#499441 - 12/31/14 03:52 AM
Year in Review 2014
The Year 2014 was one that saw significant achievements made for the Belizean people, driven primarily by the government’s focus on pro-people initiatives geared at improving quality and standard of living whilst fostering growth and development in all corners of the country.
The first initiative made to ease the pockets of Belizeans country wide in 2014 came by way of a reduction in electricity rates. B.E.L in negotiating with Mexico’s Commision Federal de Electricidad (CFE) was successful in granting the country a 10% reduction on its energy consumption. Along with the CFE Mexico reduction, P.U.C took the increase in hydroelectric production as a result of heavy rainfall in latter 2013 into consideration and decided to grant customers a fair decrease of four cents per kilowatt hour. The reduction from 48.65 cents to 44.65 cents per kilowatt hour in terms of percentage was decreased 8.22% and was effective on January 1st.
Though the continuous showers from latter 2013 contributed to the decrease in electricity rates, it also placed at risk many agricultural crops across Belize; inserting a strain on the livelihood of famers. To compensate famers for their loss, the Ministry of Agriculture distributed onion seeds and fertilizers to Corozal famers. In the Belize River Valley Area, where beef production is concentrated, the prosperity of livestock was being affected by pasture loss, decreased livestock production as well as increased pest and disease in key local agricultural commodities. In response to the challenges faced by residents of the River Valley Communities, the Ministry of Natural Resource and Agriculture donated animal feed as well as drafted an action plan alongside other national counterparts to alleviate the existing flooding conditions. Supportive actions were also presented in terms of offering direct complementary support in form of training, capacity building and developing resilience to climate variability and change.
Another significant happening in the month of January was the delay in the 2013/2014 sugar cane crop season, which should have began sometime around November 15th, 2013. Farmers had placed an indefinite embargo on the deliveries of cane to the sugar mill, primarily because of the bagasse dispute between the farmers and the factory owners. While an end to the dispute seemed untold, the country was losing a great deal of revenue during this time. However, with the intervention of the Prime Minister, who showed support on behalf of the farmers based on the merit of their claim, progress to ending the controversy was near. On January 12th, Prime Minister welcomed the decision of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association to sign a memorandum with Belize Sugar Industry to provide negotiations to fix the quantum payment for bagasse; and providing a start date for 2014 deliveries, January 20th. The OPM later announced that two million dollars ($2MBZD) worth of works on sugar roads in both Corozal and Orange Walk that was promised by GOB commenced immediately.
On February 4th, the Ministry of Education held a briefing to discuss the next phases in the roll out of the Secondary School Finance Reform as well as new initiatives such as the capping and standardization of secondary school fees and subsidizing of CSEC/CXC examinations.
The Secondary School Finance Reform is expected to level the playing field for secondary education institutions in the country by allocating government funds to schools based on student enrollment rather than number of teachers. Schools will receive a set amount of money per student. However, Hon. Patrick Faber declared that if schools take students from poor economic background or if they take students who have been struggling with academics then government will give them more because those students require more help.
In partnering with the Ministry of Human Development, information sheets were distributed to students ranging from standard 6 to 3rd form, asked to be completed with the assistance of parents and collected from the schools by the Ministry. A formula was created to calculate socio-economic status of which there are eight levels, ranging from very poor to not poor. Based on the evaluations by the Ministry of Human Development, Government will waive secondary school fees for students with financial needs. Some will receive 100 percent off, some 75 percent, others 50 percent and so forth. The Ministry of Education had also proposed that there be a standard fee across schools and that would cover everything; everybody would pay the same fee.The Government of Belize is expected to spend well over $1.5 million to cover the cost of students with financial needs who will be sitting CSEC/CXC.
Since opening its doors in September of 2013, the general manager of the National Bank of Belize, Jose Marin, reported to Guardian the bank’s performance. As of that moment, 229 mortgage applications had been approved by the bank. Of those applications 51% were public officers, 16% were teachers, and 33% were applications by the general public. On average the mortgage size is 75 thousand dollars. The loan limit is set at 175 thousand dollars and it applies for both new construction as well as refinancing mortgages held by other banks. So far almost 4 million dollars had been approved for home construction with approximately 1.6 million dollars having been drawn down so far.The primary objective of the bank is to ensure that the borrowers end up with a home so there is strict supervision of construction taking place with disbursements made depending on the stage of construction which is completed. The National Bank is prepared to serve every single Belizean; it is not limited to teachers and public officers. Everyone who is interested to come in and see how the bank can help them is encouraged to visit the bank, especially now since they are doing refinancing for existing mortgages as well as loans for vehicles and business development.
Another event to add to the great happenings in the month of February is that for the second consecutive year Belize’s enthralling island of San Pedro Ambergis Caye was being recognized as the #1 Island in the World, according to Trip Advisor’s 2014 Travellers’ Choice Islands. According to Trip Advisor, “The beautiful Belize island offers the perfect blend of modern development and laid-back tranquility.” Recognizing the natural resources and beauty of Ambergris Caye and its surroundings, Trip Advisor cites the Blue Hole as a part of what makes this destination so appealing, “Reef divers drool over the Belize Barrier Reef and the Blue Hole, a 400-feet deep circle of limestone that teems with angelfish, elkhorn coral, cleaner shrimp and stalactites.” Belizeans should be honored that Ambergris Caye is once again the #1 Island in The World. This impeccable recognition simply means that others have noticed the commitment made to develop one of the country’s greatest destination.
In March, the 2013’s recording of the country’s economic condition was released. Belize’s economy grew by 0.7 percent, according to estimates from the Statistical Institute of Belize (SIB). The disappointing growth rate was a direct result of the significant decrease in production of citrus and sugarcane products.Agriculture was down significantly with a decline in production of 13 percent.Citrus fruit productions declined by 35 percent whilst citrus concentrate was down by 40 percent. Production in the sugar industry had declined by 22 percent in sugarcane and 18 percent in sugar. Banana declined moderately with a 4 percent decrease in production, and Rum and beer production were down 4 and 1 percent respectively. Oil production continued to decrease in 2013 and the country only produced approximately 792,300 barrels, a decrease of 23 percent.
The shortfall in the agriculture sector was however offset by the growth in aquaculture. 2013’s production in fishing had increased by 28 percent, which was due in large part to the resumption of operations at the Belize Aquaculture Limited’s shrimp farm after nearly two years of closure. According to SIB, in 2013 farm shrimp grew by 81 percent to $51.6 million. A second consecutive year of double digit growth in construction acted as a boost to as a boost to the economy; the construction sector was the second largest contributor to the economy’s performance with a growth of 16 percent. This growth is a result of “a significant boost to public infrastructure projects such as those being carried out by the Belize City Council and Belize Municipal Development Project”.
Other factors that contributed to the growth of the country were a record number of overnight tourist arrivals. Tourist arrivals increased by 6 percent in 2013. There were a record number of overnight arrivals with over 294,000 foreigners spending at least one night in Belize. This increase in overnight tourist arrivals resulted in a 4 percent increase in hotels and restaurants services.Also, the 7 percent increase in electricity production which was a positive from the prolonged period of rain in latter 2013; allowing for government services to increase by 6 percent.
Despite the minimal growth the country encountered in 2013, all indicators point to greater economic growth in 2014. There is even more public infrastructure projects scheduled to get off the ground; better production should be expected from the sugar industry; the citrus industry is expected to rebound and the tourism and aquaculture industries are expected to continue thriving.
March 6th, 2014 went down in Belize’s history as the day when the women of the nation rallied together and started a true march towards equality. The 20,000 Strong Women Empowerment Rally attracted women and young girls from across the length and breadth of the jewel. Though the symbolic goal of 20,000 participants was not realized, the thousands of women who marched and withstood the blistering dry season heat made it impossible for anyone to question if the movement was “Strong”. Organizers and participants of the rally made it clear that there are plenty of issues that need to be addressed in regards to gender equality. Those include the high level of unemployment among women, poverty, abuse and low representation at the decision making level. Though there has been an increase in the number of women at the public sector decision making level the private sector on the other hand fails to promote the improvement of equality for women, especially in financial services.
The 20,000 Strong rally hosted the event on a week day and challenged all Belizeans to “Imagine a Belize without Women”. The rally was held at Marion Jones Stadium where speeches were delivered by some of Belize’s greatest champions; Marie Sharp who spoke about the efforts it took to get the company where it is today; former Ministers of Government and Members of the House of Representatives Faith Babb (UDP) and Patty Arceo(PUP) who both clarified that women empowerment is not a red or blue issue; Sandra Bedran who gave a motivating address; Janelle Chanona and Rosanna Briceno who challenged women to push for the change they want. There was also a young lady who shared her agonizing life story with the audience of being neglected by her mother, sexually abused by a man in the home and rescued by social services. She left the women with the message- when you think nobody cares there are always people willing to help; when you reach out for help there will be someone to reach back. Special Envoy for Women and Children, Kim Simplis-Barrow, delivered the main address. She made it clear that there was one agenda behind the rally and that was to encourage unity among the women of Belize and call for equality and partnership at all levels of society.
Also in March, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Hon. Dean Barrow presented the 2014-2015 budget to the House of Representatives. The 2014-2015 budget can be declared as UNDEBATABLE since there was no meaningful rebuttal worth listening to from any member of the opposing party. The 2014- 2015 budget keeps the opportunity of “Bettering People, Building Belize - A Budget For All” alive. By allocating finances wisely and pinching every penny, the Hon. Prime Minister was able to present a successful budget to the House of Representatives and the Belizean People.
The month of April hosted the discussion of Harvest Caye by Norwegian Cruise Line representatives. The National Environmental Appraisal Committee approved a revised Environmental Impact Assessment submitted by Norwegian Cruise Line for the development of Harvest Caye. The cruise line had begun preparing an Environmental Compliance Plan to later apply for relevant permits to commence its US$50 million development project.
Colin Murphy, Vice President of Norwegian Cruise Line with responsibility for Destination Development, mentioned that Norwegian made adjustments to its EIA based on the concerns raised at public consultations on the project.Murphy made clear that the project does have bits of concerns but that they would not do anything to harm the environment, “Why would we harm the environment when our very project is based on the attraction of the ecosystem?” The team explained in detail their plans on water supply and waste discharge to reinforce to idea that no harm will be done to the environment in proceeding with the development of Harvest Caye. The project encloses environmental compliance; socially and economically acceptable and legally doable; will create an increase in revenue for the Government of Belize; will bring foreign exchange and must provide meaningful well paid employment for Belizeans. NCL had begun recruiting in Southern Belize last year; over 130 people had been offered jobs aboard the ships and over a dozen are already working in crews while others are in various stages of obtaining a work visa.
NCL plans on developing a place that is authentic- a place where visitors can experience the true Belizean experience hence it is very important that the passengers leave Harvest Caye and go on the mainland. The NCL Southern cruise will offer passengers the choice to visit as much as 30 communities and 60 attractions. There will be one ship per day and during the high season NCL calls for about four to five days per week.
After Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin passed the order to investigate former Minister of State Elvin Penner to the Commissioner of Police, Allen Whylie, Penner was arraigned on 2 criminal charges for his role in the passport scandal of South Korean fugitive Won Hong Kim.
It was widely reported in all sections of the media that in September 2013, South Korean Won Hong Kim tried to use a bogus Belizean passport to get out of being extradited from Taiwan back to his country where he was wanted in connection with embezzlement in one of the country’s biggest enterprise, the SK Shipping Company. After some digging was done a connection was made with the then Minister of State with responsibility for Immigration, Elvin Penner which resulted in Prime Minister Dean Barrow taking swift action asking Penner to resign from Cabinet and not failing to make the public fully aware of the situation.
Not being satisfied with the works of the Justice System, COLA believed that he acted criminally and President Geovanni Brackett and Executive member Murphy McLaren started a private prosecution against him. Both men charged him with an offence under the Passport Act with “vouching the fitness” of Won Hong Kim, without having actual knowledge of Kim as an applicant. They additionally charged him under the Nationality Act with “making a statement which he knew to be false” for signing the Nationality Certificate knowing that Won Hong Kim has never been a citizen of Belize. He was arraigned before Magistrate Aretha Ford, and he appeared with his attorney Ellis Arnold. COLA’s attorney, Kareem Musa, acted as prosecutor in the case. Elvin Penner, the Former UDP Minister of State in the Ministry of Immigration, was acquitted of the immigration charges in October. Despite the many warnings from the Prime Minister, learned attorneys, the Attorney General, and other persons in the public that there was no evidence to prove guilt in the Won Hong Kim Passport case, COLA pushed the charges forward, and it was thrown out of court. It was foretold that this case would fail, and it did.
The Communications Workers Union issued a press release on Thursday, April 10th, flattered by the work of the new Chairman, Anwar Barrow, for his instrumental role in the recent collective bargaining negotiations. The Union has approved a three year proposal from the executive committee of the company which will be instituted retroactively to October 1st, 2013, for a yearly salary increase of 4 percent. The three year agreement also includes a 1 percent increase in company and staff pension contributions, a $25 per month increase in phone allowance and free 4G service for staff members. Employees of BTL are more than happy with the package and staff morale is at an all time high at the state owned company.
BOOST studied by Caribbean countries
Ministers from Grenada and Dominica with responsibility for social development and senior ranking public officials from Bahamas, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and St. Lucia visited Belize on a study tour of the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme called operation ‘BOOST’. The Building Opportunities for Our Social Transformation (BOOST) Programme has been dubbed by the World Bank as the best social protection programme in the hemisphere and multilateral development organizations are encouraging member states to study and adopt it since these countries share a similar demography as Belize. The Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation collaborated with the Organization of American States (OAS), UNICEF and UNDP to host a Horizontal Cooperation Exchange from May 13th to 15th.
Over 13,000 Belizean are now benefitting from the BOOST programme. It is effective because it provides financial support to the country’s most vulnerable citizens, the indigent. The World Bank explains the programme best: “The deal is simple: vaccinate your children, send them to school; and, if you are pregnant, visit your public health center, regularly starting with the first 12 weeks. In exchange, the BOOST Program will give you a monthly allowance between BZ$44 and BZ$82 (US$22 - US$41) per person, up to a maximum of six per household.” As a result of the program, recorded school attendance for children included in the program is over 97 percent. Most recipients get cash through credit unions which support beneficiaries in accessing financial services, such as savings and micro-loans as a step towards their financial independence. We must understand that nobody wants to be poor and if given a chance they will do better for themselves; that chance is the BOOST program.
In continuing the trend of improving quality and standard of living for Belizeans, a significant decrease in the price of Liquid Petroleum Gas was experienced across the county. The supplies Control Unit in the Ministry of Trade, Investment Promotion, Private Sector Development and Consumer Protection established prices for LPG based on mixtures of 60-40 propane to butane and 90-10 propane to butane. There was a sharp decrease in the price of propane as a result of the approaching warm weather.
The LPG imported from PEMEX in Mexico has the 60-40 mixture and the price per 100 pound cylinder fell by $13 across the board. The new controlled prices to full a 100 pound cylinder is now $115 in Belize City and Corozal, $116 in Orange Walk, $117 in Belmopan and San Ignacio, $118 in Benque Viejo, $119 in Dangriga and $120 in Punta Gorda.
The LPG imported from Central America has the 90-10 mixture and since propane was the driven cause of the price decrease there was an even greater fall in the price of that product. The new controlled prices to full a 100 pound cylinder of LPG from Central America have fallen by $16 across the board. Customers in Belize City and Corozal now pay $112, $113 in Orange Walk, $114 in Belmopan and San Ignacio, $115 in Benque Viejo, $116 in Dangriga and $117 in Punta Gorda.
BEL seeks to increase capacity
Every country desires being energy efficient, which is why BEL begun looking for providers to supply and additional 60 megawatts of firm capacity and 15 megawatts of renewable energy from intermittent sources. The PUC publicly opened bids and received 20 submissions each with its distinct type of energy source, company who will supply, cost of installation and cost of kilowatt hour to BEL. BEL requires 60 megawatts of energy to be added over a period of 10 to 15 years during which the supply may be increased in increments of 20 megawatts in two or three year intervals. There will also be 15 additional megawatts added from intermittent sources and the sources for this will be the first to be identified.
The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) completed its first phase of evaluating the proposals submitted for energy generation in Belize in October 2014. John Avery, PUC Chairman, says the Commission approved nine bidders, with 14 proposals, for simulation exercises. Those bids were submitted by Southern Renewable Energy Limited (SREL), GSR Energy Limited, SS Energy Limited, Renewable Energy Investments Costa Rica Limited, Cohune Energy Limited, EMAC, Saturn Power Inc., Gross LLC and Blair Atoll Power Company Limited (BAPCOL).
The Ministry of Education held a press conference on Wednesday, June 4, to clarify the misinformation that has been let loose. It was made clear that the merging of curricula in order to improve the quality of education offered to students by Maud Williams High School, Sadie Vernon High School and Excelsior High School was not an amalgamation. The Belize Education Sector Reform has three main objectives: improving governance in the education sector with emphasis on improved student achievement; increasing access and equity at all levels of education and; enhancing quality and relevance throughout the education system. The core objectives of the reform, through the Quality Child Friendly School Initiative, challenged participating schools to conduct self-improvement assessments with a specific focus on improving the curriculum. They also looked at ways to maximize resources provided by Government as well as initiatives to enhance quality and relevance throughout the education system by rationalizing and diversifying the secondary curriculum. Based on the self-assessments, the schools work with the Ministry on a ‘School Improvement Plan’.
Maud Williams, Sadie Vernon and Excelsior High School identified similar challenges in their assessments so it was suggested that the institutions work with each other to address the challenges faced. With the assistance of the Ministry of Education’s Secondary Unit, the schools developed a plan to merge resources, expand curriculum and improve the students’ quality of education. These schools will remain independent but feature a similar curriculum which will offer students more options for subjects to major in. Each school is benefitting from an expanded curriculum, but most importantly the students, who are the main focus, will be recipients of a better quality education.
Darrel Bradley to run a second term
On Wednesday, June 11th, Prime Minister and Leader of the United Democratic Party, Hon. Dean Barrow officially announced that Mayor Darrell Bradley will be running as the mayoral candidate for the upcoming 2015’s city council election. Though councilors Bernard Pitts and Deon Leslie had expressed interest in mayoral candidacy, an understanding was reached and they both withdrew their applications making Mayor Bradley the uncontested Mayoral Candidate. In addressing the press conference Prime Minister Barrow described Mayor Bradley’s accomplishments as phenomenal and his decision to run for the UDP as a boon for the party and residents of Belize City. Mayor Bradley has created a name for himself that allows for him to hold the title of Belize’s Best Mayor, unarguably.
It is very visible to all Belizeans, even without a statistician, that there has been an increase in the country’s labour force; however the documented facts are very much important. The Statistical Institute of Belize released its preliminary results for the April 2014 labour force survey on Wednesday, June 25, and it shows that the unemployment rate has decreased from 14.2 percent in September of 2013 to 11.1 percent in April of 2014.
The labour force is made up of everyone 14 years of age and older who is employed, available and looking for work. In April of 2014, 2,753 households were randomly selected to be a part of the survey and responses were obtained from 6,500 individuals 14 years and older. 63.8 percent of those individuals were in the labour force. The others are students, housewives and others who were not available for work. According to SIB, there are now 151,317 people in the labour force which is an increase of 1,883 when compared to April, 2013. There are 93,411 males and 57,906 females in the force. 3,003 more males joined the labour force in 2014 and 1,120 females fell out. The Belize and Cayo Districts are responsible for 57.5 percent of the labour force at 35 percent and 22.5 percent respectively. Orange Walk hosts 12.7 percent, Corozal 12.6 percent, Stann Creek 10.1 percent and Toledo has 7 percent. The Belize District has the highest unemployment rate at 14.3 percent and Toldeo has the lowest at 4.1 percent.
Sadly, the figures show once again that women are far more likely to be unemployed, underemployed and left out of the force. 78.3 percent of working age men are in the labour force whilst 49.9 percent of women are. Though women only represent 38.3 percent of the labour force, 67.2 percent of the unemployed are women. The unemployment rate for women is more than three times that of men, 19.4 percent to 5.9 percent, not forgetting that men are making about $200 more per month than women.
Electricity Rates reduced
The Public Utilities Commission announced that effective July 1 the rate of electricity has been reduced for all consumers by an average of 2.65%. At the time, BEL was requesting a rate reduction from 44.65 cents per kilowatt hour to 43 cents per kilowatt hour. After consideration PUC decided on 43.47 cents per kilowatt hour which would be effective from July 1 to June 30, 2015. Under the Annual Review Proceedings BEL and other interested parties were given the opportunity to submit written comments or objections to the decision by the PUC. Since no objection was noted the Final decision was adopted now having a lower rate for electricity.
A good Sugar Season despite adversities A good sugar crop
Despite the rough start, being delayed for 2 months, the 2013-2014 sugar cane grinding season ended a lot better than the initial estimates forecasted. The target amount of cane that Belize Sugar Industry intended to receive and mill was 1.2 million tonnes, but at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 8, the factory received 13 thousand more than the expected. Stakeholders wished to produce 120,000 tonnes of sugar, but with the surplus in sugarcane delivered to the factory they made a surplus of 3,000 tonnes.
Given the turn of events, this season ended very well, after the decision was taken to extend the season well into July, when the rainy season usually starts. But it must be noted that, the season was delayed because of unexpected bad weather in November and December, after that, the cane farmers refused to deliver their cane to start the season because of the continued impasse with the factory owners on a payment for bagasse.
As has been widely reported, factory owners have been producing electricity for in-house usage and for sale to the Belize Electricity Limited for the nation’s electricity grid through the energy company called BELCOGEN. This is done as a means to get rid of the residue from the sugar production, known as bagasse. The factory owners found a way to turn the waste into something useful and profitable, but for the past year, the farmers have decided that they want to benefit from the use of bagasse for energy generation and sale. Their position remains that the farmers consider bagasse as a bi-product from the processing of their cane, and that they should be paid for it. For some months, BSI and the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association have been negotiating unsuccessfully for an increase in payment, and at this point, the offers on the table are 51 cents per tonne of cane from BSI, and $4.51 per tonne from the farmers. It’s important to note that although the farmers are looking at 51 cents as a cheap payment for bagasse, when they would prefer nothing less than $4, that 51 cents represents $550,000 as an additional cost to Belcogen for the bagasse project, when the company hasn’t recouped its $130 Million dollars investment.
Additional flights into Belize
As the tourism numbers continue to grow, the international airlines operating in Belize have recognized the demand for increased airlifts to Belize. Delta has responded by implementing additional flights through the Atlanta route to Belize. Starting mid-December, 2014, Delta will increase its Atlanta-Belize frequencies from 8 flights a week to 12. These additions will represent 596 seats more per week for the high season from this key gateway. The airline will also resume its Saturday non-stop Los Angeles – Belize flight on November 7, which is seven weeks earlier than last year and represents an additional 160 seats per week from the west coast of the USA for November and December. Also capitalizing on the growing demand for the destination, United Airlines announced a new direct flight for Chicago-Belize. This new service will be available on Saturdays and will be operational starting December, 2014, to May, 2015. United already flies to Belize from Houston and Newark Liberty. When the new Chicago route resumes, Belize will be directly accessible to 7 major hubs in the US: Miami, Florida; Houston, Texas; Dallas, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Charlotte, North Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia; and Chicago, Illinois.With these new developments in airlifts, the Belize Tourism Board expects an increase in the tourism numbers to Belize for the upcoming high season.
IDB continues to have confidence in Belize
In late July, the president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Luis Alberto Moreno met with Prime Minister Dean Barrow. In a release, Moreno has assured IDB’s partnership with Belize, aiming to spend some $30 million US dollars for this year alone in Educational Areas and Transport Infrastructural works.
Under education spending a 10 million U.S. dollar project “Education Quality Improvement Program” is to be implemented. Infrastructural work will also be done to rehabilitate sections of the George Price Highway bringing it up to international standards while simultaneously making it more resistant to climate changes. This program of works will be approved in November.
Following the meeting with the Prime Minister, Luis Moreno toured San Ignacio Town where he took the opportunity to visit the Cayo Welcome Center and the renovated Burns Avenue. Both improvements to San Ignacio came as part of a 13 million US dollar sustainable Tourism Program under the IDB. Accompanying Luis Moreno on his tour in San Ignacio was Hon. Manuel Heredia, Minister of Tourism and Culture, as well as the Mayor of San Ignacio and Santa Elena, John August.
The Cayo Welcome Center now serves as an information source for both locals and tourists. It has a conference hall as well as areas for local artists to express their works. On many occasions the Cayo Welcome Center has been utilized to provide free entertainment to members of the Public. The Cayo Welcome Center has also been used as a venue to hold public conferences by the San Ignacio and Santa Elena Town Council as it attempts to fulfill commitments with external funders.
BPO’s identified as to reduce unemployment
The government of Belize is moving quickly to meet demands in the Business Processing Overseas (BPO) arena. According to CEO in the Ministry of Trade and Investment, the government identified BPO’s as a job creator in Belize and since that time the industry has been expanded from two companies who provided the service to sixteen which are now operating in Belize. Those businesses have some 2,600 persons employed. There are now between one and two companies which make inquiries wanting to set up operations in Belize on a weekly basis.
Recently the ministry conducted a survey in which it was identified that the sector is expected to have a need of some 2,100 more employees in the next year and a half to two years. And as the industry begins to boom, it is encountering problems where companies have a difficult time finding employees to fill the needs. There is a high turnover rate of employees because they lack basic training in the field when it comes to the finer points of customer service and the ability to use technology used by the BPO’s and to be able to get into the mode of supporting the U.S. businesses.
In an effort to close this gap between potential employees and employers in the BPO field, the ministry will be looking at implementing a rapid training institute where some 100 Belizeans will be trained per month, they will be certified and carried through to recruitment drives with centers who will hire them directly after they conclude training. For the time being, the BPO training facility will be located at the ITVET compound in Belize City but the plan is for a larger center to be constructed to serve as the offices of the Small Business Development Center. The entire idea is to promote better trained and qualified Belizeans to fill the growing demands in the BPO field. With this government is expected to place more Belizeans to work and improve overall economic standards for the citizenry.
BIL continues sport infrastructure work
Further news in August revealed that The Belize Infrastructure Limited (BIL) had six projects in the design stage and one project already under construction. BIL is a public sector agency of the Government to manage the design and construction of capital projects in Belize with particular emphasis on sporting and other multipurpose facilities. Prime Minister Barrow has pledged that each district town will see an investment of at least $5 million in public facilities. According to Christy Mastry, General Manager of BIL, the municipalities that have already submitted their projects are Belmopan City, San Ignacio and Santa Elena Town, Benque Viejo Town, San Pedro Town and Belize City.
In Belmopan City the Isidoro Beaton Football Stadium will be renovated to world class standards at an estimated cost of $3.5 million.Construction is already underway on Falcon Field in San Ignacio Town at an estimated cost of $850,000 and completion date is set near October, 2014. Also in San Ignacio, the Victor Galvez Recreation Field will be upgraded at a cost of more than $1.3 million. Two football fields will be built in Santa Elena at the Victor August Football Stadium. One will be a practice and recreation field that is always open to the public. The other will be a game field for organized competition, both at an estimated cost $2.25 million. The Benque Viejo Del Carmen Football Complex and Facilities will be upgraded to FIFA standards at a cost of approximately $4.5 million. Belize will have its first synthetic turf field in San Pedro Town for the San Pedro Football Field since there is difficulty in growing grass on the island. The design is still in progress and a construction date has not been set as yet, however it is expected to cost in the neighborhood of $3.25 million. In Belize City the signature project is the Belize City Center which will be a national basketball and multipurpose facility which is at the design stage being drafted by Anthony Thurton and Associates. A total of $25 million has been air marked for construction.
Later in November, contract was signed for the surveying, architectural and engineering design elements and costs for the Dangriga and Punta Gorda Football Facilities and the Design-Build services for Belmopan’s. Recreational Roofs projects was carried out on Monday, November 10th, 2014 at the BIL office in Belmopan City.The refurbishment of the football facilities in PG totals to approximately 1.2 million BZD. The Belmopan roofs refurbishments for Hilltop and Maude Gardens (Hummingbird Avenue) and the court roof facilities for BMP Comprehensive and Lady of Guadalupe totals to an investment of 1.1 million
Graciously Belize earned a host of Top100 Readers Choice Awards. The August 2014 “Scuba Diving” magazine has outlined Belize as the “Central American paradise” who “earned a host of 2014 Top 100 Readers Choice Awards.” Belize earned Readers Choice Awards for the Caribbean and Atlantic’s best overall destination, big animals, wall diving, and underwater photography.
Some of the highlights from the three-page spread include mentions of our barrier reef “bowing only to Australia’s great one.” It also talks about the wall dives that can be done along the atolls, which “turn into an underwater Lollapalooza.” Also among the highlights was Gladden Spit which placed in the top 5 list for “best big animals in the Caribbean and Atlantic region.” Apart from our “big animals,” Belize was also recognized for its “macro critters.” Belize, known for some of the most authentic experiences, was also pointed out as a destination for tours from luxury yachts, to explorations through the jungle and to the archaeological sites. Capping off the notable highlights was our Great Blue Hole, which is described as a “landmark that warrants crossing off a list.” Director of Marketing and Industry Relations, Alyssa Carnegie, commented, “We are honored that Belize has earned so many Readers Choice Awards from Scuba Diving Magazine. This is a very popular and influential publication for divers, so these awards will resonate in the diving world and further strengthen Belize’s position as a top diving destination. Those that know about us will continue to visit, and those who weren’t sure will now know what we offer divers, as well as other visitors. The BTB shares this recognition with all our partner agencies that work tirelessly to preserve the integrity of our local sites.”
GOB rescues Citrus Industry
After the citrus industry was on the brink of failure earlier this year, citrus farmers received their third and final payment for the 2013-2014 crop. The Citrus Growers Association announced on September 11 that payments would be made on September 15. That payment was for $0.3941 per pound solid of oranges and $0.4489 per pound solid for grapefruit. All told farmers will be collecting some 11 dollars per box of product which they delivered to the factory. The news is great for the growers especially since the future of the industry stood in limbo as the former factory managers simply could not get finances to start the crop. It was as a result of government’s intervention that the crop was able to get off the ground and now has a promising future.
In early February the battle between Citrus Industry, Citrus Growers Association and Banks Holdings was once again the talk of the town. Farmers were not being paid for their weekly delivery of their oranges early into the crop season. It turned out that the problem was that audit reports were to be done for the Citrus Products of Belize Limited, the company which buys the oranges and produces the juices, and so the company’s bankers refused to release funds, which would then be used to pay the farmers to time. The management of the Citrus Products of Belize Limited eventually reached out to Prime Minister Barrow because the company was experiencing difficulty generating enough working capital to keep the factory open. Prime Minister Barrow convened emergency meetings and teleconferences to bring all stakeholders to the table. By Monday, February 17th, the crisis was solved, in theory, and the stakeholders of the citrus industry were pleased with the outcome.
The resolution would work out that First Caribbean International Bank would forward $2 million to CPBL so that operations continue at the factory. Government will then provide financing for the buyout of CPBL’s US$6.5 million loan with First Caribbean International Bank. Social Security Board then assumed that loan, both principal and interest rate. The Citrus Growers Association is the majority shareholder in CPBL with 51 percent of the shares. The Association is indebted to Social Security Board to the tune of $9.1 million. Social Security Board was prepared to accept an offer of ten percent of the shares of the company as payment for the $9.1 million. PM Barrow stressed, “No money is being given to the CGA. This is a credit facility for the benefit of the industry.”
National Bank at 1
On Tuesday, September 2, the National Bank of Belize celebrated its first anniversary. The biggest news unveiled was that the bank now accepts deposits. Belizeans are now able to open savings account with just $25, children with just $10. A Belize City branch is expected to be constructed in the Lake Independence Boulevard area and other branches countrywide will follow. Clients of the National Bank will soon benefit from the roll out of an Automated Teller Machine system with two ATMs at the Belmopan branch. Clients will be able to use their ATM cards at the Belmopan branch or any Heritage Bank ATM countrywide as well as over 25 credit unions across the country.The Bank’s lending rates continue to drive commercial rates down as its mortgage rates range from 5.5 to 7.5 percent; its vehicle loan rate is 8.5 percent and its business development loan rate is 9 to 10 percent. In just one year, the demand for affordable financing has proved to be so great that the Government of Belize has already committed to inject additional capital in the Bank.
More relief offered during Independence Day speech
The UDP government remained thoughtful of the contract held with the Belizean people, to increase their quality and standard of living, when voted into office. With this thought in mind, Prime Minister Barrow fist nationalized the country’s greatest telecommunication company, then reduced the cost of internet service in 2012 and now doubles the speed of internet service.
During the Prime Minister’s Independence Day address, he made the announcement that BTL would once again be doubling its speeds for the same price as of October 1. He noted that the government has also signed a statutory instrument which will make internet services zero-rated rather than exempt from GST. “This will allow all internet service providers to charge even less,” said the Prime Minister. He continued, “Of course GOB takes a revenue loss in consequence. But it is well worth it as together with BTL we deepen all important internet penetration in this nation.”
Every year the Independence Day address by Hon. Dean Barrow has been one that has always attracted much attention; this year’s address relieved the pockets of many more. The Prime Minister announced that Government will be meeting the interest payment for the month of December for homeowners who have mortgages with an original value of up to 100 thousand dollars. According to the Prime Minister, persons holding loans at the National Bank, all commercial banks, the DFC, Social Security Board and the Credit Unions will see the relief. All told there will be some 200 beneficiaries from the National Bank, 70 at SSB, 700 at the DFC, 1,602 at the commercial banks and the greatest number of 4,833 at the credit unions. These all add up to a whopping 7,405 mortgagors who will benefit. For every one of these mortgagors there is a factor of at least 4 persons, as the average household who will be benefitting. That will see as many as 28 thousand Belizeans receiving benefits in this latest initiative.
Though the final figures were still being computed since there are different interest rates and payment structures for the loans, the government nonetheless budgeted 3 million dollars for the assistance. Depending on circumstances the money may be paid directly to the institution or to the mortgage holders. He stated that “I believe all will agree from now that this is another excellent example of Government’s ‘good looking out’ its continuing effort to ease the load for our working and middle classes.”
BEL assists customers to get connected
Another great deed that had many rejoicing in September was BEL and EU Providing Free Service Entrance for Rural Residents of over 40 rural communities. The Government of Belize and the Belize Electricity Limited connected over 40 rural communities to the national electric grid through the European Union’s Energy Facility II Grant Funds in 2011. Belizeans who had been relying on lamps and candles for all their lives were finally able to benefit from the comfort of electrical devices. However, in order for individuals to get electricity they had to pay for personal service entrance posts. The cost of one runs from $800 to $1200 and many of the households have not been able to afford the service entrance cost. Therefore, the Belize Electricity Limited made a request to the European Union for permission to use the savings realized from the original electrification project to finance the “Connecting Homes, Improving Lives Project”. This project sees that the Belize Electricity Limited installs service entrance for 1000 families who were unable to afford it.
Special Constable killed in the line of duty
Just before midday September 25th, 2014, 20 year-old Special Constable (SC) Danny Conorquie, assigned to the Tourism Police Unit was shot and killed in the line of duty at the Caracol Archaeological Site in the Cayo District. Initial reports reveal that SC Conorquie approached two men of Hispanic descent who were on horseback. The two men opened fire, mortally wounding SC Conorquie, and then fled the scene retreating into the dense cover of the jungle. SC Conorquie was rushed to the San Ignacio Town hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. This incident occurred in the general vicinity of the main temple in plain view of several tourists and tour operators. The general public was informed that additional security personnel have been deployed to the Caracol Archaeological Site to ensure the safety of the hundreds of visitors who frequent the site.
The Government of Belize expressed its deepest condolences to the family of Special Constable Danny Conorquie, a true hero. Every effort was being made to bring those responsible to justice, but many weren’t satisfied with the efforts made in the political offices to bring the suspected Guatemalan murderers to justice. Some used the honorable death of Mr. Conorquie for unnecessary public uproar and political mileage instead of making meaningful suggestions to solve the constant incursions the county experiences.
Speaking of incursion, not too long after the tragic death of the young officer, about 40 Guatemalans living in La Rejoya Village which is right at the edge of the Belize/Guatemala Border, made an armed incursion into Belizean territory twice on October 3rd to send a statement to the carpenters at work and the Belizean Military that they refuse to stand by and watch Belize build a Conservation Outpost near to their village.The Valentin Conservation Outpost, is one of 3 border facilities that the Prime Minister had given his commitment to see completed so that the Belizean authorities can protect the territorial integrity of the Chiquibul National Park, and the Caracol Archaeological Reserve. Valentin is located in Western Belize, about 1 kilometer away from the Border, but in Belizean Territory. After the first incursion immediate steps were taken to deploy more soldiers to the area, to ensure that the military could be able to take appropriate measures in the event that these Guatemalans decided to use force. Later that afternoon, a smaller group of villagers returned, but they retreated when they realized that the number of soldiers had increased. Guatemalan and OAS officials were later dispatched to the Guatemalan village to try to de-escalate tensions.
BTL doubles internet speeds
Great news was delivered in October, starting with BTL’s record 19.6M in profits. As of October BTL’s internet rates were $25 for 256Kb, $56 for 512Kb, $88 for 1Mb, $140 for2 Mb, $240 for4Mb, $390 for 8Mb, and a new service of $700 for 16Mb was added. On Thursday BTL held its 8 AGM as a nationalized asset and the announcement was that BTL continues to be one of the most profitable companies in the country, raking in a whopping 19.6 million dollars. Though the profits were minus 1.4 million dollars from last year, it was no surprise to the company which was consistently and exceedingly giving back to customers. Executive Committee Chairman, Anwar Barrow stated that the company has opened up the Voice Over the Internet Protocol (VOIP) which allows communication via applications that cut into BTL’s profits like Viber, WhatsApp, Magic Jack and others which give the same services through internet as BTL would. The company is making more significant investments which necessarily will cut into BTL’s profits but for the greater good of the company which is maneuvering to increase penetration in the data arena and the structure of the company’s service. The company is envisioning that the structure of BTL’s service will be significantly changed in the coming years with the focus being on data as opposed to the selling of minutes for talk time. Keep in mind that the primary objective of BTL since nationalization is not based on the profit it makes but to rather have the company assist the economy which is evident through the doubling and tripling of credits during regular promotions, doubling of bandwidth for internet subscribers and the sale of cellular phones at a-beyond reasonable price.
Public Sector Workers Trust still not accounted for
Weeks had past and trustees of the Public Sector Worker’s Trust still hadn’t made clear what was going to be done with the handsome $190,735.68 received at BTL’s general meeting. The money was accumulated over a period of 17 years. At the time of those rounds however, there were more questions than answers which arose out of the rounds and two months later there is still no clear picture as to what will happen with the money of the trust.The lingering figure of 5.5 million plus the almost two hundred thousand dollars is being tossed about as to how much the trust should have in its coffers but the truth is that there is no telling since there has been no financial statement that has been made public. The trustees of the fund claimed that the money would be used to finance “projects’ yet those projects have not been identified and the trustees are not saying how the projects will benefit ALL the beneficiaries whose salaries where frozen between 1995 and 1997.
Belize refuses to evacuate Ebola suspected patients through airport
The United States was disappointed in Belize for not facilitating a request from the State Department to evacuate two passengers, a 59-year-old lab supervisor from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital and her spouse, who were listed as low risk for Ebola from a Carnival Cruise ship that docked in Belize on Thursday morning, October 16.
Marie Harf, the Deputy Spokesperson for the State Department, said in an interview on CNN, “We were disappointed by this [decision]. We think it could have been handled differently. Decisions like these need to be made based on information and science and not fear.” Harf expressed no disappointment in the Government of Mexico; however, who also refused to facilitate the evacuation of the passengers when the ship was docked near Cozumel on the Following day. She also expressed no disappointment in the State of Texas which demanded that a blood sample from the suspected passengers be airlifted for testing before docking at Galveston, Texas.
Prime Minister Barrow says when you look at how the virus was transmitted from a patient to health workers at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, “It is clear that even in the US with all their capacity, with all their expertise, there are still a lot of unanswered questions as to how this thing gets transmitted.”
In a press briefing Prime Minister Barrow gave insight into a conversation with US Secretary of State John Kerry who personally asked Belize to facilitate the evacuation. PM Barrow says, “I set out for him our own position. He insisted that there really was no threat and that I would not be putting Belizeans at any real risk. I stuck to my line which was that in the circumstances we couldn’t take any chance.”Prime Minister Barrow says it was a tough decision to reject the United States’ request for such facilitation but it is a decision he would likely make again if asked. He says, “I hope and think that the United States and certainly Secretary Kerry are mature enough to recognize that ultimately even small states - and perhaps especially small states - must act in what they consider their best interest.”Prime Minister Barrow stressed, “If it had been at all possible to do this thing in a way that could absolutely have eliminated any possibility of any risks to Belizeans - I would have been willing.” Determined to combat the entry of the Ebola virus into Belize, two isolation facilities were stationed at the Phillip Goldson International Airport (PGIA) compound and several activities were instituted at the Point of Entry Screening with Public Health Inspectors.
FCD holds fundraiser to better manage the Chiquibul
In an effort to increase the number of Rangers in the Chiquibul National Park from 7 to 24 to protect the forest’s wealth of resources, particularly from Guatemalan encroachers, a telethon was held to raise funds for the Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) on Saturday, October 18. Belizeans at home and abroad, private and corporate, called in to make pledges, even Jamaican superstar Anthony Moses Davis, better known as Beenie Man, stopped by and pledged to donate $1,000. At the end of the day over $327,870 was pledged inclusive of the $120,000 pledged by the Government of Belize; bear in mind that to cover the expenses of one Ranger annually FCD needs $24,000. Since the incident that claimed the life of Danny Conorquie, the Government has committed additional boots on the ground near threatened areas and donated significantly to the Friends for Conservation and Development. Through the Protected Areas Conservation Trust the Government of Belize recently approved a grant to FCD for over $599,000. This is mainly for institutional strengthening in an effort to make FCD more self-sustainable in the future.
Tourist arrivals keep going up
It was announced that tourist Arrivals for 2014 are up in the 3rd quarter of the year, when compared to last year, a very welcomed turn of events especially since statistically the 3rd quarter falls in the industry’s low season.The Belize Tourism Board’s counts that Airport Arrivals for the last 3 months up to September 2014 totaled at 7,692; that’s 76 more than last year. For the total 9 months, there have been 45,862 tourists who have arrived at the PGIA, 1,729 more than last year, or an increase of 3.9%.Overnight arrivals for September were 11,943, which was more than September 2013 by as much as 1,289. Overall, for the first 9 months of this year, 64,598 tourists arrived overnight; that’s 5,248 more than last year, or an increase of 8.8%. Cruise passenger arrivals which were struggling in 2012 rebounded in 2013 by as much as 30% in the first 9 months. It has increased once again by 73,409, or 77%. In September alone, 47,625 passengers came off the cruise ships, which is 22,569 more than last year, or an increase of 90%.The BTB is hoping to reach the threshold of 300,000 tourist arriving overnight, and the organization is optimistic that this will happen before December is over.
Paul Nabor passes
A King Passed on October 22, 2014. Paul Nabor, born Alfonso Palacio on January 26, 1928, dubbed one of “The Three Kings” had been unfortunately ill for some time after being diagnosed with broncho-pneumonia in January 2014, just days before his birthday. The 86 year old’s stellar contributions to the paranda genre and Belizean music in general are unmatched and will be revered and celebrated for all time. Belize has lost an important son of the soil.
Political broadcasts skyrocketed when reports where confirmed on October 21st that the PUP Standard Bearer for the Cayo North Constituency, Joseph Mahmud, submitted a letter signaling his resignation from the PUP with no intent of contesting his seat in the next general election. Nomination for By-election in Cayo North was held December 15th. The PUP has chose to place their trust in a born loser, Richard Harrison. Harrison’s life has been that of an accomplished disaster. Everything he has put his hands on has simply failed. His business ventures have been nothing more than disappointments for him and his family. All indications are that he is flat out broke or at the very least struggling to survive. The United Democratic Party, on the other hand, fully endorses Omar Figueroa in good faith for the victory of Cayo North coming January 5th, 2015, the day of by- election.
The Government of Belize signed contracts amounting to almost $9 million for the execution of major road works in the Belize, Stann Creek and Toledo Districts. Contracts were signed with CISCO Construction for the construction of roundabouts at the Lake Independence Boulevard’s intersection with the George Price Highway and the Chetumal Street’s intersection with the Phillip Goldson Highway. These contracts are for a total of $3.6 million. A contract was signed with RODLA Construction to pave five miles of the Old Northern Highway with Hot Mix. This project will cost $3.4 million. The parking area for Sir Charles Bartlett Hyde (Complex) building will be rehabilitated by M and R construction for $300,000. In the South, Olivia Sentino and Cayo Streets in Punta Gorda will be completely concreted. In Dangriga, Ramos Road and a section of Ecumenical Drive will be concreted. Both will be done by CISCO construction for a combined cost of over $1.4 million.All projects are expected to be completed in five months.
Prime Minister Barrow has been strengthening ties with many countries since elected. Mexico has been of those countries Belize has been getting closer to since Prime Minister Barrow made an official visit to Mexico in October of 2010. there has been a number of trade missions between the two countries. The latest mission was organized by the Chetumal Chamber of Commerce, Services and Tourism and the Embassy of Mexico. Mexican Government officials, entrepreneurs and representatives of business associations met with their Belizean counterparts in an effort to improve trade relations. The objective of the mission is to identify potential buyers and suppliers of a variety of products and services as well as to find investment opportunities. To achieve this objective an open day was held at the Institute of Mexico where various products were discussed, from food to electronics to clothes. Representatives of the Belizean business community had the opportunity to meet and network with the President and Board Members of the Chetumal Chamber of Commerce, Services and Tourism and Belizean students had the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Universidad Interamericana para el Desarrollo (UNID) from Chetumal who provided information about their many study programs available for Belizeans. Previous missions have resulted in a significant increase in trade (cattle sweep), new transportation services (ADO) and much more.
In addition to the vast development Belize is experiencing, it is foretold that the country has not met its peak. In a report released by Standard & Poor’s Rating Services (S&P) on Friday, November 7, 2014, Belize’s ‘B-/B’ sovereign credit rating was affirmed and its outlook upgraded to positive from stable. The company attributed this change to the new $140 million investment in “sugar and nontraditional agricultural products” stating that the country’s economic growth prospects are increasing and “will likely improve Belize’s external liquidity.”
The report further states that a boost in productivity and export volumes can result from growth in foreign direct investment (FDI) in Belize’s export sector; and will likely reduce the country’s current account deficit. Additionally, the report credits the government’s effort to actively strategize payment of “external obligations related to the nationalization of two utilities by using deposits financed by the PetroCaribe initiative.”
Standard and Poor’s Rating Services (S&P) is a leading provider of credit ratings, research and analytics. Belize’s sovereign creditworthiness was assessed and scored on five key rating factors, on a scale ranging from 1 (strongest) to 6 (weakest):
i. Institutional and governance effectiveness;
ii. Economic structure and growth prospects;
iii. External liquidity and international investment position;
iv. The average of government debt burden and fiscal flexibility and fiscal performance and;
v. Monetary flexibility.
The company is credited for its vital role in creating transparency and comparability within financial markets worldwide.
The People’s United Party remain adamant that they will, by any means necessary stop the transformation that is taking place across the country under the supervision of the United Democratic Party Government. Sensing that the government’s proper use of the Petro Caribe financing facility will be their demise, they concocted a scheme to take the matter to court in an attempt to stop government from using the Petro Caribe finances to develop Belize.
They called a press conference and huddled together in comfort and distrust, saying that they were not attempting to stop the government spending. What then would be the purpose of the injunction? The harebrained idea was concocted by Julius and now the PUP finds itself in a quandary.
That quandary came into sharp focus at their press conference when Fonseca babbled to try to explain away that the PUP has absolutely nothing to show for the time when they were in control of the Petro Caribe funds. He went so far as to say that the 82 million dollars worth of imported fuel during 2007 and 2009 was a pittance. It should be recalled that under the agreement those imports would have accumulated 60 percent of the grand total amounting to some 49.2 percent. Those monies should have been invested in Belize’s development but they never were. It is also of note that the company bringing in the fuel Petro-Fuel reported importing only 63 million dollars worth of products amounting to 113 million dollars in sales. Taking away expenditures and taxes that would mean that that company would have made a handsome 39 million dollars in profits from the sales. And yet still 19 million dollars worth of imported fuels were never reported.
This is just what the PUP is all about and now their asinine maneuver to have government stop the development of the country will simply not set well with the masses who at this very moment are employed and the country is moving forward. But in support of the grand work that the UDP government has used the Petro-Caribe funds for, thousands of Belizeans rolled out to Belmopan on Tuesday, November 18.
Supporters from every district flooded the stairs of the National Assembly in their red attire confirmin
#499442 - 12/31/14 03:54 AM
Re: Year in Review 2014
Prime Minister Barrow explained that the Petro-Caribe Loan Motion is a strange creature. The constitution requires that the Government take a motion to the House for approval of any loan that is more than $10 million. The Government cannot know how much will be received as the finance portion of the sales until the shipment has already arrived and the sale is completed. They cannot determine the terms of the loan until after world market price is set. Therefore, Prime Minister Barrow asked, “Do we wait until after the amount surpasses every $10 million? Or do we wait until the end of the year and bring the entire sum to the House?” Either way the loan motion will have to be tabled after the funds have been received; therefore, “it is the latter that we are doing.”
Prime Minister Barrow then went on to list a number of projects being made possible using funds from Petro-Caribe. Using funds available through the Petro-Caribe Agreement, in just two years, Prime Minister Dean Barrow has already committed over $160 million to development projects. The National Bank of Belize opened its doors on September 2 of 2013 with $20 million in startup capital from the Government of Belize’s Petro-Caribe funds. Due to this great demand for affordable financing, the Government of Belize injected additional capital in the Bank in the sum of $10 million.
Using Petro-Caribe funds, the Government has already committed more than $67 million to roads and streets countrywide. The Government has also committed more than $60 million for signature multipurpose facilities in each district town and city. Using Petro-Caribe funds the Government of Belize has set aside money as a contingent liability for the nationalizations of BTL, BEL and IMARBE. And coming this December, Belizeans countrywide will benefit from $2.5 million out of the Petro-Caribe funds committed for this year’s Christmas Cheer Program. Prime Minister Barrow closed in exclaiming, “We are doing all this through Petro-Caribe.” He asked the Opposition to “do the right thing for once and support the motion… Petro-Caribe Roll It”.
Rapid demise in the PUP
Another account of the rapid demise of the PUP is the announcement that Marco Tulio Mendez, the Area Representative for Orange Walk East, will not be running in the next general election. Doctors have advised Mendez that he should not run for the next general elections as a result of a severe undisclosed illness. While health may be a reason for Mendez to not run again, the reality is that during his tenure as a representative for Orange Walk East he has done absolutely nothing for the constituency. Health reasons are just now becoming the excuse. Our question is, what happened to Mendez when his health was not a concern?
More malicious acts were committed by PUP affiliates as their desperation for publicity and political mileage got the best of them. On November 9th, Ramon ‘Monchie’ Cervantez Jr. and other members of his family and PUP’s including PUP leader, Francis Fonseca held what they called a memorial for the late Ramon Cervantez Sr. But the ulterior motive was more than a memorial (memorials are held one year after someone dies), it was an opportunity for Monchie to publicly attack the Deputy Prime Minister of Belize. In his attempt to do so, the Cervantez Family paid Love FM to broadcast a scurrilous conversation between Ramon Cervantez’s wife, Vilma, and a man they claimed to be Manuel “El Pelon” Castillo. The broadcast was also carried on Fiesta FM, Johnny Briceno’s radio station in Orange Walk.
Castillo, is a wanted man in Belize since he has been implicated as being the mastermind in the murder of Ramon Cervantez Sr. During their broadcast, the Cervantez played the recording of the conversation and in the recording, Castillo made some serious accusations against the Deputy Prime Minister. The accusations were so serious and injurious that the Deputy Prime Minister retained the services of Senior Counsel Rodwell Williams who has since sent a letter to Ramon Cervantez Jr. demanding an apology as well as legal costs and possibly financial compensation to the Deputy Prime Minister for the slander which Cervantez caused on him. Cervantez is reply to the demand by Monday November 17 or a suit will follow against him. Last week Ramon ‘Monchie’ Cervantez Jr. and other members of his family and PUP’s including PUP leader, Francis Fonseca held what they called a memorial for the late Ramon Cervantez Jr. But the ulterior motive was more than a memorial (memorials are held one year after someone dies), it was an opportunity for Monchie to publicly attack the Deputy Prime Minister of Belize. In his attempt to do so, the Cervantez Family paid Love FM to broadcast a scurrilous conversation between Ramon Cervantez’s wife, Vilma, and a man they claimed to be Manuel “El Pelon” Castillo. The broadcast was also carried on Fiesta FM, Johnny Briceno’s radio station in Orange Walk.
Castillo is a wanted man in Belize since he has been implicated as being the mastermind in the murder of Ramon Cervantez Sr. During their broadcast, the Cervantez played the recording of the conversation and in the recording, Castillo made some serious accusations against the Deputy Prime Minister. The accusations were so serious and injurious that the Deputy Prime Minister retained the services of Senior Counsel Rodwell Williams who has since sent a letter to Ramon Cervantez Jr. demanding an apology as well as legal costs and possibly financial compensation to the Deputy Prime Minister for the slander which Cervantez caused on him. Cervantez is to reply to the demand by Monday November 17 or a suit will follow against him.
And there are so much bases upon which the suit can follow as the allegations by “el Pelon” were simply too fantastic and surreal that everyone knew it was just a make believe story in the hopes of Monchie getting some attention. Imagine, here you have a wanted man calling the family members of the person who was killed making libelous accusations against the Deputy Prime Minister and the Cervantez paying for it to be broadcast. Just signals to a man and a party in utter desperation to attract attention in the hopes of somehow gaining political points to be relevant once again as a political party in Belize. (Continued in the next issue of the Guardian)
Through the Residential Mortgage Payment Program, the Government of Belize will assist qualifying Belizeans by reimbursing December 2014 interest and principal payments on all residential mortgages with an original value of up to BZ$100,000.00, as was stated in the Pime Minister’s Independence Day Speech. Borrowers from the National Bank, Commercial Banks, Credit Unions, the Development Finance Corporation and the Belize Social Security Board can apply for assistance; however borrowers must meet the following criteria approved by Cabinet:
1. Must be residential mortgages of original value of no more than BZ$100,000.00;
2. Must be residential mortgages for new home construction. Mortgages for home improvement will not qualify;
3. Mortgages taken out solely for the purpose of refinancing prior mortgages for the construction of new residences will also qualify for the program.
4. Must be legally registered mortgages and not merely the deposit of title deeds called “Equitable Mortgages.”
While payments will be made directly to the qualified borrower, the Government reiterates that it remains the sole responsibility of such borrowers to meet their mortgage payment obligation. Application forms for the program are available at the Treasury Department in Belize or at any District Sub-Treasury office and can also be downloaded from the Ministry of Finance website at ww.mof.gov.bz. Forms will require information on borrowers, their mortgages and information to be supplied by the respective lending institutions.Completed forms should be submitted to any District Sub-Treasury or the Treasury Department in Belize City as soon as possible but no later than December 31st, 2014. Upon submission of forms, the department will issue a receipt to prove that the submission was actually made.
The BSCFA and ASR/BSI has had a extensive impasse on the agreement that has been distracted the sugarcane industry from starting the crop season. The Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association (BSCFA) and Belize Sugar Industries Ltd (BSI) met for 5 straight hours on Wednesday 3 December to continue discussions on a new commercial agreement, as facilitated by the Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow.
Of the five issues of contention, two were disposed of quickly, but three core areas of disagreement were discussed at length. These three areas are: the length of the new agreement, the payment for bagasse, and the ownership of the sugar cane.
With the continued impasse, executives from American Sugar Refinery (ASR), the major shareholder in Belize Sugar Industries, is set to meet as principals of the factory owners with Prime Minister Dean Barrow in hopes of starting the crop season before Christmas, which obviously didn’t take place. With the Prime Minister’s intervention, BSI and the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association resumed negotiations on December 3, something which had basically stalled. Then, Prime Minister Dean Barrow cut his trip short to the CARICOM-Cuba Summit and returned home to hold meetings on how best to get the crop season started. It is expected that he will try to convince the ASR executives to see the value of the cane farmers’ compromises to get the crop to start, and why they as the factory owners should do the same.
The final agreement which the farmers passed at their general membership meeting on Sunday, December 14, has 3 main points that the farmers have agreed to. First, the commercial agreement for the crop year will last for 7 years. Second, BSI will make a payment for bagasse at 51 cents per ton of cane, and third, when the cane is delivered, the farmers hand over ownership of it to the factory owners.
At this time, the attorneys from both sides are drafting up the final copies of the agreement that both sides will sign and the crop season will begin. Both sides understand that time is vital at this time, and so this signing of this agreement is being handled with urgent attention to get to the beginning of the season 2 or 3 days after the documents have been prepared. Once again Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s intervention into the Sugar Industry has yielded results that will see the beginning of the 2014/2015 cane crop.
Cane Farmers force Fair Trade money bonanza
In August, three and a half months ago, news emerged that Fair Trade intended to reduce the amount of Fair Trade Funding that the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association received after buying Belizean sugar at premium prices. Secondly, the organization which provides oversight of the use of the money, Flo Cert, temporarily decertified the association yet again due to financial misappropriation and theft of the association’s funds, and the violation of child labour statutes. Only 2 days after being officially cleared of the most recent ban, the farmers are forcing the Association to do something which is bound to get them in trouble again with the oversight bodies of the Fair Trade agreement.
Readers may remember the expose that this newspaper printed in which we discussed the misuse and poor handling of Fair Trade money over the past 6 or 7 years in which 20 million dollars ended up in the accounts of the Association, set aside as a social program for the farmers. Well, to add to that, the general cane farming membership of the association passed a resolution at their meeting on Sunday, December 14, that 2.5 million dollars will be shared among the general membership of about 5,300 farmers. It’s a sort of Christmas cheer that the farmers are giving themselves in which each member will received approximately $470 for themselves. That’s not exactly the way the money is to be used for because such wanton spending is not permitted.
The Fair Trade program is supposed to be done to improve the lives and quality of cane farms of the Association members, and not to be given away like some Christmas bonus. The Association Executive tried to reason with the farmers at the meeting that this is not the way to use the money, but they were ignored and the motion passed. The Financial Controller for the association has told the press that he will resign before being forced into signing the checks for that distribution. That should be a clear indication that the Fair Trade agreement may be placed into jeopardy yet again. The country now has to wait and see.
Chetumal Street Bridge
After months of back breaking labour, the Chetumal Street Bridge is now a reality. In September, it was announced that a new bridge would be constructed over the Haulover Creek which would connect Belama and Fabers Road. This was deemed necessary to alleviate the traffic which flows through the city. Many criticizims were made, including that “Criminals will have easy access from the ghetto to the north-side.” The Chetumal Street Bridge is the first fully local constructed state of the art ferro-concrete bridge, now spans the Haulover Creek. Which just a few months ago the area where the bridge now sits was nothing but wilderness and it was almost unimaginable that such a transformation was possible with the construction of a bridge. Apart from the improved aesthetics that this bridge now provides to the area, the economic benefits it represents are unimaginable; it saves drivers valuable time, not to mention the fuel that is consumed whilst in traffic, thus leaving drivers with more money. It is a reality that people’s pockets will have a little more money as the expense and time of travelling will be cut by three miles. The traffic through the city will be significantly reduced and the wear and tear on the city streets will be less. There are so many benefits that this bridge brings especially to the people who live near it. Property value will surely go up. Businesses will be established and the correct ones will definitely experience an increase in traffic. Easy and quicker access to downtown Belize City for residents of Belama and the list goes on. The bridge which cost the Government of Belize 5 million dollars was funded with Petro Caribe Funds. This goes to show that despite what people may say, this government has shown that it works in the interest of development; for Belize and certainly for its people. The bridge was designed and constructed by M&M Engineering and made history by being the first bridge in Belize to be fully conceptualized and built by Belizeans in Belize. The estimated time for completion is for this month and by the looks of it the contractors are on target. The legacy we leave behind is what our children and grandchildren will judge us by. The Honorable Dean Barrow and the UDP have ensured that what Belize is being transformed into will be a legacy our grandchildren will be proud of.
With dedication to bettering standard of living for Belizeans, Gas prices fell even more.
Later November the prices of gas went down by 91 cents; however, on a Friday morning, drivers were again happily surprised that the price of premium gas had gone down by 44 cents and the price of regular had gone down by 43 cents. The price of premium gas is now $9.57 while regular is $9.21. Diesel has also seen a decrease, on Tuesday, November 25, it went down by 49 cents. Fuel prices are now at the lowest they have ever been in 3 years.
Better yet, GAS GONE DOWN AGAIN!!! Gas decreased twice in the same month. Diesel is now $7.88, Regular is $8.37 and Premium $9.63.
On the 25th November, just seven days after the matter was taken to the National Assembly, the People’s United Party wrote to the Financial Secretary – Mr. Joseph Waight, that they, The PUP, will be participating in the Christmas Cheer Program which is funded through the Petro Caribe Funds. The PUP is clearly drowning in a sea of hypocrisy. In an interview with Channel 7 News on the 8th December, Francis shamelessly tried to justify his lack of common sense. “We run the risks of looking hypocritical, but we believe that of all the programs funded under the Petro-Caribe program, this one in every respect perhaps the most transparent, the most accountable.”
Smart loosing service.
After February 28, 2015 the Belize Telemedia Limited will no longer provide Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) Lines to Speednet; therefore, Smart customers in Southern Belize should start switching to the company owned by the Government and people of Belize.
Speednet has been sourcing DTN connection from BTL since July of 2014, when it ended a service agreement with its original network support provider for Stann Creek and Toledo. Around the end of September, BTL informed Speednet that it would have to cut the service “due to increased demands on its [own network]”. In a statement to the press, the company said, “BTL can no longer provide the DTN Lines to Speednet while adequately satisfying its own demands and requirements in providing quality telecommunications services.” After a 30 day grace period had passed, BTL went on to cut the service from 16 megabits to 4 megabits in early November. This caused internet, voice and SMS services to deteriorate significantly for Smart customers from Independence to Punta Gorda.
Speednet then reached out to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for what it considers to be “hostile” behaviour on the part of BTL. The Commission informed Speednet that it cannot force BTL to provide the service; therefore, the company took its grievance to court. BTL had informed Speednet that it would cut the lines completely on November 14 but it held out on that move until the two parties could meet in Court.
The case was taken before Justice Shona Griffith on Monday, December 8. During the hearing, the companies informed the Court that they had reached an agreement. BTL’s attorney, Rodwell Williams, gave an undertaking that the company would continue the DTN service to Speednet until February 28. After that date, Smart will be on its own and it will have no case against BTL. Speednet also informed the Court that it was withdrawing its claim against the Public Utilities Commission. The Commission subsequently made a request for Speednet to cover its legal fees for the case.
Speednet has bigger issues on its hands at this time. According to the company, seven thousand plus customers rely on service in the area dependent on BTL’s DTN lines. The company has to develop its own infrastructure by March 1 or its customers will be in communications black hole.
Belize’s High Seas fisheries get a boost
On Monday December 15, the European Council adopted a decision to remove Belize from the list of ‘non-cooperating third countries’ in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. This decision was taken pursuant to a recommendation by the Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG-MARE) to remove Belize from this list in consideration of the concrete measures taken by Belize to rectify the deficiencies pointed out by the European Commission earlier this year. This decision by the EU Council shall enter into force on December 18, 2014, the day after its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union. This is the first case where a country is removed from the list of non-cooperating third countries through cooperation and on-going dialogue with the Commission; and it demonstrates that the EU system of bi-lateral cooperation and collaboration to assist third countries in fully implementing the IUU Regulation is indeed effective and bearing fruit. Since the pre-identification of Belize by the EU, the Commission has provided guidance to Belize in developing its legal framework and implementing the necessary measures to rectify the deficiencies that existed before. Working in partnership with the Commission, Belize has demonstrated a strong commitment to fighting IUU fishing and has significantly improved its ability to tackle this problem. The implementation of these new management and control mechanisms will greatly assist the work of the Belize Administration and will serve to ensure that IUU fishing has no place in Belize’s high seas fisheries. It is an unequivocal demonstration to the world that Belize takes its obligations under international law seriously; as the same laws also provide for Belize’s sovereign and inalienable right to fish on the high seas.
IUU fishing poses a significant threat to the sustainable exploitation of global marine resources and jeopardizes the food security of all nations. As such, the responsibility to fight IUU fishing can only be achieved through the multilateral effort of all nations; and the leaders of responsible fishing nations including Belize must therefore be applauded as they endeavor to eradicate the scourge of IUU fishing.
The Prime Minister of Belize, Hon Dean Barrow, has welcomed the decision of the European Council of Ministers to delist Belize and has pledged to continue the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
Guatemala does not constitute and will never constitute a threat to Belize
The occasion of the 40th Summit of the Central American Integration System (SICA) held in Placencia served up the perfect opportunity for a historic meeting between the President of Guatemala and the Prime Minister of Belize. Hon. Dean Barrow presided over the Summit as he ended Belize’s six-month pro-tempore presidency of SICA and handed over the reigns to the President of Guatemala, H. E. Otto Fernando Perez Molina. Over breakfast a meeting between the two leaders was held to discuss Belize Guatemala relations and the thirteen agreements that both countries had been negotiating and ready to sign at the end of the SICA Summit, signaling a renewed commitment to strengthen relations between the two countries. The thirteen agreements Year in Review 2014
between Belize and Guatemala establish formally and for the first time functional cooperation programmes that are practical and progressive. In their implementation they will bring tangible and practical benefits to the people of both countries. The functional cooperation agreements range from formalizing the serving of penal sentences, to the recognition of educational documents, environmental protection and sustainable use of resources to recovery and return of stolen vehicles.
In his intervention at the Summit, President Molina expressed “ Guatemala and Belize will be neighbors forever and for this reason we want to live in peace and we’re partners in the development of our populations and its important to understand that Guatemala does not constitute and will never constitute a threat to Belize.”
Hon. Dean Barrow said in his remarks at the signing of the 13 agreements, “How did we get here? First we got here because both of us desire to live in peace, side by side in friendly neighbourly relations. Second, after decades of unsuccessful negotiations the time had come for us to enhance our cooperation and build confidence between our governments and peoples. So we agreed to implement the 2005 Agreement on Confidence Building Measures, which had set out a list of cooperation areas to be actioned via the work of the Belize-Guatemala Joint Commission. And the word became flesh, so to speak, after our two Foreign Ministers met at the beginning of this year and formalized the Roadmap’s Work Plan.”
Hon. Dean Barrow recognized the indispensable role of the Organization of American States (OAS) in helping to make the agreements possible. As well, he singled out the OAS Special Representative Ambassador Raul Lago and the Head of the Fund for Peace, Magdalena Talamas. His greatest praises of congratulations were reserved for the two Foreign Ministers and their teams in the Joint Commission. Prime Minister Barrow stated that “they and their negotiators have managed this process in a most skillful and timely manner and set us firmly on course to enhance relations, increase goodwill, and draw us closer to that day when we confine the claim permanently to the ash heap of history.
Public servants of city and town councils in every municipality of Belize can now do their jobs without fear of political victimization, thanks to a document endorsed by each member of the Mayors Association of Belize on Wednesday, December 17, 2014. The Mayors of Belize signed an agreement to abide by the policies and stipulations of the Municipal Service Regulations, a document drafted to establish a consistent set of policies and practices for all nine municipal governments.
Honorable Senator Godwin Hulse says it is a historic day for the country, one that is supported by senior officials of both major political parties. Hulse says the Ministry of Local Government has been pushing for the universal regulations since 2008 and he is glad that it is now passed with him as Minister.
The taskforce worked together for more than eight months before the document was ready to be presented. Mayor Darrell Bradley of Belize City and Mayor Kevin Bernard of Orange Walk Town were instrumental in providing legal advice and public service guidelines.
The year 2014 has seen its fair share of improvements, but with projected increase in development and investors in 2015 it will keep the country growing sustainably and the standard of living rising. May the achievement for the New Year be twice as successful and the people be more peaceful. Let’s escort in the new year of 2015 with a promise to keep working for a better village, a better town, a better city, a better Belize.The Guardian
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