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#510299 - 01/01/16 04:58 AM Year in review 2015
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General Elections 2015
General Elections, were without a doubt, the most significant event of the year. In October, Prime Minister Dean Barrow called the elections only three years and eight months into the party’s second term, setting the date for November 4th, giving contending parties just 37 days to prepare. The United Democratic Party (UDP), People’s United People (PUP) and newly formed Belize Progressive Party (BPP) all geared up. Many viewed the move as a political tactic to capitalize on the PUP’s internal struggles and a successful one as Barrow and the UDP made history as the country’s first three-consecutive term Prime Minister and government, post-Independence.

At the height of the election season, the Elections and Boundaries Commission was implicated in a series of allegations. Chief Elections Officer, Josephine Tamia and UDP Chairman Alberto August, were accused by the PUP of mischievously manipulating proxy votes. The department also came under scrutiny for allegedly allowing UDP political leaders in the department at night. Tamai and August later refuted all allegations of wrong-doing. The Organization of American States (OAS) also made a pronounced presence during the elections with intent to observe the electoral process.

When it was all said and done, the UDP won 19 seats, and the PUP won 12. The BPP, an amalgamation of several independent parties, performed poorly at the polls with only two of its members getting more than 300 votes. The independent candidates also did not perform well.

Petro Caribe
The Venezuelan program which offers premium prices on fuel and financing to the government at one percent interest per annum over a 25-year-period became a household name. The matter was widely debated by all sectors of society in 2015. The opposition demonized GOB’s use of the funds, which included everything from infrastructural capital projects to Christmas cheer, family days and Orange Walk tacos.

Starting with the passing of a loan motion to retroactively approve GOB borrowing from the fund, the opposition, unions and private sector criticized the government for lack of transparency with the handling and spending of PetroCaribe money. GOB attempted to appease the critics by making amendments, however, the consensus was that the changes were only superficial.

The PUP mounted a legal challenge but subsequently withdrew the claim following the elections. GOB ultimately passed the PetroCaribe Loans Act and PetroCaribe Amendment Act. PetroCaribe has been used to help finance the nationalization settlements of Belize Electiricty Limited (BEL) and Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL). Financial Secretary Joseph Waight estimated that $48 million was left of the fund before the election; since then, with economic crisis in Venezuela and a political power shift, the controversial program seems likely to come to an end.

Sarstoon Island
The Guatemalan claim has been an issue in Belizean history since the inception of sovereign government. However, this year, the claim came to life with controversy over Sarstoon island. The small land mass in the Sarstoon river took centerstage as Belizean citizens stood their ground against Guatemalan naval officers, while OAS officials watched.

The controversy started brewing when 40 Belizeans were making their way back from the ‘Gracias a Dios’ monument and were detained for allegedly being in Guatemalan territory. They were held overnight in the Guatemalan island of Livingston and were released safely the following day but the incident was not soon forgotten. When Belizeans thought a confrontation with Guatemalan diplomats was imminent, Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington came under fire from critics who thought he took a soft stance on the issue. Amid growing public outcry several organizations, including the politcal parties and activist groups called for Elrington’s resignation. Subsequently, members of the Belize Territorial Volunteers, (BTV) and Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) made several trips to the island, even accompanied by Senator Lisa Showman on one occasion. The concerned citizens reported fishing exploits and illegal incursions into Belizean waters. Soon after, there was a demand for the government to build the forward operating base (FOB) on the island. In early December the government announced that the Belize Defense Force (BDF) would break ground to build the FOB. Construction for the base began on December 9th. Guatemalan President-elect Jimmy Morales also visited Belize just weeks after his comments about claiming Belizean territory and his motorcade was met with protest by members of the BTV and COLA.

De-risking banking
Bank ‘de-risking’ is a phenomenom that came to light in Belize this year after it started affecting domestic and offshore banks, not only in Belize but throughout the region. The Belize Bank was the first to feel the effects as Bank of America (BOA) cut corresponding ties with the institution, leaving many of its customers unable to wire money to the US.

The Prime Minister later met with officials from BOA who assured him that no other bank in Belize would have corresponding ties cut. Months later, however, Atlantic Bank International Limited (AIBL), an offshore banking service, also had its corresponding ties cut and there was much fear that other banks would be cut off, throwing the country’s banking sector into crisis. Leader of the opposition, Francis Fonseca, expressed concern over the situation emphasizing that it could capsize the Belizean economy.

There was also concern among banking insiders that the Central Bank had opened itself to risk by offering “nesting” services to affected institutions. The US Embassy in Belize even contacted the US Treasury Department to look into the situation. The affected banks have been able to secure other corresponding banking relations but a myriad of offshore-sector related scandals and appearances on multiple tax-haven blacklists throughout the year has put a black eye on the sector.

The PUP Saga
The “grand ole party”, the People’s United Party (PUP) endured a number of internal conflicts in 2015, the first of which followed its near blow-out at the municipal polls in March. One week after the devastating loss in those elections, the PUP called a meeting of its National Executive Council, standard bearers and other members to discuss another embarrassment that surfaced in a taped private conversation in which its former leader, John Briceno made incriminating allegations against top PUP henchmen and accused its leader, Francis Fonseca of not doing enough to pull the party together.The conversation revealed information between Briceno and a disgruntled PUP Orange Walk East supporter, who campaigned against Briceno’s favourite candidate, Josue Carballo in the replacement bid for Marco Tulio Mendez, charged for sexual assault-related offences.

“Francis has not been working to get the support of the people…so, right now, the party is in disarray…I had already spent $3 million out of pocket – something that Said nor Ralph nor George Price, nobody has done for this party…on top of that I made a loan of $1 million for the Town Council elections for 2009. Right now I have to donate $14,800 to the PUP every month for a loan they made. I am paying that, not Francis”, the Briceno recording revealed. Briceno went on to incriminate high ranking PUP officials of being involved in wrongdoing while the PUP was in power.

As if the recording was not bad enough, the PUP lost its Dangriga Area Representative, Ivan Ramos, who resigned from the party, forcing a by-election which the party lost to the UDP in July. This followed a previous defeat in another by-election in Cayo North in January, forced by the unexpected resignation of Joseph Mahmud, who had also become frustrated with his party.

Months of internal friction, mostly over what some thought was lackluster leadership by Francis Fonseca, eventually led to what was coined as a “G-11″ deviation, again bringing more embarrassment to what used to be Belize’s most powerful political force only a decade before. Eventually, the announcement was made that the PUP would hold a National Convention on January 31, 2016, at which time it would elect a new leader.

On Tuesday, December 15th, all who were interested to contest for leadership submitted their names and by the end of the day, at 5:00 p.m. three persons had entered the race for the position, while six are contesting for the post of deputy party leader. The three vying for leader are: Lake Independence Area Representative Cordel Hyde, former leader and Orange Walk Central Area Representative John Briceno, and recently departed leader and Freetown Area Representative Francis Fonseca.

Interestingly, Kareem Musa and Lisa Shoman – two other party heavyweights whose names were frequently called as likely prospects did not enter their names. Musa told the Reporter via text message that, “While I am very humbled by the support received, I felt that as a young representative I still have a lot to learn. I believe in the politics of earning your ‘stripes’. I have served my party and my people at many levels and at this time I feel that I could make the greatest impact as a deputy leader. That position has its own share of duties and responsibilities, but also affords me the opportunity to grow and the time to invest in my constituency.” And while he had been saying since the November 4th General Elections that he would not contest, some people were still anticipating a last-minute change of heart from Julius Espat. He kept his word, however, and did not enter the race. The six persons nominated, meanwhile, for Deputy Leader are: PUP Area Representatives for: Corozal South East, Florencio Marin Jr.; Orange Walk South, Jose Mai; Cayo South, Julius Espat; Toledo East, Mike Espat; Stann Creek West, Rodwell Ferguson; and Caribbean Shores, Kareem Musa.

Santa Cruz 13
Another event that sent shock waves throughout the country, in the middle of the year, was what has since been dubbed the ‘Santa Cruz 13’ episode. On June 20th the Maya Alcalde of Santa Cruz village Aram Canti, ordered the arrest of Rupert Myles, a creole Belizean, for alleged disorderly behavior and for illegally constructing a house on the Uxbenka Maya site. Myles, however, claimed that the Alcalde had racial motivations and had made rascist comments against his presence in the village. The images of Myles tied with ropes and handcuffed sparked controversy.

Prime Minister Barrow’s comments, stating that he would look into the matter carefully to see if there was any criminal liability has been claimed to have motivated the Punta Gorda police pre-dawn raid on the houses of the 12 Mayan leaders of the village involved in Myles’ arrest. The group was rounded up and charged with false imprisonment and assault.

Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA) spokesperson, Cristina Coc, was arrested later that day when she went to check on the accused, under charges of conspiracy to commit unlawful imprisonment. The accused we arraigned later that day before magistrate Emerson Banner who set bail at $10,000 for each person, which they were able to meet and were released. According to Coc, the alliance had sent various letters to the Institute of Archeological advising them of Myles’ trespassing on the Uxbenka site, to no avail. They also stated that they had given Myles notices of eviction from the site which he did not adhere to.

Right after the arrest, the Organization of American States (OAS) wrote to the government requesting information on the issue, especially to ensure the fair treatment of the imprisoned Maya Leaders.

At the hearing the court date was adjourned to July 28th. There were a series of successive adjournments until September 29th for the prosecution to gather evidence and another for October 27th. The case was dragging on and that was the fourth appearance the 13 Maya Leaders had at court. Upset villagers protested outside the court. Adjournment for November 18th was postponed once more to December 18th. When the prosecution finally presented its case, there was not enough evidence to sustain the charge of ‘False Imprisonment’, and it was subsequently dropped. The new court date to hear the charge of “Common Assault” was set for February 17th, 2016.

Other notable events
Other significant events of 2015 included Nestor Mendez’s appointment to the post of Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS). The first Belizean to be appointed to that high honor, Mendez, has had to deal with the resurgence of the Guatemala-Belize territorial claim, which, as an arbitrary body, Mendez claimed to treat with “utmost professionalism”.

The David Nanes Schnitzer fiasco was a significant blunder for Belize’s legal system. In November, Ponzi Scheme fraudster, Nanes Schnitzer was found living in San Pedro town where he resided for three years. After a quick court date, Nanes Schnitzer was given bail, against strong advice that he was at flight risk. Mexican authorities advised that Nanes Schnitzer be extradited to Mexico, where he was wanted for defrauding investors of more than seven billion dollars. What Mexican authorities feared, happened, under bail and minimal guard, Nanes Schnitzer absconded and his whereabouts are still unknown. The incident caused friction in the bilateral relations between Belize and Mexico, something that the Prime Minister would later express regret over.

As the year was drawing to an end, another tragic event occurred. The horrific deaths of three girls at the Youth Hostel, who burned alive in the dorm they lived in. The incident, which was caused by what Community and Rehabilitation Department Director, Starla Bradley called a breakdown in standard protocol and policy and resulted in three youth hostel officers being placed on administrative leave.The burnt bodies of the three young girls, were laid to rest amid an ongoing investigation.

Also, in early December, Belize received international praise from organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for it’s decision to ban offshore oil exploration.

The Reporter

News 5 - Top 10 Stories 2015

In case you missed our 2015 news recap, check out the hour long special - News 5 Live's Top 10 stories of 2015.

Year in Review 2015

2015 has been year jam packed with events that have shaped the country’s psyche, its understanding of itself, its appreciation of the journey we’ve travelled as a people, and history being made. It was a loaded election cycle with two bye-elections after PUP parliamentarians decided to leave the fold, a municipal election that served as a litmus test for the United Democratic Party administration of Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow, and a general election which saw more than 71,000 residents give their stamp of approval to Prime Minister Barrow’s policies of social development, infrastructural transformation, and ensuring equity, transparency, and democracy alive and well. It was also a year for citizens to get actively engaged in the charting of the course in which our nation will take going forward, expecting only the best from our leaders – and certainly from ourselves. The Guardian revisits some of the most important stories of 2015, an exciting election year, a year of the youth, and a year of citizen participation especially through social media.

The first major event of the year came with the United Democratic Party’s resounding victory in the Cayo North bye-election of January 5. The election came about after the resignation of the People’s United Party representative, Hon. Joseph Mahmud on December 10, 2014. The UDP got into an active campaign mode and rallied its troops from Corozal to Toledo in support of the candidate, Dr. Omar Figueroa, a leader expert in endangered species conservation, with a particular focus on the majestic jaguar. Staying true to its name, the Red Hills of Cayo not only solidified its support for Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow and the UDP’s policy of social transformation, but resoundingly elected their son, Dr. Figueroa to represent them on Independence Hill in Belmopan. After the final tally at 9:00 p.m. on January 5, Dr. Figueroa polled 2,662 compared to the PUP’s Richard Harrison’s 1,340. There were 61 rejected ballots for a total of 4,063 votes cast, reflecting a 62% voter turnout. Dr. Figueroa would be appointed a Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister. Hon. Dr. Figueroa cited land issues, infrastructure, education and sport as issues he would pay particular focus on.

Another important development in the month of January came when – after a lengthy impasse -- the key players of the sugar industry came together to hammer out a compromise. On January 14, The Belize Sugar Industries Ltd. announced that they have begun to sign commercial agreements for the delivery of cane with farmers who are not affiliated with the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA). Initially, at least two groups of farmers signed with BSI while the others including the United Cane Farmers Association headed by Wilfredo Magana signed up shortly after. Later on, all cane farmers signed agreements with BSI to officially get the crop going.

January also saw more evidence that the United Democratic Party was getting ready for general elections. It announced Dr. Carla Barnett as its standard bearer in the Freetown constituency, a seat the UDP has only won once in 1984. On January 21, the Party Leader and Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow called the announcement “a historic day” for the UDP. Dr. Barnett comes from a professional background having risen to great prominence both in Belize and in the Caribbean Community. In Belize, she has served as the Financial Secretary when the PUP administration was at its lowest having been recruited to reestablish credibility to that office. She was also once the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank among other prestigious offices. In the CARICOM region, she has held various positions most notably being the Deputy Secretary General of CARICOM as well as holding high office at the Caribbean Development Bank. Even though she was not successful in the elections later in the year, Dr. Barnett serves as the Vice President of the Senate as well the party’s caretaker in Freetown, vowing to return in the next general election cycle and continuing her work in the area.

Weeks after the signing of contracts with the various cane-producing groups, BSI announced that the crop season finally got underway. February 1 marked a full week operations; however, the crop was six weeks late even though there were efforts being made to get the crop started on December 15. That delay caused significant losses in production as experts reported that at least 1.477 million tons were in the fields and had they gotten the December start, more than 300,000 tonnes would have already been milled up this point. But with the shortened season, BSI anticipated that the farmers would have been able to mill 1.2 million tonnes, essentially wasting 247,000 tons of the sweet product.

Also in February, the nation saw the discussion continue to the hot-button topic: decriminalization of marijuana. Readers will remember than in July 2012, the Ministry of National Security appointed a committee, led by former Minister Douglas Singh, to examine the pros and cons of decriminalizing marijuana in Belize. The committee, after more than two years, submitted a comprehensive report to Cabinet on their recommendations. This remains an important part of discussion on the regional level as many countries in North, Central, South America and the Caribbean have either enacted (in part) legislation of decriminalizing or legalizing the substance or are continuing the discussion taking into account the social, legal, and political ramifications or benefits (depending on whom you ask) of these measures. Belize’s approach has been to generally take its time for the issue and discussion to evolve over time. 

In February, the calls for the then area representative for Orange Walk East, Hon. Dr. Marco Tulio Mendez to resign were coming from within his People’s United Party and without. While he would announce that he would not seek reelection, the Doctor was under scrutiny after allegations mounted that he engaged in sexual misconduct with at least two minors. The two girls had filed their reports with the Police and Social Services Departments and an active investigation was opened. Dr. Mendez would end up completing his three-year term when the House of Representatives was dissolved into the run-up of the 2015 general elections. He has been making court appearances, but as the year comes to an end, no decision has come from the court on his fate. He met a $5,000 bail at his arraignment on charges he sexually assaulted the two girls – now in their late teens -- in 2005 when they were all of 7 and 8 years old. We will monitor the developments going into 2016.

Dr. Mendez was not the only PUP politician from Orange Walk going to court in February. Hon. John Briceño, the former Deputy Prime Minister and longstanding area representative for Orange Walk Central would also appear in Magistrate’s Court on charges of running over the foot of the current Deputy Prime Minister’s driver, footballer, Christopher Hendricks. The driver alleges that Briceño ran over his foot as he was driving unto the compound of the Belize High School of Agriculture in Trinidad Village, Orange Walk. Briceño appeared on charges of driving without due care and attention, failing to report an accident, and harm. A final decision on this matter has also not been forthcoming.  

What would 2015 be had it not been for four exciting election cycles? Indeed, these cycles proved most successful for the United Democratic Party and the choice was clear from the jump. After the party nominated all nine mayoral and 58 town and city council candidates on February 11, it was sure that given the policies of the central government and the commitments of the transformation of the municipalities, the UDP felt confident in its team of 67 in the two cities and seven towns going into the elections held on March 4. Thousands of people in the nine municipalities rallied behind the Red Machine on Nomination Day.

At the end of February, the nation witnessed another important promise by the UDP come to fruition: 2015 being the year of technology with the distribution of tablets for each of the students who attend a junior college or university in Belize. In his New Year’s Day address, Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow made the important announcement and it translated to the Government’s purchasing over nine thousand tablets from the ASUS parent company in Taiwan for distribution to junior college students in an effort to “bridge the digital divide”.  On February 24. Minister of Education, Hon. Patrick Faber, handed out the devices to some very appreciative students beginning at the University of Belize Campus in Belmopan.

Feeding from the energy of a vibrant electorate in those rallies to nomination, the United Democratic Party secured convincing victories in the vast majority of the municipalities. On March 4, the residents in the towns and cities voted for transformation to continue when it elected 62 UDP municipal leaders. The party captured clean sweeps in Corozal, led by Hilberto Campos; in Belize City led by Darrell Bradley; in Belmopan led by Khalid Belisle; in San Pedro led by Daniel Guerrero; in San Ignacio-Santa Elena by Earl Trapp; in Benque Viejo del Carmen by Heraldo Ramcharan, Jr.; in Dangriga by H. Francis Humphreys; and in Punta Gorda by Fern Gutierrez. In Orange Walk, however, there was a mixed council, led by the PUP, but featured Shantel Casimiro and Luigi Gomez as candidates for the UDP. Of the 105,634 registered electors in this election, 60,533 or 57% participated.

The PUP by this time had already lost two major elections: the bye-election in Cayo North and the municipal elections indicating a serious problem with electability and the party’s aptitude to garner any serious support of the electorate. It was painfully obvious that Hon. Francis Fonseca was having trouble drumming up resources and drafting a serious agenda to attract voters. However, another nail in the party’s coffin came when a damning audio recording of immediate past leader, Hon. John Briceño discussing the slipshod job of the People’s United Party government under which he was Deputy Prime Minister.  Apparently in his bid to secure a victory for the PUP in Orange Walk, Briceño approached and had a meeting with PUP stalwart in Orange Walk East, Julian Chell. What he did not know is that the one he considered his friend was actually his worst enemy.  And so it was that after an hour and five minutes of talking, Briceño, laid bare in gory detail what the public already knew, the PUP during their maladministration sacked the coffers of the government without a shred of regard.Briceño went as far as saying “That cancer that came and stole millions and millions and millions and millions and millions of dollars from the people.  I’m not talking about a little bit of money…millions, tens of millions of dollars they stole, that had this been another country they would have been in jail right now…”Party Leader Fonseca’s position was that it was an internal party matter. It would turn out to a most dreadful political season for the PUP later in the year.

March would also see an important addition to the UDP general team of 31: Tracy Taegar-Panton. The former Director of the Belize Tourism Board and former Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Tourism, Civil Aviation, and Culture, would decide to run in the Albert Constituency. She was endorsed as the party’s candidate by the Party Leader, Hon. Dean Barrow, and most importantly by the two men who originally wanted to seek the position: Hon. Herman Longsworth, the sitting area representative and Minister of State at the time and Belize City Councilman, Philip Willoughby on March 25. She would be one of four women featured in the general election lineup later in the year along with Dr. Carla Barnett, Beverly Castillo, and Guadalupe Magaña-Dyck.

April started with continued PUP opposition to the use of the Petro-Caribe funding from Venezuela. The charge was led by Hon. Julius Espat, the area representative for Cayo South, who mounted a legal challenge in Supreme Court. However, as we pointed out in our April 5 edition, Espat’s duplicity would come to fore after he would first dump on the program and then say he would participate in the Government’s offer. Meanwhile, Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow proceeded with passing legislation which is specifically designed to address the nuances that present themselves through the Petro Caribe initiative. The legislation specifically allows for the program to continue as it is currently operating where the proceeds of the program can be converted into a loan without it having to go to the National Assembly. As the PUP jumped high and low to condemn the legislation, PM Barrow pointed out that in fact what was being done is in complete consonance with the Constitution of Belize. Prime Minister Barrow would later introduce an amendment to the Petro-Caribe Loan Act that will specify the usage of the funds and make requirements for quarterly reports of acquisition and spending of Petro-Caribe funds.

April also featured the most important event on the sporting calendar: the Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycle Classic. April 4 saw 107 riders leave the starting line from in front of Leslie’s Imports on the George Price Highway at 6:00 a.m. sharp.After5 hours, 54 minutes, 39 seconds, Belizean-American, Justin Williams crossed the finish line, just seconds before American, Scottie Weisse.Shortly after Williams and Weisse crossed the finish line, Belizean David Henderson managed to hang on and come in third. Fourth place was Mexican Yahir Jimenez Godinez, and Justin’s brother, Corey, placed 5th in the race. He declared to the press that the objective had been achieved; he rode the race as hard as he did so that Justin Williams could conserve energy for a sprint to the tape. Sixth to tenth were as follows: Byron Pope, Christopher Harkey, Manuel Rodas, Jose Choto, and Jose Robles Lopez. Tenth to 15th were as follows: Rashawn Bahati, Hector Rangel, Bill Elliston, who won the race in 2005, John Delong, and Luis Alberto Avila Balam. Rounding out the top 20 were Leroy Cassasola, Tarique Flowers, Richard Santiago, Shane Vasquez, who won the race in 2006, and Guy East. 2013’s winner, Darnell Barrow was just out of the top 20 placing 22nd. 

The heated public discourse on Petro-Caribe continued, but it also served as an opportunity to highlight the Government’s proper handling of this low-cost funding. For example, the National Bank of Belize highlighted that many public officers have benefited from loans, which attract the lowest interest rates than any other bank in the country. Funding in the bank came from the Petro-Caribe initiative. The National Bank was originally capitalized with 20 million dollars from Petro Caribe and later 10 million dollars was infused to ensure, that most of all, public officers and teachers are able to access finances to make their lives better.  Up to April, 708 public officers have received loans from the bank. Of these, 196 were for house construction, 87 were refinancing, 30 were for vehicles and 395 were personal loans. These amount to a value of $12,624,085.39. 134 Teachers have also received loans from the bank, of these 34 were for housing, 17 were refinancing, 2 for vehicles, and 81 personal loans amounting to $4,293,148.65.

Up this point, 842 individuals have directly benefitted from the Petro Caribe financed National Bank and there are 333 members of the general public who have also received loans, in addition to 17 small businesses, bringing the grand total to 1,192. That has dramatically increased since then.

Also in April, the nation would witness the affirmation of Maya land rights. On April 18 and 20, Justices Sir Charles Michael Dennis Byron, the CCJ President; along with Justices Rolston Nelson, Adrian Saunders, Jacob Wit, David Hayton, Winston Anderson and Rajnauth-Lee came into the country to hear arguments in the Maya communal land rights case, but before they were able to proceed, the Government of Belize conceded that those rights out to be protected instead of going through a protracted hearing. On April 22, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin heard the outstanding issue of compensation. Government’s attorney SC Denys Barrow explained that in his view that “the fact of their [The Mayas] physical occupation over the period that they have been there [in Toledo] would entitle them in the same way how in a different part of the country if someone has been living there, in Government land for 30 years that they have…‘squatters’ rights.’” Meanwhile, the Government had undertaken to consult with the Maya on the process under which those rights would be established, an undertaking that the Caribbean Court of Justice accepted. The CCJ set April 30, 2016 for the parties to report back to them on the progress of the implementation of the Customary Land Rights System.

2015 was certainly a year where politics heated up, particularly by the PUP after their latest ploy to sue the Government of Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow and force the administration to enact the legislation which allows for a 13th Senator. That senator would be chosen by the non-governmental organizations, and would result in taking away the Government’s majority in the Senate. In turn, that would mean that the Opposition, with the support of the new 13th Senator and others, would be able to frustrate Government’s legislative agenda and delay or completely derail (even urgent) Bills. The Government saw this claim as another desperate attempt by a political party that has been repeatedly and roundly rejected at the polls to thwart the will of the people and try to gain power other than by way of the ballot. Spectacularly unsuccessful in elections, the PUP is seeking redemption through flimsy legal maneuvers and empty posturing. Government points out that a similar claim was brought before by COLA back in 2010. The Judge dismissed the case in its entirety reaffirming that the Prime Minister has wide discretion, when given that authority by Parliament as in this case, in deciding when to bring legislation into force. Section 23 of the Act the PUP is now litigating clearly states: “This Act shall come into force on a day to be appointed by the Prime Minister by order published in the Gazette.”

The month of May saw the death of Belize City’s last PUP Mayor, David Fonseca.

City residents and those who knew former mayor of Belize City, David Fonseca, were taken by surprise when news went out that he had committed suicide. Fonseca was found dead at his mother’s house, in the unoccupied upper flat on Stuart’s Alley. He had shot himself to the head with a 9 millimeter pistol, which was found in his hand. His body was found in the bathroom and reports are that Fonseca had shot himself sometime around 2:30 p.m., a day shy of his birthday. Fonseca was 60 years old. Fonseca served the Belize City council as councilor and mayor for 16 years up to 2006.

In sports, history was made when the first Belizean-born footballer was drafted to the NFL. Rakeem Nunez-Roches, who is from Southern Mississippi University was the 217th overall pick in the 2015 Draft but the first ever Belizean born player in the league. According to NFL scouts and draft experts, Nunez-Roches is a “Fireplug with a good motor and an ability to find gaps and drive upfield through them. He’s missing the size and brute strength necessary to consistently handle himself in a phone-booth battle, so he will have to play in a one-gap, upfield defense. He has the look of a penetrating nose who will have to start his career as a backup.” He is six feet, two inches tall and weighs slightly over 300 pounds. At the combine he ran a 5.02 seconds in the 40 yard dash, jumped 34 inches for the verticals and completed 26 reps for the bench press. Nunez-Roches will now compete to make the roster out of training camp. This opportunity is more than thousands of aspiring players get.
Nunez-Roches was born in Dangriga, Stann Creek District in 1993 and left Belize with his family when he was eight.

Also in May, Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow would meet with the trade unions on the Petro-Caribe issue. The PM has maintained during that process that the Petro-Caribe initiative was “a strange creature” and it did not quite fit within the confines of the Finance and Audit Act. Even in the face of the harsh criticism, the Prime Minister has maintained that it is not his government’s intention to use the low-cost funding as a piggy bank with untrammeled access; on the contrary, the Petro Caribe Act came into force to ensure that that does not happen. The Union leaders spoke candidly to the Prime Minister about their concerns and he managed to quell those concerns in not having them being part of the discourse, but for them to offer suggestions to improve on it.

In May, there was yet another shake-up in the PUP line up making room for another bye-election, this time in Dangriga. Hon. Ivan Ramos, after he accepted the Government’s offer of $25,000 to run his Mother’s Day/Father’s Day program from Petro-Caribe, the PUP effectively sought to push him out, forcing him to resign. Attacks against Ramos came from many people from within his own party, including the party’s Deputy Leader, Hon. Julius Espat, a fierce critic of the Petro-Caribe initiative and one who sought to be refunded for Christmas cheer from out of the same Petro coffers. Ramos would officially resign in early June, making way for the Dangriga bye-election a month later.

At the half way point of the year saw Mayor Darrell Bradley roll out an important initiative for the many employees at City Hall: a land program. Employees of the Belize City Council who have been employed with the city for three or more years will be the owners of land courtesy their employer. Mayor Darrell Bradley says that for the past two years he has been working on securing land for employees of the council and by next week he will have 209 parcels of land which will be distributed to employees of the council.According to Bradley the parcels measure 80 X 100 feet and are located at mile 14 on the George Price Highway in an area known as Tropical Park outside of Hattieville Village. For the sake of fairness, the parcels will be distributed to employees based on a lottery system to those employees who have had 3 or more years working at the Belize City Council.

After the writ of election was issued on June 8, it set the stage for the political return of Dangriga’s beloved, Frank “Papa” Mena, who served as the municipality’s mayor from 2006-2009. Even before there was even a thought a bye-election would take place, Mena has been very active in the constituency since he was elected as Standard Bearer for Dangriga on January 26, 2014. He has been the prime mover of the development that has been taking place in Dangriga and even before this he was one of the best Mayors that the municipality had seen. He held that position from 2006 to 2009. A charismatic and people-oriented leader Frank Mena was considered a sure victory for the UDP. Prior to politics, Mena served as an educator at Stann Creek Ecumenical and hosted a very popular national radio program on Krem Radio for many years.

Another major announcement by the Government of Belize came in June: salaries for police officers, teachers, and public officers will be increased by 8%. This comes when many governments in CARICOM were freezing salary increments and laying off public officers. The June announcement marked the second year in a row that teachers, public officers, and police officers would get an increase. In fiscal year 2014/2015, the Government spent $368 million for personal emoluments and $60 million for pensions. That includes almost $30 million for a six percent salary increase. The increases are based on a formula established in a Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Government of Belize and the unions (Public Service Union, Belize National Teachers Union and the Association of Public Service Senior Managers). Under the Framework Agreement between the negotiating teams of the Government and the unions signed in February of 2014, one half of the increase in actual recurrent revenue from one year to the next (in a three year span) will be allocated to salary increases for public officers and teachers. Based on this formula, $29 million was allocated to salary increases in 2014 and now $38 million this year. Prime Minister Barrow maintains, “Despite our disagreements with some of the Union Leaders, we tremendously value both our Public Officers and Teachers. We believe in them, we treasure them and we consider it our special obligation to properly reward them.”

The Guardian

#510669 - 01/14/16 03:21 PM Re: Year in review 2015 [Re: Marty]
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Year in Review 2015 Pt 2


In July, the Government had indicated that it would continue to tap into the resources afforded by the Petro-Caribe initiative to fund a number of infrastructure projects.

The Prime Minister of Belize, Hon. Dean Barrow led the charge in the sitting of the House of Representatives on June 26 to put away, once and for all, the conundrum stemming from Petro-Caribe. Readers will remember that The Finance and Audit Act requires that the Government take a motion to the House for approval of any loan that is more than $10 million. However, taking a request for Petro-Caribe financing to the House is a complicated matter. The Government cannot know how much will be received as the finance portion of sales until the shipment has already been purchased. If the world oil price is less than US$40 per barrel, Belize has to pay 75 percent of the cost (referred to as the ‘Cash Portion’) within 90 days of importation. The other 25 percent is referred to as the ‘Financed Portion’ and is to be paid over a period of 15 years at an interest rate of two percent with a two year grace period. If the world oil price is over US$40 per barrel the interest rate on the Financed Portion falls to one percent and is payable over a period of 25 years with a two year grace period. The higher the world oil price the greater the Financed Portion. At US$40 per barrel the Financed Portion is 30 percent; at US$50 per barrel it is 40 percent; at US$80 it is 50 percent; at US$100 it is 60 percent; and above US$150 the Financed Portion is 70 percent.

After a painstaking debate process by both the House and Senate, the law now says that: “The money borrowed from APBEL may be used to finance capital projects, provide social and community assistance to the poor, socially marginalized and other sectors of the community, pay compensation relating to government’s nationalization of BEL and BTL, assist with commercial and super bond debt buy back and for any other similar legitimate purposes.” A Subsection has also been inserted to require quarterly reporting which reads: “It is hereby provided that all money borrowed from APBEL shall be reported to the national assembly quarterly and shall require the passage of a retrospective supplementary allocation for any spending done in the reporting quarter that was not provided for in the annual estimates of revenue and expenditure.”

The Petro-Caribe Loan (Amendment) Act was passed by the House of Representatives on Friday, June 26, and the Senate on Wednesday, July 1. The act was also supported by Senator Father Noel Leslie on behalf of the Churches of Belize.

Also in July, the nation saw a decisive defeat of the People’s United Party by the UDP in yet another election. Remember, Hon. Ivan Ramos, elected in 2012 as the PUP’s area representative for Dangriga, had resigned citing differences with the party’s leadership and the fact that he accessed Petro-Caribe funding for his Mother’s and Father’s Day cheer to constituents. Ramos stepped aside allowing for a race between former educators, Frank “Papa” Mena for the UDP and Anthony Sabal for the PUP. Papa delivered! Not only did Papa win, he extended the UDP’s parliamentary majority to 19 following the January election of Hon. Dr. Omar Figueroa.

The by-election was held on Wednesday, July 8. Mena secured 2,164 votes against his opponents Anthony Sabal, who received 1,526 and a third party candidate, Llewellyn Lucas who received a mere 14 votes. 31 ballots were rejected. The total number of registered voters in the constituency is 6,275 making the voter turnout 59.52%. It was a significant victory for Mena and so too for the United Democratic Party which has been pushing an agenda of development over the past couple of years.

The UDP’s promise to Dangriga, Sarawee and Hope Creek was more development for the constituency via the Petro Caribe program. Even before being elected, Mena had successfully lobbied Central Government for resources that are currently seeing major infrastructural development across the constituency. His ascension now to the National Assembly will now guarantee that even more will come to Dangriga.

Despite the large margin of victory, the election was one that Mena and the UDP worked arduously for throughout the course of the campaign and culminated on Election Day. From early on, the PUP came out in large numbers bussing in hundreds of non-voters from constituencies across the country into Dangriga. These individuals turned rabble rousers throughout the day, taunting UDP officials and campaign workers even causing a couple altercations in which at least one turned to be physical. Despite the PUP’s efforts to distract the UDP officials and the election machinery, they failed miserably.

While the UDP diligently went into homes to bring out the voters, the PUP sideliners jeered, after all there was nothing more they could do. In the end the numbers proved that hard work pays off and despite all the PUP’s rhetoric, it did not make a difference in the minds of the voters who came out and gave the UDP once again their vote of confidence.

While many focused on the electoral politics in the south, the cane farmers in the north, having been beset by problems for the first half of the year, they began to see the light at the end of the dark tunnel. We reported that despite a decrease in sugarcane deliveries to the factory this year there will be a record set in production of sugar, so the long delay to the start of the crop did not have an adverse effect on the Belize Sugar Industry Limited one bit. On the contrary, with so many farmers unable to put even a dent in their quotas, the delay could have serious consequences to small farmers. Fortunately, Hon. Gaspar Vega, Minister of Agriculture, has stepped one foot into the gates of the factory and urged them to keep accepting sugarcane for at least five more days. Even though the farmers 49 days due to the now alliteratively infamous Matura mandamus misadventure, BSI produced more than 130,000 metric tons of sugar, a 35 percent increase on 2014. With the extension granted by the Ministry of Agriculture, a total of 1.175 Million tons of cane were ground by the time the factory closed. The total tonnage of sugar produced is expected to be at least 17.5 percent above last year’s 120,000 tons, with an anticipated 141,000 tons of sugar produced this year.

And with the UDP’s third consecutive victory in elections since the start of the year, the People’s United Party continued to lose momentum. Following the July 8 loss in Dangriga, the PUP’s national campaign manager, Godfrey P. Smith, resigned his post seen as an indictment on the leadership of Francis Fonseca. Because of the prominent role that he had taken on, many had speculated that he would have eventually been the one to take up the leadership of the party. But like his party leader, poor decisions are all he was able to make . In fact, he was considered one of the chief architects behind Ivan Ramos’s resignation from the House of Representatives. He was the one who point blank told Ramos that he was not a viable candidate for the PUP for the next general elections and as such, even if he intended to run again, he would not receive any financial support from Smith, who was to have been the one who controlled the PUP’s purse strings. It was yet another political disaster for the PUP.

On the diplomatic front, Belize’s Ambassador Nestor Mendez also took office as the new Assistant Secretary General of the institution, in a ceremony attended by the Minister of Foreign Relations of Belize, Wilfred Elrington.The Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro, congratulated the new Assistant Secretary General and said “I have nothing short of great expectations for our work together.” The OAS leader added “there are exciting times ahead and our task is one borne of the trust that has been placed in our hands.” For his part, Mendez reiterated his commitment to work closely with Secretary General Almagro in the process of modernization of the institution. “We must find ways to overcome our challenges and create the enabling environment for economic and social prosperity by identifying new areas of cooperation, creative financing mechanisms, and maximizing the catalytic potential of the OAS.” Ambassador Mendez was elected OAS Assistant Secretary General for the 2015-2020 period on March 18 with 24 of the 34 votes cast. Nestor Mendez served as Ambassador of Belize to the OAS and to the Government of the United States since June 2008. He was an advisor to the Belize High Commission in London from 1997 to 1999 and holds a postgraduate title from George Washington in International Affairs.


Following the announcement that the sugar industry was extended for five days and it translated to opportunities for farmers to deliver, the crop produced dividends for them.

In a release from BSIL/ASR the company noted that a total of 139,654 tons of sugar was produced by the factory this year. Of this 139,654 tons was exported to the European Union, the U.S. market took in 11,902 tons and the rest is destined for either local consumption or other smaller markets. According to the release the revised price per ton of sugar stands at an average of $70.45 which is a new record for payment to the cane farmers.

The sugar cane delivery payment is done in three portions with the first payment done on delivery, the second payment at the end of the season and a third just before the start of the next crop. This year the first payment was $42.84 per ton of sugar cane delivered. The second payment, depending on the branch will earn farmers between $18.55 per to $23.41 per ton.

With the price per ton of sugar cane at $70.45 this year it is far above what was received in 2014 which was $67.52 and more so for 2013 which was at around $63.00. The second payment to cane farmers will be made next week Wednesday and it will mean somewhere in the region of 25 million dollars which went into the hands of farmers at that time.

This year, the best performing group was from the Progressive Sugar Cane Producers Association in Patchakan, Louisville, San Lazaro and San Estevan. The worst performing group was from the BSCFA’s Libertad, San Victor and Patchakan. On the crime front, police had to investigate one of the year’s most daring crimes: the bank heist at First Caribbean International Bank in San Cas Plaza, Belize City. Five people were arraigned in early August in connection with the incident that happened on July 31.

It was a pay day and the bank was crowded with patrons when the culprits moved in.

The armed security guard was held at gunpoint and dragged inside the bank. Everyone present was instructed to get on the ground, and the security was searched for any service weapons that he might have had on his person. When the men were satisfied, they jumped over the counter and helped themselves to just over $52,000 of the bank’s money, and they fled the scene in a waiting mobile. Thanks to the bank’s surveillance cameras, they were able to catch the party of five: 22-year-old Patrick Jones, 33-year-old; Jermaine Belgrave, 30-year-old; Jareth Crawford, 24-year-old; Emmerson Skyers, and 32 year-old Erwin Castillo who were jointly charged for the crime of conspiracy to commit robbery.Everyone except Castillo was also jointly charged with the crime of robbery. They were arraigned before Magistrate Deborah Rogers, where they pleaded not guilty to all the charges, but due to the nature of the offence, they couldn’t be granted any bail. They were remanded to the Belize Central Prison. Of important note is that this same bank was robbed in March of 2012. In that instance, armed thieves got away with 230 thousand dollars. The officers who responded, ended up shooting and killing one of the alleged robbers. That led to most of the money being retrieved.

In the most recent robbery, Jermaine Belgrave, the man believed to be the mastermind, was released a few months prior after he had been acquitted of murder. And while the authorities’ hands are always full in handing criminal activity, the Ministry of National Security’s crime-fighting arsenal received a significant boost. Thanks to partnership of the Government of Belize and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), $30 million US was granted to tackle this social problem.

A portion of this loan went toward the repair and construction of 100 buildings for the Belize Police Department. This is a much needed relief for public officers who have to endure sub-standard working conditions.A new forensic laboratory will also be constructed using money from this loan. For the Belize Defense Force, the National Security Ministry will be acquiring troop lifting vehicles to replace the aging four-tonne trucks that the military now has. For the Coast Guard, 2 patrol crafts will be purchased so that they can have increased capacity to patrol the exclusive economic zones.

The vision for the proceeds of this loan from CABEI is that the National Security Ministry will get a vital infusion of activity to encourage the hardworking, soldiers, police officers, coast guard officers, and other public officers working in the ministry to put on a higher level of performance while performing their duties for the country.

Of course, one of the major challenges that still besets the country is the 150-year-old territorial dispute with Guatemala. The Belize Defense Force, the Belize Coast Guard, and other bodies had to step up the ante in fighting the incessant border incursions by Guatemalans. The Government of Belize sent “an extremely strong protest note” to the Government of Guatemala on Wednesday August 19, for the actions of its navy on the Belize side of the Sarstoon River on Sunday, August 16.

Guatemalan naval boats intercepted five civilian vessels that were transporting Belizeans to the Sarstoon Island on a Sunday expedition. Based on accounts from the passengers on the boat, which included members of the group known as the Belize Territorial Volunteers and members of the media, the interception occurred “squarely in Belizean territory”. These testimonies were supported by the report of Magdalena Talamas, Chief of the O.A.S. Peace Fund, who observed the Belizean excursion. Talamas reports that the interception took place at “the mouth of the Sarstoon River”. Prime Minister Barrow said, “It is my belief that what the OAS describes as the mouth of the Sarstoon River, is clearly in Belizean waters, and that the Guatemalan Navy committed an incursion when they intercepted our boats at that spot.” Readers will remember that the Belize Territorial Volunteers were warned not to enter the area, but against sound diplomatic and military advice, they went ahead with their planned excursion, which failed to see a clear purpose.

In the note, the Prime Minister wrote to the Guatemalans telling their actions are unacceptable:

“We are sovereign over our half of the Sarstoon River. We say this; we mean this; we will never change this. And as it is with the Sarstoon, so it is with all of Belize: this territory is ours, the entire 8,867 square miles of it. And our sovereignty over our country, which not only our military but ultimately all of us are prepared to defend to the death, is unalterable, unshakable, (and) immovable.” – Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister.

Also in August, shareholders of the Belize Water Services Limited received a 5 percent return on their investment this year as Alberto August, Chairman of BWSL, has announced that dividend to minority shareholders will be paid out at a rate of 7.5 cents per share. This rate of return is greater than is available at the commercial banks in the country and has been made possible due to Government’s decision to forgo collection of its share on the agreement that it be paid out to minority shareholders.

As Shane Williams reported, the handsome dividend share was not the only good news shareholders received at the company’s Annual General Meeting on Friday, August 21, at the Biltmore. August pointed out that there is “a significant improvement” in the company’s key performance indicators: Water Coverage, Non-Revenue Water, Staff Efficiency, Collection Efficiency, Working Ratio and Profitability.The highlight of the year under review is the roll out of the Belize River Valley water expansion project. At the last AGM the project was in the design stage. On Friday, Chairman August was able to report that “most of the nine Belize River Valley villages were connected by March 2015 and in June 2015 the project was completed and officially inaugurated.” Due to this new outlet and expansions in other parts of the country, BWSL now has 2,044 new customers countrywide and a total of 53,477 connections at end of March 2015, an increase of 4 percent in its customer base. These connections service over 260,000 people. There was a 14 percent increase in revenue over the last year. This was supported by 6.9 percent increase in tariff since April 1, 2014, and the 4 percent increase in customer base. In dollar figure that amounts to $39.821 million this year in comparison to $34.923 million last year. According to the figures, after meeting its recurrent liabilities, capital expenditure and loan commitments, the company realized a profit of $6.765 million this year. This is an increase of $3.804 million over the profit of $2.961 million last year.


At the start of September, the nation witnessed another important development in the nation’s history: a final settlement on the nationalization of Belize Electricity Limited (BEL).

Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow announced to the nation that the debt to the former owners of Belize Electricity Limited, Fortis, was settled. He noted that as a result of a change in presidency at the company, with Barry Perry taking over from Stan Marshal, the former president, the process of negotiations went rather smoothly. That process started in July and one month later it was complete.

Under the settlement, GOB is to pay Fortis 70 million dollars with the company also getting a 33 and 1/3 percent shareholding in BEL. In effect, the government which once held a 70% shareholding in BEL after nationalization will now own a 37% shareholding in the company that along with a 26% holding by the Social Security Board ensures that the Government and people of Belize maintain a majority ownership in the utility company. With the new shareholding spread, BEL will be entitled to three directors to the board. These persons will include Fortis’ Earl Ludlow, former CEO of BEL, Lynn Young and former president of the Chamber of Commerce, Kay Menzies.

As part of the settlement there is a sell back option where after four years or earlier, Fortis can serve notice that it wishes to sell back to the Government of Belize who would immediately do so but will have two years to pay for the value of the shares at the time of buyback. After the announcement, the National Assembly met during which the bill to approve the 70 million dollar purchase went through its three readings. The bill saw passage through both houses of the legislature and payment was made the following Tuesday. Asked if the country is able to afford payment, the Prime Minister was none too modest to state that the Government currently boasts a one billion dollar reserve from where the finances will be drawn down for the payment. It is noteworthy that in recent memory this is the largest accumulation that the foreign reserve has been at.

Shortly after the BEL settlement, the BTL settlement came. On September 14, the government announced that it had come to a settlement in the BTL matter putting to an end 6 years of litigation over the price for the company. In making the announcement, Prime Minister Dean Barrow explained that the negotiations were completed after two meetings with Michael Ashcroft in May and August of this year and thereafter correspondences via e-mail.

The negotiations culminated with government agreeing to a payment of 162.7 million Belize dollars to be paid to British Caribbean Bank (BCB) and the former owners of BTL.

When government nationalized BTL it assumed a 22.5 million dollar loan which BCB had given to BTL but even as it did so BTL’s new management maintained that the loan was illegal. That led BCB to initiate arbitration under a 1982 Bilateral Investment Treaty between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of Belize for the promotion and protection of investments. On December 19, 2014 the Arbitral Tribunal ruled in favor of the Bank and ordered the Government to pay compensation. As part of the settlement, the Government agreed to pay the Bank US$48,544,927.78 representing compensation, including costs, expenses and interest on the original 22.5 million dollar loan. Additionally government will be paying Dunkeld International Investment Limited which had shareholdings in BTL through various companies and the BTL Employees Trust which had shareholdings through its company Sunshine Holding Limited. Dunkeld held 71.2 percent shareholding while Sunshine held a 23 percent shareholding. Dunkeld will receive partial payment at the rate of US$0.72 per share for 34,107,117 shares totaling US$24,557,124.24 million; and another partial payment to the Trustees of the BTL Employees Trust also at US$0.72 per share for 11,092,844 shares totaling US$7,986,847.68. These payments are in line with a valuation done by NERA Economic Consulting.

In explaining the payment sources the Prime Minister said that BTL that will be making the U.S. 48 million dollar or 97.4 million Belize dollar payment with the government first fronting it and BTL acknowledging that it is their debt. He said that the government will issue treasury notes to the tune of 48.5 million dollars. BTL will come up with 10 million in cash, an additional 15 million dollars will be gotten from BTL dividend payments which had been frozen by the CCJ. 19 million dollars will come from Petro Caribe and 4 million dollars will be had from the money which was secured from the sale of BTL shares after nationalization.

Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow also made another important announcement in September: public officers will get another salary increase. Under the Framework Agreement between the negotiating teams of Government and the unions (Public Service Union, Belize National Teachers Union and the Association of Public Service Senior Managers) signed in February of 2014, one half of the increase in actual recurrent revenue from one year to the next (in a three year span) will be allocated to salary increases for public officers and teachers. Based on this formula, $29 million was allocated to salary increases for fiscal year 2014/2015 and $38 million for 2015/2016. In fiscal year 2014/2015, the Government spent $368 million for personal emoluments and $60 million for pensions. Therefore, the $38 million represented an almost 9 percent salary increase for public officers. The third increase reflected in their first payday of July and it will be retroactive to April 1. These salary increases are in addition to the annual cost of living adjustment, known as the “merit based increment”, given to over 95 percent of teachers and public officers each year at two to three percent of their salary.

It was also good news in September when the Prime Minister also made two very important announcements: first, the debt-write off of hospital bills and employees of the hospital will get a salary increase. Prime Minister Barrow announced that Government will find the funds to provide KHMH employees with the salary increase that was agreed with the KHMH Board and the Cabinet sub-committee; however, “as a matter of principle, GOB does not want simply to hand over the monies for the salary increase as a gift. We will therefore treat it as a buyout of the debt owed by consumers, by the Belizean public, to the KHMH.” He went on to say that in order for Belizeans across the jewel to feel the benefit of the debt forgiveness, “we will also forgive all monies currently owing by patients to all Government hospitals throughout the country.”

The debt being forgiven are those that have been accumulated up to the beginning of 2015. As of year-end 2014, revealed Prime Minister Barrow, the total in unpaid bills at the KHMH amounted to around nine million dollars and the total at Government hospitals throughout the rest of the country amounted to just over two million.

The second major announcement made in September is that the date for the general elections have been set. On September 28, Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow announced to the nation that the 2015 General elections were slated for November 4, with Nomination Day on October 16.


Speaking of pay increases, the month of October also saw employees at Belize Electricity Limited getting theirs as well. BEL workers will be getting their salary increase following the intervention of Prime Minister Dean Barrow. The workers have been in negotiations for a salary increment from in May of this year. The negotiations came to a deadlock on September 29 with the Belize Energy Workers union threatening industrial action. But in true leadership fashion the Prime Minister intervened and held discussions with the union after which a memorandum was signed in early October.

In essence the company will pay the employees a 1.75% increase yearly across the board retroactive to January 1, 2015 to 2017. The increase will be on employees’ base salary and will be separate from yearly performance appraisal increments that employees earn based on their performance. In addition to the salary increase, BEL will match contributions of employees, paying 10% of their salary into the BEL Pension Fund. It will also increase its pension matching contribution by 1% up from 6% to 10% commencing in 2015 for employees who agree to also increase their pension contributions.

BEL has over two hundred employees of which some 150 are members of the union.

October saw a very ready UDP, poised to take the reins of Government for a third consecutive time, when it presented a comprehensive manifesto, which featured 40 pages of some of the party’s most important achievements and plans for a third term. At the party’s manifesto launch, the Prime Minister said that four pieces of legislation will pass through the National Assembly to reform the public financial management system of Belize. Those are the Public Procurement Bill, the Public Sector Investment Bill, the Public Finance Management Bill and the Public Debt Management, State Guarantees and Lending Bill.

The Public Procurement Act will promote basic principles to preside over how government performs procurement of goods, works and services while providing guidance to public officials responsible for the acquisition and disposal of assets. This act will align Belize’s public sector procurement guidelines with that of the highest multinational organizations’ standards. Prime Minister Barrow says the act will establish standard bidding documents and bid evaluation processes.

The Public Debt Management, State Guarantees and Lending Act will regulate conditions under which the state, local government bodies and public corporations may borrow, issue debt securities, issue guarantees, lend funds and enter supplier’s credit agreements. A Debt Management Office will be established in the Ministry of Finance to focus specifically on the country’s foreign and domestic debt.

The Public Sector Investment Act will promote efficient allocation of resources to maximize benefits and minimize costs of public sector investments. The aim of the bill is to cut down on wasteful spending and prevent any possible bloated contract.

The Public Finance Management Act, according to the Manifesto 2015, “will ensure responsible, sustainable, transparent, accountable, effective, efficient and economical management of the public finances and public resources covering the revenues, expenditures, assets and liabilities.”


The historic election came on November 4. Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow and his team of 30 standard bearers sprung headfirst into the polling bright and early at 7 on November 4 to secure the third term for the UDP. After the polls closed and the votes counted, the UDP landed 19 seats.

In terms of the Senate, Hon. Sen. Godwin Hulse stays on as Leader of Government Business, and he is joined on the Government side by Dr. Carla Barnett, who contested the race in Freetown and is now the Senate Vice President; attorneys-at-law Francine Burns and Aldo Salazar; career banker, Stephen Duncan; and educator from Toledo, Macario Coy. The Senate President is Lee Mark Chang, a popular Belize City-based businessman who previously contested in Freetown.

And while the UDP continued its agenda of transformation, the PUP continued to fall apart. Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Francis Fonseca resigned as leader of the PUP following four successive, crushing losses in two bye-elections, a municipal election and a general election. He also announced that he will not be seeking reelection. Fonseca said that he would stay on as the parliamentary Opposition leader, until a new one is chosen, presumably in a convention in January 2016. It’s a fight that continues to play out daily on Facebook and TV. More 2,900 delegates are expected to decide on one from Hon. John Briceno, who resigned from the Party’s leadership; Hon. Cordel Hyde, who came out of political retirement to contest the general elections; and Fonseca himself. His Secretary-General, I. Myrtle Palacio also resigned in the wake of the successive losses.

On November 13, the 12th National Assembly convened. The Leaders of Government, Prime Minister Barrow and Governor General Sir Colville Young set the tone for this Assembly and outlined government’s agenda for the next five years.

Prime Minister Barrow used the Speaker’s invitation to address the Assembly to emphasize the point that his third administration will be a Government for all Belizeans:

“All of us red and blue are elected to look after the interest of our constituents, not our own and as we focused on the future, these are the questions we must ask ourselves. Into what conditions are our children being born? How are they to be nurtured in their early years? Will they have access to the best schools and the best teachers? What jobs and pay will their parents receive? Are their communities getting safer and more productive? Will their grandparents retire with dignity and respect? And will these children inherit a nation of patriots ready to sacrifice all in the defense of national sovereignty?”

Prime Minister Barrow closed the session saying:

“There is no ambiguity about our mandate…no imbalance nationally or regionally in the support for our refreshed covenant with the people. Thus, recharged and reinvigorated, we shall move forward with our plans and programs to raise livelihoods, expand education and health, build national infrastructure. We shall empower the young and honor the old. We shall grow the economy and increase business. We shall husband the nation’s wealth and steward its resources. Above all, we shall conduct the operation of government with integrity as we search for that spot in the affairs of this country where honesty, equality, truth and justice finally prevail.”

One of the key projects for the UDP Administration is getting the various sporting complexes up and running the nine municipalities, with the most costly and important being the Belize City Center. JVCA Medina’s Construction Ltd/International Environments Ltd. began the work after signing a contract valued at BZ$32,940,261.34. The new facility will include civil works and FIBA certified equipment.

Spearheading the project is Belize Infrastructure Limited (BIL). They explain that the new City Center Arena and Cultural Complex will have facilities that will qualify for world championship women’s U-21 and U-19 world championship men and women events. There will be three (3) interior practice basketball courts, and one (1) professional center court. The design allows for designated seating for up to 4000 for games and 5000 for indoor entertainment events such as conventions, concerts and other sporting events such as boxing and volleyball. Seats are individual and are numbered by rows. The design also includes post game rooms, media rooms, administration room and more concessions space. The new Belize City Center will be fully air conditioned and fully handicapped accessible. The facility will be equipped with stage and event performance space and back of house facilities. The size and careful design of the building footprint and structural placement allows for a broader range of vehicles that will now be able to park under the building. The interior function of the building was completed in accordance with FIBA standards and in conjunction with approved consultancy input. Exterior design allows for multiple plazas to accommodate recreational sports and parks, including two (2) outdoor basketball courts, one (1) 5 on 5 soccer field, skateboard parks just to name a few. It caters to hosting outdoor entertainments with Security features, Police and Ambulance Zones. Construction is expected to go for 24 months and is in fulfillment of the UDP Government’s pledge for the construction of a state of the art sporting facility in Belize City. Tragedy struck the entire nation when a dorm at the Youth Hostel on the George Price High went up in smoke and ending the lives of three teenage girls: 14-year-old Elizabeth McCoy and 16-year-olds Shadisha Arnold and Anna Carlos. As has been widely reported, they perished in a fire which burnt down the building that they were padlocked in.

So, why were they barricaded in? Well, according to the head of the Hostel, they were part of a group of 4 girls who escaped on Friday, November 27. As part of the disciplinary protocol of the Hostel, they were confined to one of the 3 rooms in the building used to house female residents at the facility. They were kept there for a 24 hour period where certain privileges were taken away.

The suspicion is that a young girl with the lighter set fire to the pillow to create a distraction for the officer on duty. That would cause the officer to open the door and let them out, and while this officer was trying to put the fire out, they would have used the time to run away.

According to the Director of the Community Rehabilitation Department, the actual padlocking of the door was against protocol, because of the concern of fire and safety of the occupants. This fire was the realization of a fear that the staffers had, that the safety and well-being of the children population being housed at the Hostel would be put in jeopardy. That’s one of the issues that will hopefully be revealed after the conclusion of an independent investigation. As to the lighter, it is considered contraband, and security checks should have been made to ensure that the girls could not have smuggled it in. That’s another element of the fire which will be inquired of in investigation, which will be headed by Margaret Nicholas of the National Committee for Families and Children.

Nicholas, who has years of experience as the head of the Family Court, has requested and has been already been provided with key documents on the everyday operations at the hostel as well as to the young girl’s backgrounds. A report on this probe is expected in late January or early February 2016.

Also in late November, the soon-to-be-installed President of Guatemala, comedian, Jimmy Morales paid a visit to Prime Minister Dean Barrow. It would have been a low-key visit at the request of the Guatemalan authorities, but the focus of the trip was overshadowed by the likes of political vuvuzelas, Geovanni Brackett, Patrick Rogers, Yaya Marin-Coleman, Rosalie Staines, and Wil Maheia.

Morales arrived in Belize City, on Saturday, November 28, just after 12 a.m. by a convoy which drove from across the border at Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico. Before that he had been visiting with the Mexican President. He reportedly crossed the border at around 10 p.m., and took a two-hour drive to the Radisson Hotel in Belize City. At around 9 a.m., Morales met with Prime Minister Barrow at his Coney Drive Office. An official press release from the Government says, “Prime Minister…Barrow… received President Elect…Jimmy Morales… In a cordial atmosphere, they both congratulated each other for their respective recent victories at the polls. Prime Minister Barrow and President-elect Morales discussed the bilateral relations between Belize and Guatemala, including a way forward in respect of resolving our historical differences. They agreed to continue along the path set out in the Framework Agreement and Confidence Building Measures of 2005 for expanding functional cooperation between the two countries, and each committed to strengthen the processes that already exist for good neighborly relations so that the two countries may continue to live in peace and as friends pending a legal resolution of the territorial dispute. Both sides agreed to make a greater effort to enhance cooperation and understanding at various levels, especially in areas of security, business, trade and investment. President-elect Morales extended a special and personal invitation to Prime Minister Barrow to the presidential inauguration in January 2016, and (the) Prime Minister expressed that he has every intention on attending…”

Prime Minister Barrow kept this promise: he is in Guatemala until January 17 attending the ceremonies along with CEO Audrey Wallace and Ambassador Alexis Rosado.


On December 1, Cabinet has approved a legal ban on offshore oil exploration in areas along the Belize Barrier Reef System, and within seven world Heritage sites. It is a welcomed decision that has already been endorsed by conservationists, and specifically Oceana Belize, which has been one of the main organizations that has been pushing for it.

Cabinet has agreed to ban offshore oil exploration in all 7 world Heritage Sites namely, the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve and National Park, the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve and National Park, the Lighthouse Reef Natural Monument, the South Water Caye Marine Reserve, the Laughing Bird Caye National Park, the Glovers Reef Marine Reserve, and the Sapodilla Caye Marine Reserve. That’s a total of 448 square miles, and in addition to that, Cabinet has also agreed to ban offshore exploration within one kilometer on either side of the Belizean Barrier Reef System, resulting in another 868 square miles of territorial waters getting protection under the offshore exploration.

For areas not covered by the legal ban, Cabinet agreed that there will not be an automatic process of granting permission for seismic activities and exploration drilling without conducting the existing stringent environmental studies. This will determine if these activities could negatively affect critical habitats and sensitive zones. These required environmental studies would then provide guidance to the areas outside the ban, which will determine through scientific inquiry, what type of exploration can happen in these areas. The move is a very strong show of the Government’s resolve to ensure the continued protection of the Belize Barrier Reef System and its seven World Heritage Sites. The first demonstration happened earlier in the year when all the pre-existing oil exploration contracts with private companies expired, and Government actively chose not to renew them, or issue new leases. But the work of those vuvuzelas would prove to be for naught as Government announced in early December that the forward operating base on the Sarstoon would be built! Acting Prime Minister and Minister of National Security, Hon. John Saldivar was on the grounds on December 9 signaling that the base will be constructed as planned. Minister Saldivar was accompanied by cabinet colleagues, Hon. Patrick Faber and Hon. Frank Mena along with observers from the OAS and the heads of the Belize Defense Force and the Belize Coast Guard, Brig. Gen. David Jones and Adm. John Borland respectively.

They went to an area on the northern bank of the Sarstoon River, in Belizean territory, which was chosen by the national security advisors as the best location for this base. Sarstoon Island, traditionally considered to be in Belizean territory, is a few hundred yards away from where this new base will be built. So, the Belize law enforcement will be able to monitor the island, as well as the coast lines of both Belize and Guatemala, and the movement of traffic in and out of the Sarstoon River.

The Sarstoon River is suspected of being a transit point for human trafficking, drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and other transnational criminal activities. The base will be completed within a few months’ time and will run somewhere around 100 thousand dollars to construct. It will not be an elaborate building but it will serve the needs of personnel who are deployed to the area.Through the diplomatic channels, the Guatemalan government has asked that the base not interfere with the fishing practices of Guatemalan’s in the area. To this, Minister of National Security, John Saldivar explained that the base will be for law enforcement purposes and will not be a hindrance to the neighborly relations Belize has with Guatemala.

The ensuing rice wars began in December essentially pitting importer Jitendra Chawla, known as Jack Charles, and the rice producers of Belize. He has decided once again to press forward with his agenda to import Guyanese Rice. He claims to be able to offer Premium Grade ‘A’ rice, the highest quality in this type of food, at prices less than the quality that ordinary Belizean purchases at corner grocery shop.

The problem is that once again, his plan will step on the toes of the local rice producers who say that the Belizean market is already flooded with rice that they produce. Jack Charles has 3 containers of Guyanese Rice, and they are on their way from Santo Tomas, Guatemala, and they are due to arrive at the Port of Big Creek on Thursday, December 17. The Agricultural Ministry has taken the position that the Importer, Jack Charles, does not have the required BAHA permits to import the Guyanese Rice.

Readers may remember that in March of 2015, this issue was ventilated publicly. Back then, the Parliamentarians debated the issue in the House of Representatives, and the position of the Barrow Government was that it could not support the importation from Jack Charles because it would threaten the local industry. There has been no announcement of a change from that position, and so, it would appear that Jack Charles is picking a fight with the Government.

Three days before the importer’s rice is scheduled to land in Belize, the Bureau of Standards sent out a release announcing that there has been a change in the price regime for locally produced rice. The first thing is does is that it establishes a standard for rice being Extra ‘A’ Premium, “A”, “B” and “C”. The lowest quality of rice, Grade “C” — which is made up of 30% broken grains — will now have a controlled retail price of 90 cents per pound. That’s a decrease of 30 cents, because most Belizeans buy this quality of rice at 1 dollar, 20 cents at this point in time.

The new controlled price took effect on December 23. To ensure that retailers respect the new price change, and that they don’t gouge consumers with exorbitant prices, all rice will be bagged in packages which will display the quality of rice and the price for that grade of rice. While Grade “C” rice is being price controlled, the other 3 types of rice that is of higher quality will not be. “Market Forces” will determine the price of those higher grades of rice, which basically means that it will be unregulated, and can be sold at whatever price the farmers and the retailers determine its value to be.

Meanwhile, Charles continued a protracted battle with the court over the rice he imported from Guyana. The Court ruled that he did not have the proper permit to bring in the rice, which he claims would sell at $0.69 a pound. The Courts have ordered him to send the rice back or else the Customs Department would either dispose, destroy, or donate it.

Also in December, the stevedores at the Port of Belize Limited laid a significant blow on the business community when they launched an abrupt and unannounced strike outside the compound of the Port of Belize on Monday, December 7. This strike was the stevedores’ response to a claim that management of the Port of Belize had changed its position on a promise made in the negotiation process. Arturo Vasquez, Chief Executive Officer of the Port of Belize Limited, disputed the claim made by the stevedores and their union, Christian Workers Union, but while the two entities quarreled the business community suffered. In order to ensure that the entire business community will no longer be a casualty of differing positions in the Port of Belize Limited’s Collective Bargaining Agreement process, the Ministry of Labor passed a Statutory Instrument that establishes stevedores and other waterfront workers as essential services employees.

According to a release from the Ministry of Labor, a Statutory Instrument has been signed amending the Essential Services Act to add one more field of work on the list, “Port Services involving the loading or unloading of ship’s cargo”. Now that port services will fall within the provisions of the Essential Services Act, the union or management is required to give 21 days’ notice before any industrial action can be taken. The Ministry says this will allow for “early intervention by government into trade disputes and reduce the likelihood of lockout or strike”. The stevedores’ recent strike lasted for two day and at least two ships had to leave the dock without unloading cargo. This caused businesses tens of thousands of dollars in sales, time and marketing opportunity.

The Union and the Port Management are still at an impasse over the collective bargaining agreement, which has not been signed unto for 12 years.

These are some of the stories that have made the headlines in 2015. Our commitment to all our readers is that we will keep following the course of national development, social upliftment, and countrywide transformation with the United Democratic Party administration. It is our ardent wish that 2016 finds you and your families in the greatest of spirits and that you join us on a quest to keep our national interests at the fore, through factual, updated information.

The Guardian

News 5 - Top 10 Stories 2015 from Great Belize Productions Ltd. on Vimeo.


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