Channel 7 was on the island yesterday with more coverage on the latest traffic issues.
In my opinion, the news coverage is missing the point. Hard working individuals who own businesses do sometimes need vehicles. The problem is the traffic committee is run on a friends and family basis. One can apply for a single electic golf cart and wait 6 months for the committee to meet, then only to get shot down. Others can apply for 10 golf carts, or mopeds, or a truck, and without so much as a formal meeting they have a permit. When people see such obvious cronyism taking place, this is where their tolerance for the formal process and authority runs thin.
If the traffic committee wants to be taken seriously, they need to formalize the rules, publish them, meet often and stick to those rules when granting permits... no matter what. My two cents. http://www.7newsbelize.com/archive/11230607.html
Caye Caulker: Small Island, Big Traffic Worries
With the burgeoning number of cars, trucks, and freight vehicles, traffic management is one of the most difficult areas in public administration. And while cities and towns struggle with the management of ever increasing numbers of vehicles, on the island of Caye Caulker - the autonomous authority is trying to make sure those numbers do not increase. And the members of the authority say that's just what they were doing until, Belmopan stepped in and stepped all over their best laid plans. We visited Caye Caulker today and found Traffic Committee members threatening to resign because they say big government is chancing them. Alfonso Noble found that it's not quite that simple, even in this small village.
Alfonso Noble Reporting,
Standing on the main street in Caye Caulker, you can literally count the number of vehicles that drive past. There aren't that many. In fact there are only 150 of them on this small island. And this isn't by accident. Since 1998 an island-based Traffic Committee has had to approve every license for every vehicle on the island. Ramon Reyes is Chairman of the Committee.
"That was one of the problems why San Pedro got to where it is today and that is what we are running from and that is why I think even with Village Council Act that the government had put that in place to allow, to empower different communities to have the say in what happens to their community because they are there on a day to day basis. The government runs Belize, that's for sure, but when you have proper committees and proper village councils in place, and you give them the respect and you work along with them, they can tell you what's happening in that community. Of course they have the final say, that is granted, but with consultation you can get a better product."
Alberto Villanueva, the Chairman of the Village Council is supporting that position and is going further. He says that the Traffic Committee's regulatory powers are critical to maintaining the quality of the Caye Caulker tourism product.
"Over the past few years has approved and not approved applications however recently we've had a large influx or demand for vehicles on the island and the committee has had to be even more stringent. What we are trying to do, the bottom line is just control the vehicle activity because we do not want it to become as the situation is with our sister island San Pedro where it is a traffic jam every three o'clock in the afternoon or every eight o'clock in the morning. The reason why tourists come here is because of what it is right now. We can't stop change, that much I can agree with you but we can control and we can monitor and we can work to enhance it. That much I can say because if Caye Caulker becomes a small Manhattan then what will happen is we will see less tourists. That much I can guarantee."
And while Villanueva can guarantee that the island would lose its appeal, Normando "Champ" Aguilar differs. He runs a taxi service and says that the stringent controls put in place by the committee has stifled his business and is hurting the island's product because battery operated golf carts are unreliable. He applied for a permit to import a gas powered gulf cart 3 months ago, but he was turned down. He says that left him with no option but to go to a higher authority.
Normando "Champ" Aguilar,
"I sent an application because I need a gasoline golf cart because with the battery you can't get the amount of runs you can make with the gasoline to finish the runs and work in the evenings and also you need to upgrade the business and when I sent a letter, they denied me. Some of the members from the same Traffic Committee told me to go higher. So I did go higher and I actually told one or two people about it and they made some calls for me and they really helped me and I told Mr. Godoy about it. He came down and saw some of them and three of them said yes, its alright but then after that when they sent the paper, no one wanted to sign. So he decided to just give it to the people because actually we need it."
"We promote free enterprise, we can't stop that but there has to be a level of control when it comes to, it's in a way controlled free enterprise. If everybody was supposed to have a golf cart on Caye Caulker, then I don't think we will be able to standing on the street here right, you or anyone else for that matter."
Normando "Champ" Aguilar,
"It's good to control but in my application I put in, I wanted to replace a golf cart, take out a battery and put in a gasoline but I was lucky this time that I went to the higher and they gave me this one here."
So you have an additional golf cart?
Normando "Champ" Aguilar,
"Yes one more and that is good for my business too. I wanted to upgrade my business. This is to make money. It is good to control but then if you have a business and you need it, they should give you because it is your business."
While Aguilar is now satisfied, with the intervention of the National Transport Board the members of the committee are hopping mad. They say their authority has been superseded without proper consultation.
"The mere action of them just sending us a letter saying that this is what we are deciding, I think it is wrong in a way. In that past we've had Ministers that, individuals were grieved and the Minister had respected the decisions of the committee. We had Minister Marin and Minister Hyde who were the Transport Ministers before this Minister and I think that at this point in time, again I have go back to what I mentioned earlier, that if they had asked us to just re-look at the applications, maybe this would not have been the situation that it is today."
Glenn Tillet, Deputy Chairman - Transport Board
"We did not supercede anybody's authority or responsibility. The legislation is clear. If any applicant is dissatisfied or feel aggrieved by any decision of the Traffic Control Committee, they can appeal to the Minister for a hearing. The process is very clear and very simple. We had appeals to the Minister regarding the refusal to grant permits by some individuals, the Minister investigated, he asked the Traffic Control Committee to supply the minutes of the meetings and to explain why they objected to these permits. The Traffic Control Committee did not reply to the Minister's request. So after investigation, the Minister concluded that granting the permits were the right thing to do. I visited Caye Caulker twice, myself personally, in regards to this matter, and consulted extensively with the people out there."
With which people, the ordinary man or the people from the committee?
"I spoke to two members of the Committee. The Chairman nor the Village Council Chairman made themselves available. Both have so far have not responded to repeated written requests asking for their objections in writing as well as to provide the minutes of the meeting of the committee where these permits were denied. I visited Caye Caulker twice and consulted with not only the applicant but with citizens and business people. The Commissioner of Transport Michael Godoy is as we speak in San Pedro and will be visiting Caye Caulker again in regards to this same matter."
"They've made only one attempt and that is to the Chairman of the actual committee. They have not contacted us and really I think this issue could have been worked out in a much more amicable manner than it is now with the Committee resigning."
And while the committee members have that threat of resignation dangling on a thin thread, the Chairman of the Committee is still hopeful that reason will prevail.
"There is still room for consultation and there is still room for that. I have heard through third parties, not from the Commissioner himself, but that he is willing to sit down and talk and that is what we've been doing. I've showed you letters that we've been asking him, telling him about this problem, from before it happened and he or no one every came from the Department of Transport to discuss this issue."
But no matter how it's diced, the reality is that there is now a very difficult balancing act to be done here. On one hand a local Traffic Committee trying to look out for the grander goal of ensuring that Caye Caulker's touristic appeal while the Transport Board is trying to be as fair as possible in granting vehicle permits on the island. The question now is which side will win, without making La Isla Carinosa lose?
Though they've threatened variously, members of the Traffic Committee on Caye Caulker have not formally tendered their resignations.