Orange Walk is one of those towns getting an upgrade. It's been a long time coming with endless frustration along the way - but finally today, there was a ground breaking ceremony for paving of the section of the Northern Highway which runs all the way through the Town.
That's 4.5 miles of badly needed repairs to the road, and it was a major political event - with all the UDP Standard Bearers attending. Their political boss, Gaspar Vega was also there and he spoke about how the project will look:
Elodio Aragon, UDP Orange Walk East Standard Bearer
"This ground breaking is divided into 3 phases; the first phase that of starting from the Come and Go gas station up to the stop light and from the stop light down Queen Victoria Avenue and then up to Otro Benque down to the gas station on the highway. These 3 phases is 4.5 miles, nearly 5 miles of road that will be hot mix - very expensive. Not only will the road be hot mixed but also we are looking building drains to ensure we have a proper road built here in Orange Walk Town."
"Mr. Imer Hernandez is a company that is known to built good roads. I know Imer for many years and I am glad that you got the contract Imer because I know its going to be build the right way and its going to be hot mix which is something that will last not 5 years, not 10 years but many, many years."
"Mostly it's just a project that we get to upgrade this road in Orange Walk. It's to do hot mix and some drainage with walkways."
"How long does it take for one to complete a project like this one sir? We are taking about over 4 - 5 miles of road."
"You have to understand that my company didn't get the 4 miles. We just got a mile of contract. We don't know if we will get the rest. We are working hard and we will do a good job."
As you heard, the contractor for this particular upgrade is the controversial Imer Hernandez, nephew of Gaspar Vega. You may remember that in May of last year, a scandal emerged that Imer Hernandez was allegedly paid $179,000 for contracts to pave the very damaged San Antonio Road in Orange Walk, which was not done.
He's denied that allegation, in which he said that he was paid only $50,000 for work that he actually did, but back in May, he never granted any interviews about that scandal to comment directly. Today, Gaspar Vega revealed to us that a new contract is out for works to be done yet again on San Antonio Road. So, we asked both Vega and Hernandez about the decision to give his company the contract to do these works on the Northern Highway, given that that scandal wasn't resolved. Here's what they told us:
"There are those who may criticized why is it that you are awarding a contract of this nature for your particular family, why not sub-contract it out to someone else?"
Hon. Gaspar Vega
"I believe that he is one who qualified for it and not because he is my nephew he shouldn't be able to get a job especially if he has the capacity and does everything necessary for him to qualify for the job. If you know he has other jobs, I think he is doing a sub-contract for Berbey and Lopez for that road from Progresso to Orange Walk which has been a real soar for all of us, so I am certain that the company is reputable and that's why he got the job."
"We note also that you are saying that a second attempt will be made the San Antonio Road which he was originally contracted to do and that road never gets its work done. How confident can the residents of Orange Walk District be that this time around this will be done?"
Hon. Gaspar Vega
"I wouldn't argue or agree with you with the San Antonio Road. I don't want to get into that. As far as I know that is more political than anything else. If there was anything credible I am certain that he would have been taken to court and ensure that he delivers on the contract."
"There may be some persons in the public who are worried. We are told that San Antonio Road will have to get a second go around. The first time it wasn't paved and there were allegations that your company never completed that contract. Is your company contracted for San Antonio Road a second time?"
"I dont know anything about San Antonio Road. I think this is just political things they are using."
"We have to ask sir, because this particular matter came up, it was only questioned and then afterwards it went quite. No one knows if there were any follow up with the official authorities, so those in the public who are worried that again the same thing could happen that your company gets paid and no work gets done."
"The only thing I can tell you right now is that I sign a contract for this. San Antonio Road I don't know anything that - I didn't signed a contract for that. I think its political things they are playing."
Hernandez says that he has only been awarded a contract for 1 mile of the 4.5 miles of road to be paved. He says that his company will finish with that 1 mile in about 4 months' time. Vega estimates that each mile of road will cost 1.2 million dollars.