April 2, 2002
**START-IO-STORY** @SLUG=1B86FC-2 @PROGRAM=DISCLOSURE @NETWORK=CBC-TV @DATE=020402 @TIME=21:00:00 ET @END=22:00:00 ET @GUEST=STAN MARSHALL, CEO, Fortis; SHARON MATOLA, Biologist; BOB 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 @HOST=WENDY MESLEY AND DIANA SWAIN @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 But that image is a bit out of date.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 profiteering. 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 Matola. 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 environmental... 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? UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It is. 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 meetings. 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. MILEWSKI: Why? 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 objective. 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 Belize. 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. DIROWAY: Right. 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