$800,000 land compensation not repaid; Solicitor General to sue Vega and Pitts
Saturday, December 10th, 2016
Since October 31, 2016, the Government of Belize (GOB) has been awaiting a response from Andre Vega (Gaspar Vega’s son), and Attorney at Law Sharon Pitts to repay $800,000 that was given as compensation to them as a result of a faulty land transaction deal. On Tuesday, December 6th, the GOB decided to take a step further, and now the Solicitor General is expected to file suit against the two next week.
The controversial land scandal involved formerly resigned Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources and Minister of Agriculture, Honorable Gaspar Vega, who authorized the sale of privately owned property. During the time Gaspar Vega was Minister of Lands, his son Andre Vega and Pitts acquired the private property. However, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) had to reacquire the land title, and thus compensated them $400,000 each.
Minister of Natural Resources Vanessa Retreage told Belize City Media that Pitts indicated that after corresponding with her attorney Hubert Elrington, she would respond to GOB by Thursday, December 1st. “However, no such response has been received, and Vega has not responded [either]. Instructions have been given to the Acting Solicitor General to prepare the claims against both persons, with the intent to file the same before the year’s end,” said Retreage.
The GOB is expected to argue in court that when both Vega and Pitts collected the “compensation” amounts, they made “certain representations and warranties. According to the GOB, they both breached the terms of agreement, which the offenders agreed to guarantee the Government against all liabilities that may arise “from the breach of the warranties and representations.”
In response, the Opposition People United Party (PUP) Shadow Cabinet Minister for Lands, Cordel Hyde, believes it is impossible for the GOB to be reimbursed. He further believes that the motions are only being taken to mislead the Belizean people, and that Gaspar Vega himself should be held accountable. “…there is a good chance that the government will not get back that money. We haven’t had any indication that they will get back that money, but I think they have to…I think the people of Belize demand that they get it back…if those persons…won’t give back the money, then the minister who paid it out…should pay back…because that money belongs to the people of Belize.”
Hyde further disclosed certain details of another land scandal currently unfolding, involving 1,600 acres.
“We’re talking about $70 million spent over an eight year period that the government of Belize paid out in land compensation payments. Information keeps coming out, as you know there are lots and lots of information on shady deals that took place in the lands department, there is another one that we are just getting our hands on that involves 1,600 acres of land on the northern highway outside of Carmelita that is supposedly now in the hands of the former minister’s family. Those lands were issued to 40 or 50 different people in 25 acre blocks, persons that I assume were friends of them and then those persons then turned around and sold the land for a fairly reasonable price to the family members. The thing is all those lands are adjacent to each other so it’s a nice spread, 1,600 acres,” said Hyde.
According to Hyde, as more information is released, there should be more responsibility on the government to act and make sure that there is proper accountability. “We understand that an audit has been done there and so we are waiting patiently to see what all will be revealed, but the government shouldn’t have to wait on that to act. The government should act before. The government should do something just relieving a minister of is portfolio is a slap on the wrist,” ended Hyde.
As of press time, there has been no correspondence from either Pitts or Vega. The GOB will proceed with allowing the Solicitor General to prepare the lawsuit.