Chalillo Dam

Rare wildlife under threat because of a dam Canadians want built

Wendy Mesley
CBC’s ‘Disclosure’
April 2, 2002

@TIME=21:00:00 ET
@END=22:00:00 ET
DIROWAY, Policy Director, Canadian International Development Agency;
DAVID PATTERSON, Senior Vice-President, AMEC; SIAD MOUSSA, Prime
Minister of Belize; AMBROSE TILLET, Former Utility Planner for Belize
Electricity; GRANYA REUTER, Probe International
@TITLE=Rare wildlife under threat because of a dam Canadians want built

@TEXT=WENDY MESLEY: Hi. Welcome to "Disclosure". I'm Wendy Mesley in
Toronto. We Canadians like to think we're good guys, helping the world's
poor with our foreign aid. But that image is a bit out of date. We're
giving less to poor countries now than we did 25 years ago. The Prime
Minister did promise recently to open the purse strings and be more
generous. But the poor may not be better off. Terry Milewski found one
little country where there are a lot of questions about who we're really
trying to help.

TERRY MILEWSKI (Reporter): In st. John's, Newfoundland, on the first
day of March, at a power company called Fortis, actor Greg Malone
delivered 30,000 protest letters.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'll ask, I'll go and ask him to come out. That's all
I can do.

MILEWSKI: International environmental groups are fighting Fortis too.

TV AD: I am offended that the company like Fortis could think that they
could get away with building a dam in my country.

MILEWSKI: They're buying air time across Canada with some big names.
Robert Kennedy Junior.

TV AD - ROBERT KENNEDY JUNIOR: It's about bullying, it's about

MILEWSKI: And actor Harrison Ford wrote to the Globe & Mail. They're
all attacking this guy, CEO Stan Marshall.

STAN MARSHALL (CEO, Fortis): I'm not to go and engage Darth Vader and
take on Harrison Ford.

MILEWSKI: But in this one you are Darth Vader, aren't you? That's the
role you've been given.

MARSHALL: Maybe that's the role I've been given.

MILEWSKI: Marshall can't believe all the fuss, just because he wants to
build a little hydro dam in Belize.

MARSHALL: You've got the sort of heavy, real heavy environmental groups
in the world attacking this thing. This little dam, a little small dam,
which there are thousands of them in North America.

MILEWSKI: It is indeed a big fuss about a small river in a very small
country. But the Macal River in the rain forest of Belize is a unique
place, home to some vulnerable creatures. These rare scarlet macaws,
there's some estimated 1,000 of them left in the world, 250 in Belize.
And another threatened species, the black howler monkey. There is a
toothy local crocodile, the morelet's, and a strange leaf-eating beast
called the tapir. Fortis' dam would flood nine square kilometres of the
Chalillo area, the most sensitive part of the river, drowning the
feeding and breeding areas of its wildlife. Enter biologist Sharon

SHARON MATOLA (Biologist): These animals are existing in a natural,
uninterrupted, unmolested state, very, very rare today in any part of
central America.

MILEWSKI: Matola is director of the Belize zoo and Fortis' worst
nightmare. She started the environmental protest against the dam.

MATOLA: I found out about this company in Canada and realized that the
strings are being pulled not here in Belize but in Canada.

MILEWSKI: And she's not talking about Newfoundland. The strings are
being pulled in Ottawa, by the Canadian government. At Canada's
International Development Agency to be precise. CIDA is known for good
works projects like literacy in Tunisia, helping farmers in St. Lucia
and rescuing children in Ethiopia. CIDA policy director Bob Diroway.

BOB DIROWAY (Policy Director, Canadian International Development
Agency): CIDA is very interested in the environmental side. We're also
interested in exploring options for developing countries to be able to
alleviate their poverty situation.

MILEWSKI: That's why CIDA a has funded a big fat environmental study on
the Fortis dam. The CIDA money, almost half a million dollars, didn't go
to Belize. It went to Toronto, to some international consulting
engineers called AMEC to produce the environmental report. Senior
vice-president of corporate affairs, David Patterson.

DAVID PATTERSON (Senior Vice-President, AMEC): We can take the kinds of
programs that CIDA has, and I think they should be patted on the back
for having these types of programs because they can provide good
information for people to make good decisions in places like Belize.

MILEWSKI: And to do that, AMEC used some of the CIDA money to hire the
best, the British Natural History Museum of London, to do a wildlife
study. The museum scientists said there would be significant and
irreversible reduction of biological diversity in Belize and recommended
"do not build the Chalillo dam". But AMEC concluded that the dam was the
most economical option and filed the British study in an appendix with a
warning note, saying it was only a draft and readers should formulate
their conclusions accordingly. So does that mean that you, AMEC,
disagree with the conclusions of the British Museum of Natural History
that the dam should not be built?

PATTERSON: No, what it means is that AMEC has made clear to people that
there are shortcomings in the technical aspects of the British Natural
History Museum. In other words, they didn't do what they were asked to
do and there were certain scientific shortcomings in terms of the report
that they provided.

MATOLA: Don't do this. That's what the Natural History Museum states.
They agreed with every scientist who has ever looked at that area,
studied there. This is a consensus. This is not, this one says that and
this one says that. No, no, no.

MARSHALL: There are adverse environmental consequences to the dam. I
agree with that. No dam ever built didn't have some adverse

MILEWSKI: But Marshall says his Chalillo dam is worth it, for the
cheaper energy. Will it make it cheaper?

MARSHALL: Yes. Chalillo will provide the absolute cheapest energy
available in Belize. Well built, absolutely.

MILEWSKI: That is certainly what Belizians need. They make less than
$4,500.00 a year on average. But they pay the highest electricity rates
in Central America, at least three times what we pay in Canada. It costs
so much because the only power in Belize is generated from expensive
diesel fuel and from this, Belize's one and only hydro dam which has
never produced the power it was supposed to. It's kind after big thing
for such a little amount of power. Isn't it?


MILEWSKI: It's fair to say that in the dry season this dam is pretty
much useless?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, yeah. It will only run one generator.

MILEWSKI: Yeah. The plan is the new dam would boost the power of this
one. Can you see the other side of the question?

MATOLA: I said this a long time ago. If this were an issue that said,
hey, this dam is going to light up every house in this country and
provide cheaper electricity, I would have bowed out a long time ago and
said, well, that's the compromise you make. That's what happens. But
that is not the case.

MILEWSKI: You represent this as being good for Belize and good for
Belizians if they get a cheaper, more plentiful, more reliable supply of
energy. At the same time, you're not running a charity.

MARSHALL: Absolutely right. We're not a charity.

MILEWSKI: That's for sure. Guess who owns the under-performing hydro
dam? It says Belize Electric but look closely. And that's not all.
Fortis is also majority owner of Belize Electricity, the distribution
company. So every hydro wire in Belize delivers profits to Fortis, six
times more profits per gigawatt hour than it makes in Newfoundland.

AMBROSE TILLET (Former Utility Planner for Belize Electricity): They
provide all the generation in Belize. They are the exclusive transmitter
and they are the dominant distributor in this country. They are in
effect a market monopoly.

MILEWSKI: Utility planner Ambrose Tillet worked for Belize Electricity
for 14 years.

TILLET: I told them repeatedly that I do not believe that Chalillo was
a good option for the country and I believe that we should look at other
options, and so the company approached me and asked me if I would prefer
to leave rather than stay on and I agreed to leave.

MILEWSKI: Belize already buys power from Mexico. Tillet says why not
forget the dam and buy more from Mexico.

TILLET: The reality is that Mexico is the most reliable source, period.
It's the cheapest source, period, apart from (inaudible), Mexico
probably is the cheapest source of power that we have available to us.

MILEWSKI: Tillet has joined the growing protest against the dam on the
streets of Belize.But no matter how strong the protest, the Belize
government is solidly behind the dam. We went to find out why.
Government here looks more approachable than it does back home. We
thought the Department of the Environment was a good place to start, but
the man we needed to see was always out, or too busy. Do you know where
we could, can you give us a number where we could reach him?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No, because he's on the road.

MILEWSKI: Because he's on the road and could we find him tomorrow, do
you think? Do you know if he's in the office tomorrow?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I don't think he's available, he has different

MILEWSKI: Good afternoon. It's Terry Milewski calling from the Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation. We had asked the Belizian Prime Minister for
an interview and he had said no. We tried one more time but it seemed we
were completely out of luck. He's out of the country? And won't be back
until next week? We decided to drop by the PM's office anyway and his
car was in the driveway. He must have come back early. Prime Minister
Siad Moussa was willing to give us the same message that he's giving his
own people.

SIAD MOUSSA (Prime Minister of Belize): We would like to see the dam
built as soon as possible.


MOUSSA: Because we need to bring down the cost of electricity and I'm
convinced, our government is convinced that it will have the effect of
reducing the cost of electricity to our people.

MILEWSKI: So your government has a commitment, does it, from Fortis
that prices will go down for the consumer?

MOUSSA: Yes, we have an understanding about that. Indeed, we have an
understanding that the prices will start going down very shortly, in a
matter of a year.

MILEWSKI: Now, hearing that was a surprise. Because when we put the
question to Stan Marshall at Fortis, he made no promises at all. Will
electricity rates go down for the Belizian consumer?

MARSHALL: No, not necessarily, because you're still trying to build
your system. Rates may still go up. Typically, in our business, every
new source of generation is a little bit more expensive.

MILEWSKI: So if it's possible that damming the river is not going to
help Belize get cheaper electricity, and if it's not good for the
environment, then why is CIDA involved in this? It turns out CIDA has a
little known branch called CIDA Inc. It's the business branch. CIDA Inc
gives money, not to needy countries, but to some not so needy
corporations instead. On the CIDA web site we found all kinds of
information about CIDA's good deeds in Belize, nutritional programs for
rural areas and helping poor children. But strangely, there was nothing
about the Chalillo dam study. There is a whole lot about Chalillo here
in downtown Toronto, at Probe International, Canada's foreign aid
watchdog. Probe's Granya Reuter has fought for years against CIDA's
hidden deals with business.

GRANYA REUTER (Probe International): CIDA is very, very comfortable
promoting its image as an agency that helps the poor, but it has this
secretive little division with a completely different mandate, and that
mandate is to help Canadian companies win contracts overseas. And when
we looked at what kind of companies are getting contracts, it seems to
be the dam building industry. These are well established corporations,
some of the wealthiest corporations in Canada.

MILEWSKI: What is striking about the plan to dam this river is that
Canada's foreign aid dollars are not going to the people of Belize but
to a giant multi-national company, AMEC, which happens to have been a
generous contributor to the Liberal party of Canada. The official line
is that Canada's just paying to help Belize get an objective assessment
of the project. But AMEC's contract suggests it may not be entirely

REUTER: Whenever we want to find out what company CIDA is financing we
have to use the Access to Information Act. There it is.

MILEWSKI: That's how Reuter got a copy of the CIDA-AMEC contract and
saw the potential conflict of interest in it. AMEC promises to try to
get more work on the dam so it's hardly likely to recommend against it.

REUTER: The contract clearly stipulates the purpose of this contract,
the purpose of AMEC being involved, is to hopefully implement the
project or to win more contracts out of the project. It's stated right
in the CIDA contract.

MILEWSKI: Why does the contract require you to get business in the
implementation of the project?

PATTERSON: Well I think you should ask CIDA that. I mean...

MILEWSKI: Well, you signed the contract. There are two parties, CIDA
and AMEC. You speak for AMEC. Why did AMEC make that contract, then?

PATTERSON: Well AMEC took the contract forward because it's an
opportunity to provide good environmental information for the people of

MILEWSKI: Then we discovered that the contract also requires AMEC to
share revenues with CIDA if it does get more work on the Chalillo dam.
It seems CIDA has its own vested interest. CIDA has a direct financial
interest in this dam being built. You get a percentage?

DIROWAY: If, if...

MILEWSKI: If they get more revenues.

DIROWAY: If it's a highly successful endeavour, there is a cost
sharing, a revenue sharing formula that might kick in.

MILEWSKI: If your purpose is to help Canadian business build their
business in developing countries, that's one thing. If the environmental
impact assessment is designed purely to be an impartial document, that's
another. Which is it?

DIROWAY: Neither, actually, because our purpose is poverty alleviation
and this is a mechanism where we try to engage the private sector.

MILEWSKI: You told me that your purpose is to alleviate poverty.


MILEWSKI: How are you going to do that in Belize in this case?

DIROWAY: In this case, we're providing environmental impact assessment
information that will allow the government to decide whether this
project should proceed.

MILEWSKI: So you don't know if it will reduce poverty?

DIROWAY: Well, I think, why would they proceed with a project that
wouldn't lead to a preferred rate?

MILEWSKI: CIDA is reducing AMEC poverty, with taxpayers' money. In
fact, the $466,000.00 that AMEC got for Chalillo turns out to be a mere
drop in the bucket. Over the past ten years, CIDA Inc has given the
engineering company contracts worth almost $50 million dollars. Fortis
is only the latest beneficiary of that relationship. This past January,
government bulldozers started clearing a new road to the Chalillo dam
site. And in February, Sharon Matola and other opponents of the dam took
the Belize government court.

MATOLA: So there were no public consultations as promised. That broke
the law. You should have considered everything that came in across the
board, everything. And then make your decision. That's called fairness.
That's justice.

MILEWSKI: At news of the pending court case, the Belize Department of
the Environment brought the bulldozers to a grinding halt, at least for
now. Score one for the scarlet macaw.

MESLEY: If you're wondering what Foreign Affairs and the Canadian High
Commission for Belize think of the Chalillo dam, they're behind it. The
senior commercial officer is on the record saying it's the best economic
option for Belize. No one at Foreign Affairs would talk to us. They said
it was a CIDA project.

Categories: Chalillo Dam

Tagged as:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s