28, 2001

The Honourable Maria Minna
Minister for International Cooperation
Hull, Quebec
K1A 0G4

Dear Ms. Minna:

On July 13, 2001, you sent letters to Probe International supporters describing CIDA’s role in the proposed Chalillo dam project in Belize. In that letter you misrepresent the facts and mislead the public, not only about CIDA’s role in the proposed Chalillo dam project, but also about the concerns Probe International and other NGO representatives raised at a meeting with CIDA in May. You claim, for example, that CIDA “is helping Belize acquire the necessary environmental information it needs to make an informed decision.” This pretense of impartiality is a gross misrepresentation of your agency’s role. I am writing to correct the record.

As CIDA’s contract with the Toronto-based multinational engineering firm AMEC (formerly Agra, Inc.) indicates, CIDA’s $250,000 funding package to AMEC is specifically intended to justify the Chalillo hydro dam to potential financiers and to help AMEC win contracts to build it. The CIDA-financed AMEC assessments of the dam’s viability, environmental or otherwise, has no credibility for the following reasons.

• AMEC has an inherent conflict of interest. The firm is a well known proponent of hydro development in Belize and its subsidiary, Agra CI Power, is in the business of building and operating hydro dams for utilities in Latin America and the Caribbean. AMEC’s client is Belize Electricity Limited – majority owned by Fortis, Inc. of Newfoundland – which plans to build Chalillo next year provided it can attract international financing. CIDA’s contract endorses this conflict of interest by stating that: “The Firm [AMEC] shall seek to interest the client [Belize Electricity Limited] in assigning implementation of the Project to the Firm [AMEC]. . . .” In other words, CIDA is funding AMEC to help AMEC win contracts to build the Chalillo dam.

• AMEC has no credibility as an independent environmental assessor of the Chalillo dam. An AMEC subsidiary, Agra CI Power, produced an environmental impact assessment of the Chalillo dam for Belize Electricity in 1999. This assessment was rejected as biased and incomplete by Belize environmental authorities.

On the question of information disclosure, you further mislead Canadians. You claim that CIDA is prepared to release AMEC’s reports but instead you stonewall. Though several environmental reports prepared by AMEC were completed in March, CIDA argues that it has no legal obligation to disclose those reports. A July 13 letter from CIDA’s access to information coordinator states that the nine reports which make up the Chalillo dam EIA – 1a) the project justification report; 1b) water quality report; 1c) social gender analysis; 2a) wildlife study preliminary report; 2b) auxiliary infrastructure report; 2c) risk assessment and preliminary project management plan; 3a) wildlife study preliminary report; 3b) environmental impact assessment report and final project management plan; and 3c) financial meetings report – are exempt under the Access to Information Act, citing third party commercial confidentiality clauses 20(1)(c) and 20(1)(d) of the Act. Environmental groups from Belize, Canada, and the United States have asked to review AMEC’s completed reports but you refuse to release them, on the grounds that AMEC now wants to conduct more studies before releasing anything.

We believe CIDA has no justification for withholding AMEC’s completed reports. Section 20(6) of the Access to Information Act gives CIDA the legal authority to disclose records relating to public health, public safety, and environmental protection, even if a third party (AMEC in this case) claims its commercial interests will be jeopardized. We believe there are compelling and irrefutable public interest reasons to release these documents immediately. AMEC argues that it will eventually release the nine reports when they are all completed. We believe this is a stalling tactic designed to leave as little time as possible for the public to challenge AMEC’s analysis. By deferring the release of documents, CIDA is thwarting an open and rigorous review of the Chalillo dam project and allying itself with a multinational corporation against the citizens of Belize. CIDA’s conduct also contravenes the World Conservation Congress resolution passed last year, which calls for an open and participatory environmental assessment of the Chalillo dam.

Citizens should not have to pressure CIDA to release environmental impact assessments financed by Canadian taxpayers. EIAs belong in the public domain. Therefore, disclosure should be automatic and early, not left to the discretion of CIDA and its clients.

Finally, you claim falsely that I and three NGO colleagues accepted CIDA’s position on disclosure when we met with CIDA officials in May. This is wrong and we ask that you stop repeating this error and misleading the public on this point. We unequivocally objected to the secretive and biased assessment process CIDA has established, which effectively prohibits public oversight of the proponents and denies citizens of Belize the information they need to participate in decisions affecting them.

You should also be aware that opposition to the Chalillo dam is growing worldwide because it will flood an area experts regard as one of the most biologically rich and diverse river valleys remaining in Central America. The 35-metre high dam would flood several ancient Maya heritage settlements and almost 1,000 hectares of lush rainforest – critical habitat for some of the world’s most endangered species, including the scarlet macaw, jaguar, tapir, howler monkey, and freshwater crocodile. There is ample evidence that Belize has better generating alternatives it could pursue. For these reasons, environmental groups from Belize, Canada, and the United States are united in demanding that the dam be stopped. An open and impartial review process would lead to this conclusion.

As minister responsible for CIDA, we ask that you and your agency stop the pretense of impartiality in connection with the Chalillo project and immediately withdraw all government support for the project. We also ask that you immediately disclose all reports completed by AMEC and any further documents upon completion.


Gráinne Ryder
Policy Director

cc Len Good, President, CIDA
The Honourable John Manley, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Stanley Marshall, President and CEO, Fortis, Inc.
Dr. Keith Martin, M.P., Alliance Critic for Latin America

Categories: Chalillo Dam, Odious Debts

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