By Wellington C. Ramos
Every three years in the country of Belize, the citizens get the opportunity to vote for the mayors and councilors for their respective cities and towns. Belize has eight towns and two cities, namely, Belize City and Belmopan, which is the capital of the country. In Belize City there are ten members that make up the city council and the mayor is elected separately on the top of his party’s ballot.
The other councils, including Belmopan, elect six councilors and the mayor at the top of his party’s ballot also. In the municipal elections of 2006, the United Democratic Party won all the mayorships, city and town councilor seats by a landslide nationwide with the exception of the mayor’s seat in Punta Gorda Town.
Born in Dangriga Town, the cultural capital of Belize, Wellington Ramos has an M.A. in Urban Studies from Long Island University
One hundred and sixty seven candidates contested the last municipal elections from the People’s United Party, United Democratic Party, Vision Inspired by the People, Belize Reform Party, Belize National Party and some independent candidates. This year it is expected that less candidates will be participating in this municipal elections because the United Democratic Party just won the General Elections held last year in February by a landslide.
In most English-speaking Caribbean countries and Belize, General Elections are held every five years. The governments in these countries are centralised and, once they win the general elections, they are in control of everything and there is very little a party could do if they win the municipal elections but lose the general elections. The municipal governments have very little autonomy and depend on the central government to get funding in order to carry out their municipal functions.
The people in these countries normally would vote for the party in power if they are content and satisfied. If the people are very angry and dissatisfied, they would vote against the party in power to send them a strong message about their dissatisfaction. When the party in power loses the municipal elections, they would re-adjust their policies, reshuffle their cabinets, shift their spending priorities or do something to indicate to the people that they got the message and intend to do some things differently.
When the United Democratic Party inherited the city councils and the town boards from the People’s United Party in March of 2006, they were all bankrupt, with the exceptions of Belmopan and San Pedro.
Upon further investigations, the United Democratic Party found out that in Belize City, the mayor and his city council had signed contracts to give out the sanitation jobs to his friends in a contract costing the city council thousands of dollars that the Belize City council could not have afforded. This contract is still haunting the current Mayor Zenaida Moya and her city council up to this day.
He also borrowed huge amounts of money in a so-called salary advance scheme, even though he said he was not going to seek re-election. It was reported recently that this money owed to the city council has still not been paid back despite an agreement made between the former mayor and this current city council. Why the city council hasn’t brought a civil suit action in court against this mayor to recover the money belonging to the citizens of Belize City is still a mystery to me.
In some of the municipalities, the city council and the town boards sold out most of the city’s and town’s equipment they had used to keep their cities and towns clean. Today, some of these municipalities have to spend a large part of their budgets contracting private contractors to do work on behalf of their cities and town boards to keep the cities and towns clean and their streets and roads trafficable.
In the town of Dangriga, the garbage truck was sold to a well known PUP stalwart and he had a contract to take out and dispose of the garbage for a fee that was agreed upon by the past PUP town board. They could not afford to pay this contractor and before the election was held they were sending town board employees to the homes of Dangriga residents collecting money from them to pay for the disposal of their garbage. Dangriga residents labeled this a “garbage tax” and resisted the payments, so eventually they had to stop harassing the residents.
The equipment that was given to the town board years earlier was sold by one of the PUP mayors that were in office earlier.
The week when the UDP took over control of the municipalities, it was discovered that they were given a line of credit by First Caribbean Bank, endorsed by the PUP Minister of Local Government, to get three months subvention in advance for a beautification project to fool people in order to re-elect them for another term.
This left all the municipalities with more debt at the time the United Democratic Party took over the municipalities throughout the country. The United Democratic Party recently increased the monthly subventions for the cities, towns and villages. In addition, they gave them the authority to control the Transportation Department Licensing area funds in order to gain additional revenues for their cities and towns. This has helped in reducing the daily cost of running their towns and cities.
Years ago, when the United Democratic Party was first elected to government, their Minister of Local Government, the late Phillip Goldson, recommended that local government reform be done nationwide throughout the country to grant more autonomy to the cities, towns and villages. He stated that, in order for Belize to grow as a nation, we must find a way to collaborate with these various integral parts of our government to encourage growth and expansion throughout our country.
Since his death, I have not heard any other minister talking or doing anything about this issue. Central government is not working for Belizeans well in this area. In fact, the truth is that when a party loses the general elections, they will be wasting their time running for municipal elections because the party that is controlling the central government will not cooperate or provide them with the resources to make them succeed and prevail.
Five years is a long time for people in our cities, towns and villages to wait for something to happen in their communities where they live every day. The people of Belize and the English speaking-Caribbean, who are living under this old British model of government, should encourage their current governments to introduce reforms that will benefit their citizens and improve their daily living conditions.
I expect the United Democratic Party to win these up-coming municipal elections again by a landslide because the People’s United Party is disorganized and is struggling for a new identity and new leadership. However, the United Democratic Party must not take Belizean citizens for granted because they want their current economic conditions to improve and this government must find a way to find them jobs and lift them out of poverty, crime, unemployment, drugs, no lots, no lands, opportunities and inadequate health treatment facilities.