Last week on the news, you heard the PUP's Mayoral Candidate for Belize City Yolanda Schakron, issue a public challenge to Mayor Darrell Bradley to explain why the council spent 1.3 million dollars in legal fees. Schakron said it was exorbitant; the mayor rebutted by explaining that it was to settle a debt with Belize Waste Control, a debt which no other council paid.
Well, if you thought it would be the end of that back and forth, you thought wrong. Schakron and the PUP are keying in on the audit - they say it shows several degrees of financial mismanagement and a lack of accountability. Of course, the Mayor categorically disputes that, and he has declared that the PUP Mayoral Candidate is electioneering.
Today, Yolanda Schakron invited the media to a breakfast meeting to drive her point home. This time, they aren't only questioning last year's audit - they start with the audit of 2011-2012 in which the auditors gave an adverse opinion of Council's finances at that time. There were millions of dollars under question which the auditors were unable to verify that the Council, under the Zenaida Moya Administration, had either paid out or collected.
That's their premise to say that there can't be any confidence in any assertion from the mayor that City Hall finances are stable.
Today, Schakron and the Opposition Party, turned to Jose Coye, a former PUP Minister and Mayor, and a practicing accountant, to share his opinion of the council's finances. He declared at the press conference this morning that the Bradley Administration has incurred so much debt that if they lose the support of the Central Government, City Hall would go bankrupt:
Joe Coye, Accountant/Former Mayor
"We have not seen the 2013 audit completed. This 2014 audit, is saying that it was being done, but it have not yet been completed - they have no opinion. I would say then that that it itself, meaning that if you could not rely on the 2012, if the 2013 that shown in the 2014, showed where there were adjustments had to be made for over 21 million. Netting out a deficit reduction from 9 million to 1.9 million - that to me is telling you that this one is highly questionable. From looking at the council in terms of its financial stability, in truth, if you pull out the central government, the council is bankrupt - it is bankrupt. Because it is central government that has been keeping it going and paying debts. We found where it paid off debts to be banks. It paid off debts to the sanitation company. It was paying off debts to the Belize Waste company. A matter of fact, according to the mayor himself, the central government was paying off debts to a lawyer for them for those litigations. So, the truth of it, the council, if when you take these financials and you redo them, and you remove the support that the central government is giving and the support that it is giving is in fact paying debts that the council cannot afford. The council is indeed bankrupt."
Yolanda Schakron, PUP Mayoral Candidate - Belize City
"I will tell Darrell this. I will talk to Darrell straight; "Darrell, you are a Christian, I am also a Christian and we know that as Christians, we have to be fair and we have to speak the truth." So, I will tell him Darrell "let us hear the truth." I think Darrell will babble a lot. He will really talk a lot, because I have notice that Darrell talks a lot, but really does not answer the questions. He will come with a really technical and he is a lawyer and he very intelligent and he will flip flop."
So, how did Belize City Mayor Darrell Bradley respond? We'll he's usually willing to discuss any topic, but today, when we asked for a response on the issues the Opposition raised, he went ad hominem on Joe Coye:
Darrell Bradley, Mayor - Belize City
"That person is not an independent person. That person is hired by the People's United Party to review an audit that was done by a city council that is UDP two weeks before an election, so be careful not to use the word independent. That's not an independent audit. That person does not have that quality."
"You are telling me that they got Joe Coye to give an opinion on our independent audit? Man really, really and truly, this Joe Coye which the Caribbean Court of Justice in their judgment, refer to in the most unkind way for actions that were done in the capacity of a public office and you will tell me that over the last three years we have been adamant about accountability and transparency and then they would bring him to question us? Man Daniel, this is what I am saying, that you are wasting our time. We have a city to run and we have an election to win."
"The question is ingenuine and insincere, because when you are attacking somebody, I don't mind, I am public official and that's an occupational hazard, I can take it. Every time when we have a periodic report, six months - one year - one and a half years - two years - two and a half years, now all of a sudden two weeks before an election Ms. Schakron reads an audit report, says she doesn't know about numbers and then this becomes a big issue - please I am the mayor, I am running a campaign and I am also running a city. Do not waste my time for things which are not issues. I think there is a lot of other issues that we can be dealing with that the residents of Belize City really care about and we have been running this place in a very transparent way, so I don't understand that."
"When people bring these baseless allegations to us, it makes me rather upset, because we are running the city council in the exact opposite way. Man I know the city council that I inherited. I know why we brought in auditors. I know all the allegations, when you were talking about under deposits and this and that and whatever - I know the past and I know that I can assure members of the public that in this three years, this city council has turned around 180 degrees to a way where people have confidence in their municipality to deliver."
Several clarifications, first, the only case which Jose Coye's actions as a Minister was called into question at the Caribbean Court of Justice, was litigation brought by the Government of Belize against him and Florencio Marin, when he was a minister.
The Attorney General of Belize filed this claim against two former Ministers of government alleging that, during their respective terms of ministerial office, they arranged the transfer of 56 parcels of State land to a company beneficially owned and/or controlled by one of them. It is further alleged that the consideration paid by the purchasing company was almost $1 million below market value and that this transaction was undertaken deliberately, without lawful authority and in bad faith.
The CCJ agreed with the Attorney General, that these men should be sued to recover the losses, but when the case went back before Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin, the judge ruled that there was not enough evidence against the Ministers to allow the civil claim against them to go through.
Next, in relation to the audits, we've only seen the 2011-2012 report, and the 2013-2014 report either in documents provided to the media, or on the City Council's Website. The audit which was missing is the 2012-2013 audit.
Also, Schakron and the Opposition want the mayor to explain the amount of money that the council spent on social contributions. Our colleague from KREM News has made that inquiry, and we will ask the mayor for a breakdown of that expenditure also.
So, you heard that the mayor does not believe that Jose Coye can give a professional opinion which he can respect. But, what about the bankruptcy issue he raised? Well, the mayor says that it's a negative spin that is being used again for political mileage:
Darrell Bradley, Mayor - Belize City
"Be fair and be sensible. All governments run on debt. All governments are not profit entities, so that at the end of the day you won't have a bank account with millions of dollars in it. The great United States is in 4 trillion dollars' worth of debt. To say that the city council as a municipal entity depends on the central government for cash advances and for projects, is to say absolutely nothing. Chetumal, who is our sister city, they get 86% of their funding from the federal government in Mexico. Whenever I go to another municipality, I always ask, what is the relationship between the finances of the municipality and the central government? That is a fact and a reality for many municipalities throughout the region. The reality however, is that in Belize City, you have had a city council which over the past three years fought to make our city more autonomous. The municipal employees' regulations for example, creates a professional service of the municipality. The municipal bond, which we are already paying back has allowed us to extend 20 million dollars on projects. That something that was created by the municipality, implemented by the municipality and now we are paying back, because we've already paid back 7.5% of the bond, which is 1.5 million dollars. So again, we have that facility to rollover. You are creating systems that have a more autonomous municipality that can discharge more of its functions for the improvement of the quality of life in residence of Belize City. So, to say that we are dependent on the central government for finances, I would say that that belies the truth of the circumstances, but we do depend heavily on the central government like every other municipality in the world. So, for them to say that is just another red herring and it doesn't advance anything. Bring to me some argument. Bring to me some project. Bring to me some idea which you will say okay then, if I am elected mayor, this is what I want to do to immediately develop and advance Belize City. Don't attack the person who is there trying to work hard."
We'll show you more of the back and forth between the two, in which the Mayor asserts that he will win the municipals.