Nomination Day for mayoral and town councilor candidates went off smoothly. The parties were represented by mayoral candidates Danny Guerrero and his team of six for the UDP, Conchita Flota and her team of six for the PUP and Mel Paz and two town councilor candidates running as Independents.

The first ever Area Rep debate sponsored by the San Pedro Sun and Reef Radio/TV was held Wednesday night in San Pedro and was aired live at 7pm. The participants were Patty Arceo for the PUP, Manuel Heredia Jr. for the UDP, Bobby Lopez for the VIP and Mike Campbell running as an Independent. The format gave each candidate two minutes to answer the questions without prior knowledge or notes. Each candidate was allowed a one-minute rebuttal. There were ten questions asked over three-hour period. There was general agreement about the need for more and better educational and healthcare facilities with the UDP promising a new “Government School”.

The PUP promised two new primary schools and a new high school. Both promised a hospital as well. Mr. Campbell presented a plan to immediately re-establish the Wings Of Hope service to San Pedro to allow for emergency night medical evacuations and called attention to the improvements that need to be made now in regards to efficiency and “customer satisfaction”. Mr. Lopez acknowledged the community problems and suggested San Pedro go to a “Shifts” system where students go to school at different times of the day. Mr. Campbell stressed the need for immediate construction of a new primary school and high school with both vocational and technical training available.

The subject of the subvention of the San Pedro Town Council was addressed. All agreed that the amount needed to be raised. Ms. Arceo said that the PUP was promising a proportional sharing of income. Mr. Campbell proposed that no government would ever write a multimillion-dollar check to the San Pedro Town Council and it would not be appropriate if they did. Mr. Campbell proposed that Belize Rural South become a separate district and have all ministries represented here with each getting its fair share of the national budget. Mr. Lopez and Mr. Campbell commented on the huge amount of money that leaves San Pedro and the need for some to come back.

The subject of Caye Caulker feeling left out and unattended except at election time was addressed. Mr. Lopez said that it was true and he would work to improve Caye Caulker. Ms. Arceo and Mr. Heredia both agreed and sympathized with the Caye Caulker residents and both stressed their past and present contributions to health, education, and beach reclamation on Caye Caulker. Mr. Campbell pointed out that San Pedro was also forgotten and neglected except for election time just the same as Caye Caulker. Mr. Campbell stated that he had lived on Caye Caulker and understood some of their concerns. Mr. Campbell was in favor of redistricting in the near future to give Caye Caulker their own Area Representative and stated that the primary concern on Caye Caulker is to not develop as San Pedro has and a plan must be put in place to assure that does not happen. Mr. Lopez cited their healthcare and waste disposal problems as well as educational needs.

Concerning tourism Mr. Heredia stated that tourism was recovering and we had reached the 250,000 for only the second time ever. Ms Arceo and Mr. Lopez stressed the need to revitalize the industry and improve the quality of service through training. . Mr. Campbell stated that the BTB marketing had not worked and San Pedro/Caye Caulker need to be marketed separately as a unique destination rather than lumped with the rest of Belize and that the Town needs to be cleaned up to give a better impression.

All candidates considered the people and the reef as our best assets. Mr. Campbell pointed out that we are here because of the environment and it includes more than the reef and we must protect our entire environment or the tourists will not return and it includes the mangroves and shallows as well.

Corruption and prosecution of violators was addressed. Both major party candidates stated that corruption was only a perception and not real. Mr. Campbell gave the definition of corruption as Bribery, Nepotism, Cronyism and Patronage, which are all widely practiced. He noted how this affects equal opportunity. He also noted that neither major party candidate had filed financial reports as required by law and is subject to $10,000 fine for each year of infraction. This was not denied.

Mr. Campbell also presented a plan for the Town to hire a Prosecuting Attorney who could help pursue corruption charges. Mr. Lopez pointed out that this was a problem nationwide as practically no one has filed any returns as required by law and should not be re-elected for that reason and agreed completely that corruption was real and was having an economic impact. Mr. Lopez also stated that he was retiring with six million dollars and could not be bribed as he did not need the money.

Offshore drilling and environmental degradation by developments was addressed and three candidates came out against offshore drilling while Mr. Heredia said he would not support anything that would hurt us. Mr. Campbell explained the effects of oil on coral, the absence of any meaningful way to protect from an accident and what its effects would be on the San Pedro economy. Mr. Campbell pointed out that both parties had a commitment to offshore drilling and regardless of their expressed opinions Mr. Heredia and Ms Arceo would be required by law to vote for their party’s position. This was not denied by either Ms. Areceo or Mr. Heredia.

Mr. Lopez agreed and stressed the importance of not taking a chance with offshore drilling and commented on what he considered unfair treatment by the PM in the recent referendum rejection. Mr. Campbell expressed pleasure that the PM seemed inclined to separate the offshore drilling from drilling in Protected Areas and saw it as a positive sign. Mr. Campbell stated that from his personal experience he knows that tourism developments can be carried out with minimal environmental impact.

The infectiveness of the police was discussed. Mr. Campbell proposed that the Town hire and fire all police and assure they are well trained, properly equipped and well paid permanent members of the community. Mr. Campbell also proposed that we hire a Prosecuting Attorney to work with our Municipal police to raise the conviction rate and pursue corruption investigations. Mr. Heredia and Mr. Lopez agreed with this proposal while Ms Arceo called for the opening of police substations in the various parts of San Pedro and the expansion of the existing police station and Magistrates’ Court, which were built during her term as Area Representative.

The subject of San Mateo was addressed. Both Mr. Heredia and Ms. Arceo cited what improvements they had made to San Mateo and their commitment to continue to work to improve the conditions. Mr. Heredia stated that GOB was assuming responsibility for the main roadway. Mr. Campbell stated that in his professional opinion it was impossible to provide sanitary living conditions in San Mateo and the project was a bad decision from when it was started and every attempt should be made to relocate the residents. He cited the fact that without dry ground there is no way to have a correctly operating septic system and it will definitely contaminate all the standing water with fecal material as is now the case. Both Mr. Heredia and Ms. Arceo defended the project while Mr. Lopez agreed with Mr. Campbell that the residents should be moved for health and human dignity reasons. Mr. Campbell emphatically accused both parties of abdication of their responsibilities and called for a change.

Throughout the debate both Mr. Heredia and Ms. Arceo claimed that often times the money was just not available for these types of expenditures and consistently Mr. Campbell stated that clearly the money was there as we had given it to them and it was only a matter of priorities with Mr. Lopez in complete agreement. The debate was adjourned at 10pm.

The Independent