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#473467 - 09/27/13 11:08 AM Town Council Money Frozen; Unable To Meet Payroll
Marty Offline
Will the Orange Walk Town Council be able to pay its workers tomorrow. That is a matter of some doubt tonight because the Belize Bank has frozen the council's bank account. The source of the problem is a one hundred and eleven thousand dollar overdraft which the PUP town council says it inherited from its UDP predecessors. Earlier this year, the Belize Bank converted the figure to a non performing loan - and notified the government which was the guarantor. Government appears not to have addressed the issue and today the Town Council was informed that all its accounts have been blocked. Now, this comes after extensive unanswered requests to the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Local Government and the Prime Minister. Via telephone, Orange Walk Mayor Kevin Bernard told us that the council is facing an immediate crisis.

Kevin Bernard, PUP Mayor - Orange Walk Town
"We are at the stage where our account has been blocked. We have funds in our account but we cannot operate because we cannot do anything."

"As of today we were able to operate but what will we do tomorrow? How do we pay our workers? How do we provide the services to our people after tomorrow because we need to pay our payroll? Tomorrow payroll reach our operation staff. That is nothing less than $14,000.00. We need to make those payments."

"We have these monies in our account but we are unable to make those payments through the bank because we cannot cut a cheque. The bank will not honor the cheque because our account is blocked."

"What do we say to our employees? You have worked, you cannot get paid. It is unfair."

"We have been saying from ever since; we have been held hostage for an account that we were never privy to, that we never have access to. We have now being held hostage for something that we never did use."

"At the end of the day the bank is requesting that was guaranteed initially through a letter from the Ministry of Finance to the previous administration for a use of an overdraft that were never enjoyed by this Orange Walk Town Council - this current administration. It is up until today that we drive up to Belmopan to deal with this matter."

"We wrote to the Financial Secretary as you saw in the letter I sent you. We tried to meet with the Financial Secretary, but just to be told that he was in a meeting. We spoke to someone at the Ministry of Finance when we were in Belmopan earlier today and he told us the that the matter has been taken to the Prime Minister and they are working on it - they know it is an urgent issue."

"We have not gotten any clear indication of what will be done. Ministry of Finance has to deal with that for us."

Jules Vasquez
"And if they don't?"

Kevin Bernard, PUP Mayor - Orange Walk Town
"Then what do we do Jules? We shut down operation? Do we send home staff? Do we stop pick up our garbage? Do we stop maintaining the town? The people of Orange Walk don't want to hear that."

Bernard says they are trying to make alternate arrangement to meet tomorrow's commitments. We were unable to get comment from the Ministry of Finance.

Channel 7


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#473550 - 09/28/13 11:22 AM Re: Town Council Money Frozen; Unable To Meet Payroll [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

OW Town Council Made Payroll, GOB Says It Won’t Help

When we left you last night, it was with the news that the Orange Walk Town Board was facing a financial crisis; its Belize Bank account had been frozen - and they faced the prospect that they wouldn't be able to pay their workers. The blame according to the PUP Mayor Kevin Bernard was that the UDP Government had not paid off an 11 thousand dollar overdraft which the council's UDP predecessors had left behind. Well today it came up as a matter of public interest which the prime minister discussed at the opening of the House Meeting. First off, he scolded the media:..

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"I must first of all point out that the 2 stations; Channel 5 and Channel 7, whose reports I saw are guilty either of malice or the greatest possible incompetence. They both said that the freezing of the accounts of the Orange Walk Town Council by the Belize Bank occurred in consequence of an overdraft that the Council has at the Belize Bank which overdraft was guaranteed by the Government of Belize. That is absolutely not the case."

"I would have hope that by now our media would have tried to develop the kind of sense of responsibility that would have obliged them to either do their homework or to make a simple call to the Ministry of Finance."

"The position is that as I said the government gave no such guarantee, otherwise Mr. Speaker this was an overdraft contracted by the Town Council on the basis in deed of Government's no objection to the Council making this arrangement which the Council did on its own with the Belize Bank."

"It appears that form the time the new administration took office and Mr. Kevin Bernard became the Mayor, the facility was not serviced at least with respect to any principal payments. The Mayor and the Town Council as I understand it were written to over and over by the Belize Bank. They choose to ignore the representations made by the Belize Bank. Ultimately the Bank converted the overdraft into a non performing loan. The Mayor and the Town Council still refuse to do anything about trying to reduce the principal of that loan or try to make arrangements with the Belize Bank, acting in my view in an entirely high-handed and irresponsible manner. I will tell you and the House Mr. Speaker that government is not prepared to assist that Town Council except we can get from the Town Council a proper statement of accounts so that we can see whether or not they are managing their resources properly. Whether or not they are spending money wisely and whether or not they are in fact being transparent with respect to the financial affairs of the Council."

"There is no point in their complaining that this was a debt that they inherited. All incoming administrations whether at the municipal or at the central government level when they come into office inherit debts. That is no excuse to say that I will turn my back on these debts because I didn't contract them. If we had taken that position when we came into office what would have happened with respect to the super bond?"

Hon. John Briceno
"Let me start with the good news Mr. Speaker. I want to inform this Honorable House and this nation that the payroll will be met. The workers of Orange walk Town Council are going to be paid today Mr. Speaker."

"The Town Council was not broke, they had over $42,000 in the bank and this is the money that Belize Bank I believe in my view illegally decided to try to take away from the people of Orange Walk Town."

"Mr. Speaker, I want to appeal to the Prime Minister to work along with the Mayor of Orange Walk Town. We have a good and hardworking Mayor. We have an honest Mayor. We have a Mayor that is getting the things done in Orange walk Town, but we need the help of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance."

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"I am telling you sir, that if the Mayor can show me that in fact he is spending the monies wisely and that his administration is entirely transparent and above board, I am dispose to help. He hasn't started off very well because of course the cry was this morning was that central government has to help them because they cannot pay their people, but at the end of the day they already pay their people. So what is it? You were setting us up to try get money by crying wolf?"

The Orange Walk town council is contemplating its options, whether it should take the Belize Bank to court or make arrangements to consolidate and settle its debt, and moves its banking business elsewhere.

Channel 7


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#473847 - 10/02/13 11:27 AM Re: Town Council Money Frozen; Unable To Meet Payroll [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

OW TOWN COUNCIL REACHES “TEMPORARY ARRANGEMENT” WITH BELIZE BANK

Orange Walk Mayor Kevin Bernard told Amandala today that their council has been able to reach a temporary arrangement with the Belize Bank, under which the Sugar City is now mandated to pay $7,000 monthly for at least the next three months towards an $110,000 overdraft facility that had been maxed out before he came into office last March. According to Bernard, the Belize Bank intends to revisit their arrangement next January.

The agreement was made to facilitate the payment of $15,000 in salaries for weekly-paid workers last Friday, and another $22,000 due today, Monday, to administrative, traffic and other personnel who get paid twice monthly. He said that there are about 110 employees total on payroll.

Bernard told us that since their monthly subvention of $33,333.33—which barely covers their sanitation bill of about $32,000—goes directly to the Belize Bank, the bank would immediately deduct the $7,000 to pay down the overdraft.

Last Friday, Bernard reported to two of the major television stations that the Council’s bank account had been frozen, because of the old debt. That action locked up a little over $42,000 of the Council’s funds, Bernard informed.

During a meeting of the House of Representatives on Friday, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow made a statement, saying that Central Government would not release a penny to help the Council unless Bernard gives an account of how every penny of the Council’s funds are spent. (Bernard told us that their accounts – though unaudited – are published online (at owtc.bz), making the council’s finances transparent.)

Mayor Bernard (of the Opposition People’s United Party) first wrote Barrow last March, a few weeks after assuming office, to request the Ministry of Finance’s approval to continue operating the overdraft facility with the undertaking that the debt would be cleared and the facility capped at $75,000. Bernard told Barrow that the approval was needed to help the Town Council meet its financial obligations.

Bernard told Amandala today that when they came into office, they met an overall debt of $280,000: including $54,000 unpaid to the Social Security Board (unpaid worker deductions).

Bernard said that former Prime Minister Said Musa approved the overdraft facility back in 2006. He said that the former People’s United Party mayor Philip de la Fuente had been cutting cheques against the overdraft account up to August 2011. He said that since they took office in 2012, they had been paying a little over $2,000 every month – but that just offsets the interest accrual. Most recently, the bank made a decisive stance, freezing the Council’s account and requiring them to look seriously into settling the bill.

Bernard said that they did not receive a response from the Government until last week, when Financial Secretary Joe Waight wrote them in a letter dated Thursday, September 26, declaring that the Government would not be able to extend any assistance to them outside the monthly subvention approved in the FY2013-2014 budget.

In the House of Representatives on Friday, Barrow also said that he had gathered that “they’ve raised property taxes and they are closing people down when they don’t pay.” He said the Orange Walk Town Council has raised trade license fees.

“You must learn to paddle their own canoe and properly manage an account for the monies that you collect,” Barrow said.

Mayor Bernard told us that the Council has been “trying to work on collecting property taxes,” and he concedes that they have raised fees but said that the plans had already been in the works before the municipal elections of 2012.

He said that the Council had also deliberated about instituting a garbage collection fee but they decided against it, because of hardships citizens face in meeting current fees and taxes.

The Orange Walk Town Council is additionally locked in a dispute with a prominent politician. Bernard said that they are being sued by Denny Grijalva, owner and managing director of De’ Mar’s Stone, who contested the last general elections for the ruling United Democratic Party in Orange Walk Central and whose company is facing charges for the destruction of the Noh Mul Maya monument.

According to Bernard, the dispute is over what is claimed to be an outstanding bill of $88,000 – the balance due on a $138,000 contract for which the council had paid $50,000.

In Parliament on Friday, Prime Minister Barrow also highlighted “the fancy vehicle the mayor drives,” questioning whether the mayor has been splurging while the Council has been suffering financial hardships. “If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it,” Barrow commented.

Bernard said, however, that the 2008 Ford Escape he drives is his personal vehicle, bought with funds he borrowed from La Immaculada Credit Union after selling his prior vehicle.

“I was taken aback that [Barrow] would have done something of such nature,” Bernard said, expressing his dismay at the Prime Minister’s comments. He said he is willing to supply documents as proof to the Prime Minister, since he has nothing to hide.

Amandala


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