2010 Review: 1st Installment (January to June)
12/31/10 09:44 AM
12/31/10 09:44 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
2010 was a significant year for Belize. Belize City (along with much of Central Belize, all the way through Belmopan) took its first direct hit from a major hurricane in almost half a century (Hurricane Richard), and murder rates reached an all-time high. But Belizean Dorian Villafranco, 17, brought good news home recently by excelling in regional examinations. He scored a record 15 Grade I’s in the 2010 Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) examinations.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking tragedy of the year was the April 8 death of retired Police Sergeant Ranalda Jean Morgan, 55, who drowned in a failed but heroic attempt to save the lives of her three grandchildren at a pond at Mile 8 on the Western Highway. The children were Miesha, 11, Maurice, 8, and Micah, 6. Their 5-year-old sibling, Michael, was the only one to escape the tragedy alive.
Among the prominent Belizeans to pass during 2010 weremusicians Wilfred Peters and Frankie Rhys, radio personalities Mike Nicholson and Adrian Harris, TV journalist Keith Swift, cañero activist and credit union visionary Vicente Canul, basketball star Aubrey Lopez, cyclist Elbert Pope, and beverage magnate Barry Bowen.
Also, Belizean-American Marion Jones attempted a publicity comeback with her new book, On The Right Track. And guess what – Belizeans have finally begun to learn of the wealth untold of which they sing in the National Anthem: It was announced this year that Belize has gold, silver and lead; and government experts say offshore petroleum potential is valued at nearly BZ$2 billion a year. However, there are mixed feelings over that declaration in light of the British Petroleum disaster in the Gulf of Mexico—the kind of disaster that many Belizeans fear will be inevitably unleashed offshore of Belize should the country venture into offshore drilling, causing irreversible devastation to the Belize Barrier Reef.
In the first edition of Amandala for 2010, the featured headline article was captioned: “Gold, silver, lead at Chiquibul”. Chiquibul is prized national lands, set aside for conservation purposes, but pillaged in unchecked incursions from next-door Guatemala.
While there seem to be prospects for new industries based on the harvesting of recently discovered resources in Belize, two of our fundamental industries which have shaped a large part of our history and culture experienced considerable difficulties: Belize’s major agricultural sectors—sugar and citrus—faced milestone challenges in 2010.
Some key Belizean organizations also agitated for improvements in various areas of concern. The trade unions unsuccessfully lobbied the Government of Belize for an overdue salary adjustment. Notwithstanding union strong talk, Prime Minister Barrow said, “No!” In February 2010, he told Belizeans that this would be the hardest year in the term of his administration, and they would have to make some sacrifices.
Also at odds with the Government of Belize were the Maya of Toledo, who scored a historic victory in the Belize Supreme Court when former Chief Justice Dr. Abdulai Conteh declared that customary land rights exist in both Toledo and Stann Creek. However, litigation continues as the case proceeds to an appeal.
Although the national issues that came to the fore in 2010 were broad and varied—ranging from continued debate on Belize-Guatemala border issues and talks of taking the dispute to the International Court of Justice, to calls for an investigation into petroleum revenues — there was one issue that remained front and center for all of 2010: CRIME.
Even as 2010 expires, security is undoubtedly the biggest concern in The Jewel. The homicide rate has surpassed the 2008 record of 103; the number has now shot past 130—a staggering increase of more than 20% over 2008, and more than 34% over 2009.
The story is in more than the bare numbers. Innocent children, such as Marquis Mahler and Eyannie Nunez, both 8, fell victims to savage gun violence; an attorney and his wife, Richard and Maria Stuart, were victims of a heinous double murder inside their Belize City home; Aubrey Lopez, basketball icon and the son of Belmopan mayor Simeon Lopez, was gunned down on the streets of Belize City. The Prime Minister’s law office was the target of an unprecedented attack in mid-April with either gunshots or a projectile—there was no final confirmation to the press on exactly what was fired at the building and there have been no arrests. Weeks later, in May, an attempt was made on the life of Barrow’s law partner, Rodwell Williams, inside the parking lot.
The senseless killing of a security guard, Edgar Ayala, and the son of a pastor, David Longsworth, apparently for a gun, sent shockwaves through the Old Capital. Despite the launch of RESTORE Belize in June 2010—RESTORE being an acronym for Re-Establish Security Through Outreach Rehabilitation and Education—the crime wave has been unrelenting and many Belizean citizens are saying that they have never felt more unsafe.
The high rate of crime in Belize continues to be of grave concern among Belizeans, especially in the commercial capital, Belize City, and charges of police involvement and impropriety levied against some officers was the reason why Ombudsman Cynthia Pitts called in a parade of police top brass to her office in January, including Commissioner of Police, Crispin Jeffries, Sr., and heads of the Criminal Investigation Branch, among others of senior rank, to lay the cards on the table.
“I have heard the underground rumors of police who kill and are on the payroll of certain people. I won’t pretend I don’t know. I will put it on the table and ask them about it, because I want some answers,” Pitts told Amandala.
On that occasion, Jeffries told Pitts that the conviction rates were so bad, he did not wish to disclose it to the public.
“I expected it to be terrible,” said Pitts. “What he told me was worse than I have ever heard.”
Data we later have received at this newspaper indicate that the rate has ranged between 5% and 7%. Ironically, drug and utensil possession was the most common reason for imprisonment at the Hattieville Prison.
The January 7, 2010 gang truce ended with a grenade blast in the Caesar Ridge area four days later.
Meanwhile, in April, Jeffries had announced at a press conference that major crimes were down by 30.6%.
To the credit of the police, they caught one of “Belize’s most wanted,” Gary Seawell, 33, on the run since 2007, in Esperanza, Cayo, with what had been described as a cache of weapons, among them a hand grenade and four assault rifles.
However, the police took a lot of heat over a series of shootings, including the controversial February 27th killing of Teddy Murillo, blamed on a cop; the tragic shooting of construction worker Steven Buckley—in the head—which police had called an accident; and the murder of Christopher Galvez, which sparked the birth of Belizeans for Justice.
Galvez’s aunt, Yolanda Schakron, had told the media that she had been getting threatening text messages from Chris’ cell phone number, to pressure them to back off from pursuing arrests in the case. She publicly alleged a police cover-up in the investigation of Galvez’s death.
On June 2, the Office of the Prime Minister announced the launch of his administration’s crime strategy, RESTORE Belize, essentially a Southside Belize City program. The Government finally declared that it has a crisis on its hands. The Barrow administration also appointed a new Minister of Police in the person of Doug Singh and added Public Safety to the title of the ministry.
The Opposition withdrew its formal support for RESTORE Belize after the United Democratic Party’s newspaper, The Guardian, ridiculed the Leader of the Opposition, saying that he, Johnny Briceño, was following true leadership in endorsing the RESTORE Belize agenda.
The new spike in crime has come notwithstanding RESTORE Belize, notwithstanding moves in Parliament to stiffen penalties for major crimes, including gun crimes.
Belize, particularly the Cayo District, is being explored for its store of precious metals, such as gold and silver, as well as lead and other associated metals—tin and zinc. Craig Moore, the current Inspector of Mines, in the Department of Geology and Petroleum, told Amandala that the percentages of lead and silver “lends quite a bit of high interest.”
Geologist Jean H. Cornec, a founding director of Belize Natural Energy, which struck commercial oil in Belize in 2005, and who has done extensive work in Belize with the Geology Department (through the UN), had just released a report in 2010 in which he cited specific areas of Belize—and particularly the Maya Mountains and a network of rivers and tributaries in the region—as having “intriguing gold potential.”
Moore described the Cornec report as credible.
Dated May 2010, Cornec’s five-page report says, “Belize holds intriguing gold potential in an under-explored region that is politically secure while offering attractive mining deal terms. Alluvial gold was first described more than 60 years ago, and fine gold flakes can be panned in numerous drainages of the Maya Mountains.”
Cornec said: “It took more than 50 years of exploration by oil companies to find the first commercial fields in Belize, and perhaps with high gold prices, the time has come for the mining industry to step up to the plate and help the country realize its hard rock mineral potential.”
Five years ago, Belize joined the list of petroleum-producing nations around the globe, with exports exceeding $800 million between 2005 and 2010.
The ruling United Democratic Party pledged to Belizeans, before coming into office, that it would establish a national oil company in which Belizeans could purchase shares. To date, no such company has been set up.
Belizean activists, among them the Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA), have been calling for Belize to get a bigger slice of the petroleum pie. The national receipts are around 20% of gross revenues.
At the same time, some investors in the only petroleum-producing company, Belize Natural Energy, are at war with other investors over the sharing of petroleum profits.
Opposition member of Parliament and Albert area representative Mark Espat issued a public call on the Government in January to undertake an accounting of Belize’s petroleum, in light of what he described as a “scandalous” ratio of funds coming to Belizeans from what had been dubbed a national asset.
In an exclusive interview, a very irate Irish investor told Amandala: “We have just been bulldozed out of the way and manipulated … the shareholders, who made the whole oil thing possible in the first place, haven’t received a bloody penny from BNE…”
Barrow curtly said that there would be no investigation. The Income Tax Department and the Department of Geology and Petroleum are charged with reviewing the petroleum numbers, he had told us.
When asked if he would commission an investigation or special House Committee hearing on the distribution of the oil wealth, Barrow maintained that he absolutely would not.
Amandala’s May 2010 review of the petroleum concessions revealed that 7 of the 17 contracts—including the concession for Princess Petroleum Ltd. granting access to 200,000 acres onshore and 1.8 million acres offshore Belize—were all sealed on the same day, October 12, 2007, by former Minister of Natural Resources Florencio Marin, Sr.
The Barrow administration subsequently issued a sizeable offshore block to OPIC, a foreign investment arm of the state-owned company of Taiwan, Chinese Petroleum Corporation.
Prime Minister Barrow’s law partner, attorney Rodwell Williams, SC, helped to form Princess Petroleum. Williams is also listed as the local contact for another company with an offshore concession, Providence Energy Limited.
Williams told Amandala that he forms hundreds of these companies but, “It’s simply a vanilla exercise.”
Public pressure on the government heightened in June, when the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage launched a national campaign to get petitioners to lobby the government to back off from its stance on offshore drilling. The Association of Protected Areas Management Organizations had previously called on the Government of Belize to ban petroleum exploration in offshore Belize and protected areas. The Coalition sounded the call specifically for a ban of offshore drilling. The petition was also championed by COLA, a Coalition member which had separately written Prime Minister Dean Barrow calling for a moratorium. The National Trade Union Congress of Belize, the umbrella organization of all trade unions in Belize, voted to join the cause of the Coalition.
However, PM Barrow did not yield to the calls and said that it would be years before any company is ready to drill offshore. He said that the Department of the Environment has the mandate to ensure that the proper environmental controls are in place for any such venture.
Meanwhile the Maya of Toledo, who continue to assert ancestral rights over lands in Southern Belize, have also challenged the government’s granting of petroleum, logging and other concessions in the South.
MAYA LAND RIGHTS
The June 2010 ruling by former Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh—now serving in the Court of Appeals in the Bahamas—has emboldened the Maya to maintain their claim to land rights, as well as interests in the natural wealth of the South.
In the landmark Supreme Court ruling, Conteh declared rights he said had long existed and continue to exist in Southern Belize and also reasonably extend to the five Mopan Maya villages of Stann Creek.
The judgment called on the Government of Belize to put the brakes on any leases, grants, concessions and contracts that would affect Maya land rights in the Toledo District.
The Government has since appealed, stating that if need be, it would fight the case all the way to the Caribbean Court of Justice, since it does not accept that the Toledo Maya are entitled to lands in all the 38 villages they have claimed as theirs.
The Chief Justice had ruled on a similar case on October 18, 2007, when he ruled in favor of Conejo and Santa Cruz, Toledo.
“I, therefore, find that from the evidence, there is in existence in Maya villages in Toledo District customary land tenure by which the villagers have rights and interest in villages that—for the avoidance of doubt—this conclusion is not limited only to Conejo and Santa Cruz villages…but includes as well—as of course it must, given the representative nature of the instant claim—the other Maya villages in the Toledo District.”
Villagers of Toledo had during 2010 been successful in getting Belize Hydroelectric Development & Management Company Limited (BHD) to back down from its plan to undertake further hydro-development on the Rio Grande, under a 15-year concession granted to it in December 2008 by the Barrow administration.
In its defense in the Maya Land Rights case, the Government side had contended (citing information published in the Maya Atlas) that the Maya of Toledo were recent migrants from Guatemala who were trying to get from Belize what they could not get from Guatemala.
The Maya contended that notwithstanding the recent migration of some persons living in the South, they are genuine descendants of Maya who had occupied the area during pre-colonial times. Expert testimony was given for both sides in the trial.
Reports of incursions in Southern and Western Belize continued in 2010, including allegations of pillaging inside the Columbia River Forest Reserve and aggressive hunting of scarlet macaws to extinction inside the Chiquibul Forest.
Rafael Manzanero, Executive Director of Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), had informed that the incursions—whether to extract woods, xaté or scarlet macaws—are nothing new. Way back in the 1970’s, he noted, there had been evidence of encroachments, such as milpa farming by Guatemalans inside Belizean territory, as well as associated deforestation. In those days, xatéro were believed to number about 1,000.
According to Manzanero, more than 8,000 acres inside Chiquibul have been decimated by illegal intruders, whereas another 3,000 acres have been cleared inside the nearby Caracol Archaeological Reserve, both located in the Cayo District. He also noted that incursions have advanced as far as 35 miles into Belize.
Fearing more recent encroachments in the area, villagers of San Jose and Na Lum Cah, Toledo, called on the Government of Belize in June to increase Belize Defence Force (BDF) presence in the area, after reports that Guatemalan xatéros were operating very close to their village. The BDF claimed that they had increased surveillance in the area, but months later, in October, two Belizean men were savagely attacked after sharing their food with men they believed to be xatéros.
The Government of Belize had also received complaints that illegal Guatemalan migrants had rustled horses in the area and cleared out a portion of the Columbia River Forest Reserve; however, they later reported that they had no evidence of such clearings.
Meanwhile, a report to our newspaper from FCD, which co-manages the Chiquibul Forest Reserve in Cayo, along with the Forest Department, declared that the xaté stock in that forest—the largest and last standing continuous broadleaf forest in the country—is gone.
Based on the information reaching conservationists, the xaté resources in Belize’s western and southern forests could be decimated in five years.
FCD called on the Government of Belize to undertake a series of conservation measures, among them increasing manpower to patrol, protect and conduct surveillance on the border.
Amid reports of continued incursions, controversy continued in Belize over a statement made by Belize Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, in which he described Belize’s border with Guatemala as “artificial”—to him, meaning “man-made.”
However, two of Belize’s leading attorneys—one of them a legal advisor of the Dean Barrow administration, the other an ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs—went on record to say that Elrington was wrong to call Belize’s border with Guatemala “artificial” in the context of the ongoing territorial dispute between the countries—a dispute that the Organization of American States (OAS) has recommended should be settled at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Elrington made the comment, published internationally, describing Belize’s border with Guatemala as artificial, when Belize and Guatemala met in Washington, DC, USA, on Wednesday, December 16, 2009, at the headquarters of the OAS at a meeting called to diffuse flared tensions between Belize and Guatemala.
Elrington never retracted the statement, apologized for it or resigned his foreign affairs post—as some had been calling for him to do.
“I believe that it is exceedingly important that we start to educate the Belizean people about the Belize/Guatemalan dispute,” said Elrington, “because most people don’t know anything about it.
“You ask the average Belizean to tell you about it and they can’t...”
With experts and pundits delving into the root causes of crime in Belize, the social exclusion of thousands of Belizean children has come into sharp focus. Officials in the Ministry of Education revealed that 11,000 children who should be in primary school are NOT. They additionally revealed that 6 in 10 youth who should be in high school are NOT. An official from the Ministry of Education put the total number of young people not receiving at least a high school education at 17,000 minimally – that’s as many people as are living in Orange Walk Town, the third most populous municipality in the country.
Whereas the primary school enrollment rate is tagged at 83%, the high school enrollment rate is less than half that, currently reported at 40%.
At the start of the year, the draft report of the latest country poverty assessment indicated that over 50,000 Belizeans, particularly in the Southside of Belize City and in Toledo, have plunged into the depths of poverty between the last country assessment done in 2002 and the most recent study done in 2009, a span of seven years. Forty-three percent of the Belizean population (or 142,000) are classified as poor, versus under 90,000 in 2002.
“Belize has the highest incidence of population and household poverty of the Caribbean countries shown. It is, however, on a par with Mexico and has significantly lower levels of indigence and poverty than both Guatemala and Honduras,” the CPA pointed out.
In February 2010, Prime Minister Dean Barrow declared in his State of the Nation address that: “The upcoming fiscal year is going to be the hardest of the UDP term. ...This is going to be an extremely difficult year, and we are going to have to ask people to make sacrifices.”
This speech came amid calls by trade unions for a salary adjustment in the 2010-2011 budget. Barrow said that the financial package the unions had submitted amounted to at least $122 million over the next three years (2010-2013)—money he claimed the government would not have.
“We don’t have the money. Punto final!” Barrow told Amandala.
The increase would have directly benefited over 10,000 Belizean workers.
Union reps called on the Barrow administration to find a fast solution to the worsening cost-of-living pressures. The unions are still waiting.
The Belize National Teachers’ Union protested that same month over planned reforms to the Education Act, including the outlawing of corporal punishment in schools and the establishment of a new system of hiring, firing and monitoring of teacher performance through the Teaching Services Commission.
“Who need fi get lash, so they could listen?” one chanter questioned at the Independence Hill protest in Belmopan.
“Faber!” the crowd shouted back, referring to Education Minister Patrick Faber.
Despite the standoff between teachers and the minister—including angry words over the minister’s declaration that the teachers are “ignorant,” referring to lack of knowledge on alternatives to corporal punishment—the parties were able to move forward in joining forces to implement new provisions of the Education Act.
There have also been tensions over plans to eventually amalgamate certain primary schools—a discussion that should come to the fore when the government moves to implement a test run in the Belize River Valley area.
Meanwhile, the BNTU had expressed concerns over the need for more teacher-training. A BNTU official had indicated that within primary schools, only 43% of teachers are deemed to be trained. The figure is even worse for secondary schools: only 34% of high school teachers are considered trained for the job. Even at the university level, he said, there are complaints of teachers (training other teachers) who don’t have the requisite master’s degree qualification.
Around the same time as the conflicts in Belize between the Government and BNTU, Guatemalan teachers blocked the border bridge at Melchor de Mencos as they were protesting for a 16% salary increase from their government, as well as the upgrade of what they had decried as dilapidated school buildings.
CONTENTION IN CITRUS
The majority shareholder of Citrus Products of Belize Limited (CPBL), the Citrus Growers Association, and the minority shareholder, Banks Holdings of Barbados, have been at odds over a 2006 investment agreement under which the consent of the foreign investor is required to pass board decisions at CPBL.
As the year draws to a close, the parties continue to be at loggerheads, and the stalemate has meant that board meetings are on pause, pending an attempt at intervention in January 2011 by Prime Minister Dean Barrow.
At the start of 2010, Amandala was informed that Barbados’ agent had made what a CGA official had described as a “sneaky offer” to CGA, to sell its 51% stake in CPBL, valued minimally at $75 million, for $20 million.
As the months progressed, CGA had to fight in court and on the protest line to remove three directors who were occupying CGA seats on the CPBL board, after the men—CPBL CEO and managing director of Citrus Products of Belize Limited (CPBL), Dr. Henry Canton; CPBL chairman Mike Duncker; and former CGA chairman and board member Frank Redmond, accused of not acting in the interests of local growers—refused CGA’s calls to step down.
Canton and Duncker were among the 7 persons who had formed a rival citrus association, Belize Citrus Mutual, back in November 2009.
The CGA has recently moved to have Canton dismissed from his post as CEO of CPBL via an extraordinary general meeting; but Canton has refused to step down on the claim that he can only be fired via a directive from the board—which has been unable to meet due to the impasse between the shareholders.
Meanwhile, the citrus industry remains threatened by the incurable citrus greening disease, which, if left unchecked, could devastate the citrus belt of the South. There was dispute again in recent weeks over a move by the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) to destroy nursery plants which had been grown without the required screening. BAHA and CGA contended that the measure was necessary as a part of efforts to help control the spread of greening in Belize. However, some growers, believing that a nutritional treatment could save affected plants, were angry over the destruction of nursery plants.
Citrus greening is a growing threat not just in Belize, but also in more developed countries like the USA, and local authorities say that proper control measures—for which funding is regrettably scarce—is critical for the continued survival of the industry.
SUGAR NOT SO SWEET
The year began with 6,000 cane farmers facing extended delays in deliveries of sugar cane to the Belize Sugar Industries at Tower Hill, Orange Walk, due to hiccups in getting the $126 million bagasse plant at BELCOGEN, a Belize Sugar Industries (BSI) power project intended to feed 13.5 MW of power to the national grid, fully operational after a late start to the production season.
Cañeros were concerned that the factory shutdowns, due to problems with power generation at the new power plant, would cause them to lose major income. In January, they were already claiming a loss of $4 million.
High ranking government officials were called to intervene to help solve the crisis. It was recently confirmed that sugar production for the season was indeed lower than 2010 projections.
The Government of Belize recently approved a bailout loan for the sugar industry, to help meet payments to cañeros for this season and to help finance next year’s operations.
MORE TAXES, MORE PAIN
The 2010-2011 budget included an increase in tax revenues of over $100 million. The $61 million budget deficit is being financed this year with a hike in sales tax, from 10% to 12.5%, effective April 1, 2010.
“This is the biggest tax whap handed to the Belizean people since Independence,” said Opposition Leader John Briceño of the People’s United Party, in the budget debate. “This could not have come at a worse time in our nation’s development.”
For his part, Prime Minister Barrow claimed that the effects on the poor would be buffered with some key tax relief measures: the removal of import duties and GST from certain cooking oils, hot dog sausages, luncheon meat, potted meat, macaroni and cheese dinners, hot chocolate, cocoa, coffee, breakfast cereals, vitamins and supplements, yeast, powdered detergents, school bags, banana cable ways (for agriculture industry), irrigation pipes of plastic, tractor parts, refrigerators, washing machines, and stoves.
Over the course of the year, the government has increased the ceiling of income tax exemptions to $26,000 per annum and more recently to $29,000 per annum.
A flat tax of $1.00 per gallon of fuel, imposed in 2008, also to stop the budget deficit, remains, despite the fact that pump prices have again surged past the $10.00 mark. The government had set an $8 threshold for the revision of the tax, but later said that it absolutely needs the money to finance the budget.
FROM PRIVY COUNCIL TO CCJ
2010 goes down in the annals of Belizean history as the year that the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) took the place of the Privy Council as Belize’s final appellate court.
In May 2010, Belize became the third country in the region to adopt the CCJ, based in Port of Spain, Trinidad, as the court with ultimate jurisdiction in both criminal and civil matters, as well as legal trade disputes related to the implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). All appeals of Court of Appeal decisions filed after May were to be sent up to the CCJ.
The first Belize case, an appeal by ex-ministers of the People’s United Party, Joe Coye and Florencio Marin, Sr., was heard on November 29, 2010, and a decision is pending.
12/31/10 09:56 AM
12/31/10 09:56 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Rt. Hon. Manuel Esquivel knighted by Queen Elizabeth II
The Former Prime Minister of Belize and Leader of the United Democratic Party, Rt. Hon. Manuel Esquivel, was among Commonwealth Caribbean nationals appointed to the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire on the occasion of New Year Honours by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. Rt. Hon. Esquivel served two terms as Prime Minister of Belize: first from 1984-1989 then 1993-1998. He was bestowed the honour of being a Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George for his “services to Politics and good Governance".
Also receiving honours were Henry Vallon Young Sr. who served as Minister of Tourism from 1993 to 1998 under the United Democratic Party. He was bestowed the Honour of being Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his “services to Politics and Entrepreneurship”. Reverend Charles David Goff and Mr. Romel Tiburcio Perdomo were bestowed the honour of being Officers of the Order of the British Empire: Reverend Goff for his services to religion and Mr. Perdomo for services to Business and Entrepreneurship. Five others were appointed to be Members of the Order of the British Empire: Kenneth Wilfred Morgan, for his services to Culture and Entertainment; Eulogio Cano for services to Teaching and Social Development; Antonio Duncan McPherson JP for services to the Community; Philip Norman Timmons JP for services to the Police and Community and Samuel Alexander Rhaburn for services to Politics.
Former Guatemalan President arrested heading to Belize
Former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo was arrested after he tried to make his way into Belize. An issue of the “Latin American Herald Tribune” reported that Portillo was arrested “as he was getting ready to board a boat that was going to transport him to Belize”. The articles stated that the boat was provided to him by friends.
Authorities captured Portillo at a beach in northeastern Guatemala after he was being sought for several days. Portillo’s arrest came after the U.S. requested his extradition on money-laundering charges. The 58-year-old former Guatemalan president who served that country from 2000-2004 was indicted by a Grand Jury in New York on charges of embezzling millions of dollars of public funds during his tenure as president. It is alleged he diverted 1.5 million dollars in donations from the Taiwanese government from a program called “Libraries for Peace”. The monies were allegedly funneled to accounts controlled by friends and family of the former president living in the U.S. and other countries.
Problems with Product Quality at BSI
In January the Ministry of Agriculture moved aggressively at trying to placate discontent that was occurring in the sugar industry at the start of the crop season. CEO in the Ministry of Agriculture, Gabino Canto, explained that the ministry met with the cane farmers association and went on to meet with BSI after. During the meetings, the ministry sought to get the concerns of the cane farmers and pass them on to BSI. Canto explained that the main problem may be communication difficulties with the Cane Farmers Association and BSI; he added that in meetings with BSI it has been revealed that since the sugar crop season began the factory had doubled its grinding capacity. The factory is grinding sugar cane at four thousand tons per day while in the past that was at about two thousand tons per day. However, because of poor crop quality, the increase grinding capacity has not translated to increase in sugar production. Reports from BSI indicated that there is 11.5 percent mud in the sugar cane being delivered this year as opposed to 5.8 percent last year. Another point of contention between BSI and the cane farmers is the long wait that they have to endure when delivering the cane. The Ministry continued to provide assistance via the Sugar Industry Control Board but there influence is limited.
Increase in Duty Free fuel allocation for Cane Farmers
Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Hon. Dean Barrow, approved the waiver of Import Duty and General Sales Tax to a maximum of $2.00 per gallon on 1,051,472 gallons of diesel fuel to cane farmers. Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Gabino Canto explained that the assistance comes as a result of the Government of Belize through the Ministry of Agriculture giving direct financial assistance to the cane farmers. That assistance, in particular in the area of fuel has been increased as last year cane farmers were allotted 800 thousand gallons of fuel for the delivery of cane. This year that allocation went up to 1,051,472 gallons representing a direct cash subsidy of $2.5 million dollars to the cane farmers.
This fuel allocation assisted cane farmers in the transportation of sugar cane to the Tower Hill Factory. Canto says that the controlling mechanism for the issuance of fuel was set up by the Sugar Industry Control Board which issued certificates to cane farmers specifying the amount of fuel that they should receive at the pump. The waiver of Import Duty and General Sales Tax to a maximum of $2.00 per gallon was in effect until the end of 2010 Sugar Crop season.
Belizeans Rise to Support Haiti
A devastating earthquake shook Haiti on Tuesday January 12. Thousands died and the struggle for food and basic supplies after the disaster might have been as catastrophic as the quake and aftershocks that plagued the poor country. The people of Belize responded quickly to assist the people of Haiti. Various sectors made donations to the relief efforts of the Belize Red Cross. NEMO assembled search, rescue, medical and other skilled personnel and channeled them through the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) to assist Haiti.
Several private sector representatives contributed to relief efforts. Some of the earliest to step forward were the Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) which donated BZ$20,000 to the Caribbean Electric Utility Service Corporation (CARILEC) Haiti Recovery Fund. BEL employees also made monetary contributions which were forwarded to the Belize Red Cross. Symposium Oil Limited of Belize made a donation of 15 cents for every gallon of gas purchased at their Shell stations countrywide. That was in the range of $20,000. SMART donated $10,000 to the Belize Red Cross.
Travellers Liquor, Belize Telemedia Limited, Wave Radio and the Belize Red Cross hosted a Telethon that raised over $50,000. In addition, Telemedia challenged its staff of 600 to donate to the Haiti relief effort and the company matched dollar for dollar, the support of the staff. Channel 7 and Krem Radio hosted a concert at the Bliss with a host of Belizean artists to raise funds. Channel 5 held a benefit concert that raised thousands of dollars capped off by a huge donation from Belize Natural Energy. The Sagicor Group of Companies made a donation of $250,000 to the relief efforts. There were many other efforts to support the people of Haiti in their time of need.
New Anglican Primary School inaugurated in Belmopan
The new St. Ann’s Anglican Primary School was officially inaugurated on Wednesday, 20 January, 2010. The project was implemented by the Social Investment Fund and financed jointly by the Government of Belize, through the Commonwealth Debt Initiative, and the Anglican Diocese of Belize, which constructed the foundation of the new school building. The total cost of the project is estimated at $427,875.00. St. Ann’s Anglican Primary School opened its doors to the public in September 2008 at the lower flat of the Anglican Training Institute building near to St. Ann’s Church in Belmopan but growing demand for new classrooms encouraged the Anglican Diocese to build a new school building. Furniture for the new school was also provided.
40% of BTL’s Net Income Declared as Dividends
Shareholders of Belize Telemedia were happy on Thursday, February 25, when the company for the first time in a very long time declared dividends to its shareholders. For the year ending March 31, 2009 BTL realized a profit of somewhere in the region of just under 20 million dollars. The company declared 40 percent of that to the shareholders of the company as dividends. Among those shareholders are 900 which represent a shareholding of five and a half percent of the company. It is noteworthy that in November of 2008 BTL paid dividends to its 94 percent shareholders (which represent various Ashcroft related holdings) some 70 million dollars in dividends; far in excess of what the company actually made in profits. Under the new administration of the company, the small shareholders finally received their rightful share of BTL’s profit making.
Protests to control citrus’ power
The dispute between the Citrus Growers Association and the management of the Citrus Products of Belize Limited reached boiling point in Pomona Valley when more than one thousand citrus farmers, workers, and truckers made their way to the highway in front of the CPBL Factory in Pomona Valley to launch a protest. The protestors flocked to the front of the CPBL Factory on foot carrying placards, on tractors honking horns, and in the back of trucks. The placards said they want CPBL Chief Executive Officer Henry Canton, CPBL’s Chairman Mike Dunker, and Director Frank Redmond off the board.
The protest was timed to coincide with the visit of Richard Cozier and Sir Allan Fields, two executives from the Barbados based Banks Holdings Limited, which has a 46% stake in the Citrus Products of Belize Limited and who sits on the Citrus Product of Belize Limited’s Board of Directors. The Growers maintain they are entitled to five directors on the Board because they have 51% interest in the company. But despite that controlling interest, the Citrus Growers have been unable to appoint or remove the three directors.
The issue was taken in front of the court and played out even nastier later in the year.
Tropical Gaming’s Lotto License Expired
Tropical Gaming Company’s Lotto license expired on February 24, 2009. Lotto was not played for a while because of contract negotiations. According to Lincoln Blake, Senior Economist in the Ministry of Economic Development, the goal was to retrieve more revenues and provide more regulation of the game. He said that Lotto players need to be protected and their winnings need to be guaranteed. The negotiations were productive and Tropical Gaming received a contract extension.
Ministry of Education Recommends Taskforce on Corporal Punishment
The section of the Educational and Training Bill addressing the issue of corporal punishment was under heavy scrutiny. Being mindful of the concerns raised by the BNTU and others with respect to the removal of Corporal Punishment from schools, the Minister of Education proposed the establishment of a working group made up of Ministry of Education officials and education stakeholders whose task would be to identify, recommend and devise a plan for the introduction of alternatives to corporal punishment for achieving discipline in our schools and developing self-disciplined citizens. This working group was established with representation from various stakeholder groups including the BNTU, Managing Authorities and Parents.
The Minister of Education decided to put delaying provisions in the Education and Training Bill for the section dealing with the removal of corporal punishment from schools. This was to allow for a period of not more than six (6) months for such plans for the introduction of alternatives to corporal punishment in schools to be developed by the working group and for implementation of such plans to commence.
Scholarships for Belizean Educators
On Friday, February 5, Minister of Education Hon. Patrick Faber and Vice President of Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts, Dr. Edward Minnock signed a memorandum of cooperation in which three scholarships will be provided to Belizean educators.
In December of 2008, Minister of Education Hon. Patrick Faber along with Deputy Chief Education Officer Carol Babb visited the state of Massachusetts where they met with officials of Bridgewater State University in order to start a partnership between Belize and that college. The memorandum called for the provision of three graduate level scholarships offered to Belizean educators to study in the U.S. in areas of Special Education, Early Childhood Education and in Literacy. The Ministry selected Nadera Ross to continue her studies in Early Childhood Education, Lurleen Betson Gamboa in Literacy, and Paula Lizarraga in Special Education.
The memorandum also saw an additional five undergraduate students currently enrolled in programs at local sixth forms or universities pursue studies at Bridgewater. The expense was taken care of by the college with assistance from Belize’s Ministry of Education. In addition to the scholarships, student exchange programs between Belizean and Bridgewater students are included in the memorandum with the hopes of broadening the horizons of students in both countries. There will also be visits from lecturers with workshops organized to train Belizean teachers in necessary areas.
Bridgewater State University is the newest member of the Consortium of Belize Educational Cooperation COBEC.
Scholarships Available for Women with Entrepreneurial Aspirations
The Embassy of Mexico hosted the presentation of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Business Training Program. The program provides scholarships for business studies to 100 women from Mexico and Central America. The purpose of the program is to develop and strengthen the entrepreneur abilities and potential of women around the world. The 10,000 Women Business Training Program seeks to support business ideas and established businesses owned by women.
The presentation of the program to Belize was headed by the Ambassador of Mexico to Belize, Luis Manuel Lopez- Moreno. Representatives of the Belize Family Life Association (BFLA), the National Committee for Families and Children, the National Women’s Commission, PAHO, WIN Belize, YMCA and the Women’s Department attended the opening of the program.
Belize Delegation returns from Youth Conference in Suriname
A team of Belizeans returned from a Caribbean Youth Summit in Suriname. The summit was held to finalize a report which stemmed from the 27th meeting of Heads of Government in July 2006 that mandated the establishment of a Commission on Youth Development which was tasked with undertaking a full scale analysis of the challenges and opportunities for youth in the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) and making recommendations to improve their well-being and empowerment. The Commission was established in March 2007; the commissioners were appointed from the CARICOM member state and Belize’s representative was Mr. Alberto Vellos. Joining Mr. Vellos on the Belize Delegation was Anita Zetina, Officer in Charge of UNICEF in Belize, Sherlene Tablada, youth representative of UNICEF and Youth Ambassadors Kera Bowen and Dylan Williams. Minister of Youth and Sports, Hon. Elvin Penner represented the Prime Minister of Belize.
At the summit, the participants worked together to develop a Plan of Action to implement the recommendations made by the CARICOM Commission on Youth Development. This Plan of Action was included in the final report and delivered to the Heads of Government. Minister Penner said that he believes the recommendations and subsequent policies developed from the report will contribute significantly to the advancement of youths in Belize and the rest of CARICOM states.
PM Presents Recovery Budget
On Monday, March 15, the Prime Minister of Belize, Hon. Dean Barrow, presented his 2010/2011 Budget to the House of Representatives. The title of the speech was “Recovery Today, Prosperity Tomorrow”. A fitting title because the core objective of the Budget is to “nurture national recovery and return to secure and sustain growth”.
With the Government debt at $2.2 billion; the foreign debt at $1.9 billion and economic growth crippled by worldwide recession, the government was forced to construct a fairly conservative budget. There was a $60 million deficit and Belize’s economy contracted by 0.8% in 2009. It could have been worst considering the fact that the Caribbean and Latin American region experienced an estimated 1.8% contraction. Tough decisions had to be made and the Prime Minister did so but not before ensuring that the marginalized Belizeans would be offered relief.
The new budget included five carefully calibrated tax measures. It included an Increase in Business Tax for the supply of Electricity Services from 1.75% to 6.5%. This is expected to yield $10 million. An Excise Tax was imposed on locally produced crude oil. This is projected to yield $1.8 million to be used to increase road maintenance on the Western and Hummingbird Highways which are used for the transport of the product to Big Creek. A social fee of 5% is now levied on the value of all goods and services imported into an Export Processing Zone. The fourth measure was to recover $4.2 million in outstanding tax arrears owed to the Government of Belize by the former owners of BTL and wealthy landowners. The fifth measure was an increase in the General Sales Tax from 10 to 12.5%.
The Prime Minister reluctantly raised the General Sales Tax but included relief measures for low income Belizeans to cope. He withdrew GST and import duties from a host of items, in particular foodstuff. The most immediate tax relief will be seen through the extension of the Income Tax threshold from $19,600 to $26,000 per year. This means that any individual making less than $26,000 per year or $500 per week will not be asked to pay taxes. The Prime Minister will also remove GST from electricity consumption for customers using up to $200 of electricity per month.
Other features of the budget included a Conditional Cash Transfer Program which is being funded initially with $4 million from local resources. It will target the most deprived and disadvantaged in urban and rural areas and assist families with cash in exchange for participation in developmental activities such as immunization, school attendance and family education. $1 million was allocated for a Food Assistance Program which will provide subsidies for the cost of basic food items to poor senior citizens and marginalized women and children. Several youth programs were in the budget including a Countrywide Apprenticeship Program that will pay young people to learn a practical trade by way of apprenticeship to skilled crafts persons. $1 million was in the budget for the immediate extension of the Belize City Urban Rejuvenation Project. The Southside Poverty Alleviation Project was amplified as well. $500,000 was used to refurbish the old bus terminal on Magazine Road which will be used as an Education Facility for Early School Leavers from the Southside of Belize City.
Relief to Farmers and Cane Truck Drivers
The Prime Minister decided to increase a duty free fuel allowance that this government introduced. It was $2 per gallon and the PM increased that amount to $2.50 per gallon. The difference between the duty waived at the pump and the $2.50 allowance will be paid to the farmers in cash by the Government of Belize. He also waived GST on equipment and materials needed by farmers; example, rice for sowing, banana plants, banana, cable-ways, irrigation pipes or plastics and tractor parts.
PM Acts to Lower Rates at Commercial Banks
When a country is in a recession, especially one caused by the banking system, the right move is to lower interest rates on both savings and loans. When the interest rates for savings is lowered, it prompts individuals to withdraw their funds and invest in the market. When interest rates for loans are lowered, it encourages individuals to borrow and spend. Therefore, the market is active and the economy picks up. There are no regulations on commercial banks that allow the Government to force an interest rate decrease. The banks in Belize have been struggling because of excess liquidity; basically, they had nothing to invest their money in- people are not borrowing much. PM Barrow passed a package of bills in the House which included the Treasury Bills (Amendment) Bill which allows the Government to issue more Treasury Notes and Bills. This gave the banks an instrument to invest in. They could invest in more Treasury Bills and Notes which will earn them an interest over time. The move was a gesture by the Prime Minister to ease the burden on the banks and in turn he expects them to ease the burden on their clients.
Collet Residents Received Housing Grants
Belizeans from across the country have benefited from the Venezuelan grant housing improvement program. On Friday, March 12, the Area Representative for the Collet Division, Hon. Patrick Faber, and the Minister of Housing, Hon. Michael Finnegan, held a brief ceremony at the middle of Iguana Street Extension to distribute housing grants to over 75 members of the Collet Division. Hon. Patrick Faber said that it was the third phase of distribution in his division. He said that he and the people of Collet decided that instead of building houses, they would maximize the amount of grants distributed by focusing specifically on home improvement. Based on this decision, more than 250 residents of the Collet Division have now received vouchers for home improvement supplies. More grants were distributed to the residents of Collet in the early part of the new financial year.
Business Magnate Barry Bowen dies in plane crash
Sir Barry Bowen¸64, and four other people, including two young children were killed in a tragic plane crash in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. Sir Barry Bowen was piloting his Cessna 206 aircraft with a Rolls Royce turbine engine for the 15 minute plane ride from the Belize City Municipal Airstrip to San Pedro when it crashed in the marsh and swamps of the DFC Subdivision on the southern tip of San Pedro. Bowen was flying home from Belize City along with four passengers; Mike Casey, and his wife Jill Casey, along with the couple’s two children, 2 ½-year-old Makayla and five month old Bryce to San Pedro for a fundraiser at his Island Academy. Sir Barry Bowen had more than forty years flying experience and flew daily from his home in San Pedro to work in Belize City. A State Funeral was held in his honour.
Belize Retains Cocaba Silver Cup
The Court of Arbitration for Sports ruled to have Belize retain the Cocaba Silver Cup won by Belize’s National Basketball Team in August of last year in Cancun, Mexico. Belize had recruited seven players with Belizean parentage who were born outside of Belize to represent the country. However, FIBA regulations state that players must acquire the legal nationality of that country by the age of 16. In FIBA’s view the article made the seven players ineligible; however, under Belize’s constitution persons with Belizean parentage automatically become Belizean citizens at birth.
In November of 2009 the BBF took its case to the FIBA Appeals Tribunal in Geneva, Switzerland where there was a ruling against Belize. Thereafter the matter was taken up before the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland. At the conclusion of the hearing CAS handed down its ruling on April 20 reversing FIBA’s Appeals’ Tribunal ruling and also ruled that the cost of arbitration is to be borne by FIBA and it should also contribute eight thousand Swiss Francs towards the BBF’s legal costs.
Gold Medal Winners Return from Panama
Members of Belize’s National Athletics Team returned from Panama to a warm reception for winning four gold medals at the IX Central American Games. They were met at the Phillip Goldson International Airport by the President of the Belize Olympic Committee, Ned Pitts, as well as representatives from the Belize Sports Council.
Trecia Flores won Belize’s first gold medal on April 16 in the long jump competition. She did it by breaking Maria Pies’ record with a jump of 5.97 meters. Jonathan Williams represented Belize in his event of specialty, the 400 meters hurdle, and won the gold medal in dominating fashion. Williams also won the silver medal in the 110 meter hurdles. Belize’s most decorated athlete at the Games was Kaina Martinez. She came home with gold medals in the 100 and 200 meters event. She also placed second to Flores in the Long Jump competition.
PUC gives BWSL 12.1% water rate increase
The Public Utilities Commission formally announced that it would be granting a 12.1 percent increase in water rates to the Belize Water Services Limited. The Full Tariff Review Proceedings started on October 1 of 2009 and the final decision approved rates and tariffs as well as the company’s business plan for the Full Tariff Period running from April 1 to March 31, 2015. On October 9, BWSL applied for a tariff adjustment of 25%; however, the PUC made an initial decision on November 17 and approved a 10.6 percent increase in tariffs. Thereafter, BWSL objected to the PUC’s decision and an independent expert was hired who recommended a 17.2 percent rate increase. The PUC then made its final decision.
In arriving at its final decision, the PUC approved $40,453,000 in capital investments to be applied during the Full Tariff Period. This investment will be enough for BWSL to address critical expansion that is necessary as well as maintenance that the company needs to do to ensure water supply across the country.
Belize and Jamaica Hosts TRADEWINDS 2010
TRADEWINDS is an annual exercise to strengthen the capabilities and cooperation of partner nations. Approximately 450 members of the armed forces from the United States, United Kingdom, Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname came to Belize to take part in the first phase of Tradewinds 2010.
The exercise has been in existence for over 26 years now. Belize and Jamaica were joint hosts in 2010. The event was separated into two phases, green in Belize and blue in Jamaica. The green phase provided a tactical level training venue to exercise core infantry skills, policing and investigative techniques, hazardous material identification and handling, and vessel boarding party operations. In this training, both civilian and military forces will prepare for chemical disasters, gas contamination, bombs and other terrorist attacks. This took place from the 12th to the 26th of April at Price Barracks in Ladyville. The blue phase will take place in Jamaica. It focused on maritime interdiction and search and rescue operations with an emphasis on command and control.
Energy drink claims life of Veteran television Journalist Keith Swift
On Monday April 19, Channel 7’s television reporter, 30-year-old Keith Swift, was found dead inside his apartment by roommate Mark Bowman. Bowman noticed that Swift’s keys were in his room door’s lock and with the assistance of a friend Bowman entered the room and found Swift dead on the floor of his room. In the room an opened can of the energy drink “Monster” was found. The post mortem conducted on Swift concluded that he died as a result of brain hemorrhage causing blood clots that led to a heart attack. Dr. Mario Estradabran told Swift’s family members that he died almost instantly. His stomach was empty other than with contents of what is believed to be orange juice and the energy drink. Estradabran says it is likely that the energy drink was a contributing factor.
Swift had been an employee with Channel 7 from November of 1998 to August 2001 after which he left for Florida International University in the U.S. to pursue his studies. He returned to Belize to again work with Channel 7 up to the time of his death. Keith Swift was also a contributor to the Guardian Newspaper from May 2008 up until the time of his death.
Ashcroft Challenges BTL Nationalization
Legal arguments began on Tuesday May 25 between attorneys for Michael Ashcroft and the Government of Belize following challenges being made on the Nationalization of BTL. Attorneys for Ashcroft, Eamon Courtenay and Godfrey Smith opened their arguments before Justice Oswell Legall asking that the legislation by which BTL was nationalized be declared unconstitutional. They argued that government acted contrary to the constitution’s property rights and as such the action was discriminatory.
Attorney Lois Young assisted by Deanne Barrow argued that government’s actions were in the best interest of the people of Belize. Young went into detail giving a chronology of events that led to the eventual nationalization of the telecommunications company. She argued that a primary force behind the nationalization was the fact that BTL, through its owner, was refusing to pay taxes. But more than that she argued that there were mounting legal challenges which government had to contend with on a regular basis. She continued explaining that legal challenges were constantly being made by Ashcroft and cited that as far back as December of 2004 the then Prime Minister Said Musa had indicated that dealing with Ashcroft and BTL meant having to deal with a “quagmire of litigation.” The level of litigation involved argued Young was another determining factor for the nationalization of BTL.
On August 24, 2009, the Government of Belize passed legislation in the national assembly to nationalize Belize Telemedia Limited.
PRIVY COUNCIL jurisdiction ends in Belize
The jurisdiction of the Privy Council to hear appeals from Belize was abolished with effect from 1 June 2010. This followed from the Orders issued by the Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow, to bring into force the Constitution (Seventh Amendment) Act and the Caribbean Court of Justice Act with effect from the said date. These Orders were published in the Belize Gazette dated 1 May 2010.
The Caribbean Court of Justice replaced the Privy Council as the highest Court of Appeal for Belize. This did not affect any appeals pending before the Privy Council on 31 May 2010. The Caribbean Court of Justice, commonly known as “CCJ”, was established by Caribbean countries on 14 February 2001. So far, only Barbados, Guyana and Belize have joined the CCJ.
Westernhaven to pay $11.5 million for Damage to Reef
On Monday, April 26, the Chief Justice of Belize delivered his judgment on a case which he dubbed to be one of “the most technical cases to ever come before the court”. This is the case of the Government of Belize against Westernhaven. The ship, Westernhaven, ran aground near one of Belize’s most significant protected areas, near Caye Glory, which is a protected area and the spawning site for endangered species, the Nassau Grouper. The grounding chased schools of Nassau Grouper out of their spawning environment and destroyed thousands of square meters of Belize’s most pristine corals.
The defendant had already conceded the fact that compensation must be made to the Government of Belize for the damage to the reef. However, the figure they had in mind was US$2.5 million. Furthermore, they had no intention to actually pay for the damages. Instead, they wanted to pay for the replacement of the reef with artificial corals. According to Deanne Barrow, Lead Attorney for the Complainant, the issue then was whether the Chief Justice would view the incident as “damage to property” or “injury to the environment”.
Before Chief Justice Conteh rendered his decision, he said that Belize cannot continue to sacrifice its natural resources such as the Belize Barrier Reef for commercial interest. He then revealed his decision which orders the owners of the Dutch registered vessel to pay $11,510,000. This was much less than the over $30 million that GOB had requested, but it was a huge victory nonetheless.
SSB Gives $50,000 for Haemodialysis Ward at KHMH
On Tuesday, May 25, the Social Security Board joined the fight against kidney related illnesses and donated $50,000 to the Ministry of Health for the renovation of the designated site for the Haemodialysis Unit at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital in Belize City. The Cabinet approved the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Health and the World Organization of Renal Therapies (WORTH). WORTH is a non-profit organization whose goal is to bring dialysis treatment to people in developing countries almost free of cost. The MOU requested that Belize construct Haemodialysis units and the SSB donation came as a result.
The plan seeks to establish a Haemodialysis unit at both the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital and the Loma Luz Hospital. At the handing over ceremony on Tuesday, Chief Executive Officer of the Social Security Board, Mrs. Merlene Bailey-Martinez, and Minister of Health, Hon. Pablo Marin emphasized the importance of living healthier lifestyles.
Ministry of Health receives Grant from World Bank
The Ministry of Health received a grant from the World Bank valued at US$501,744.00 for an Avian and Human Influenza Detection and Response Project. The Ministry of Health will use the funds to strengthen Belize’s ability to detect and respond to potential H1N1 influenza epidemic and build the overall surveillance capacity of the health system. Funds from this short-term grant will be used to strengthen the country’s ability to detect influenza by expanding and improving existing surveillance activities by providing training to health professionals to work at ports of entry, establish diagnostic laboratories at air and sea ports, and acquire medical supplies for the collection of samples from probable cases. It is expected that Belize will complete the execution of the Avian and Human Influenza Detection and Response Project by June 2011.
Solid Waste Management program begins
The Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Beverly Castillo, along with Director of the Solid Waste Management Authority, Gilroy Lewis, and other personnel from the solid waste management authority were at the old Belize City Dump site for the official launching of the solid waste management program.
The preliminary work began in Belize City for the closing down of the existing garbage dump at mile 3 on the Western Highway. The work entailed the improving of the existing site by covering up the exposed garbage to reduce the risk of fires in the area. Government invested some US$ 650 thousand out of a total US$14.78 million which will see the closure of dumpsites in San Ignacio; San Pedro, Ambergris Caye; Caye Caulker and Belize City. The intention is to have transfer stations established at the existing dumpsites for garbage to be moved to a sanitary landfill located at mile 24 on the Western Highway where recycling and composting activities will be conducted. From an environmental perspective the inadequate management of solid waste creates adverse effects to the environment, soil, water resources and also poses a health hazard.
The first phase of the project was completed in June.
UDP Dominates PUP in 2010 Elections- 128 to 45
There were 190 Village Council Elections this season. The United Democratic Party performed excellently by winning an impressive 128 villages. The independent candidates had a marginal impact in the elections by winning 17 villages and impacting many others. Though inexplicable, there were 45 villages that decided to trust the PUP once again.
The 2010 elections saw villages that were die hard PUP villages turning to the UDP and those that were battlegrounds becoming ruby red. Most recent examples of these were the UDP’s success in the village of Progresso and the destroying of the opponents in Succotz. Succotz may stand out as the most impressive victory of 2010 as the UDP won the chairmanship by a total of 741 to 299 votes.
Restore Belize Opens Secretariat
Project Restore Belize opened its secretariat. Headed by Marydelene Vasquez, the office of the program is housed at the Fisheries building located on Newtown Barracks. On Wednesday June 16 representatives of the media were invited to the offices to get their input on the program. Similar meetings were held with various stakeholder groups to get ideas and recommendations from as wide a cross section of the Belizean public as is possible.
At the meeting, Vasquez shared the goals and objectives of the program as well as asked representatives of the media to give their suggestions. She also explained that the offices are already functioning with the hiring of an administrative assistant as well as two program officers. Those program officers were Nelma Mortis and Marie Munoz. They will be tasked with running public education campaigns as well as devising strategies for public/private partnerships as well as the cataloguing of existing programs and coordination to better achieve overall objectives.
Project C.U.R.E. ships $800,000 in medical supplies to Belize
Project C.U.R.E. and Belize Natural Energy (BNE) joined forces with the Ministry of Health to ship medical supplies to the Western Regional Hospital in Belmopan. Project C.U.R.E’s main patron is the Global Ambassador for Special Olympics and Special Envoy for Women and Children, Mrs. Kim Simplis-Barrow. Project C.U.R.E. has reached more than 120 countries worldwide through donations of medical equipment and supplies to support healthcare systems.
Approximately $800,000 in medical supplies and equipment was provided to the new Emergency wing at the Western Regional Hospital. Since 2005, Project C.U.R.E. has been working with health partners in Belize to deliver an estimated $9 million in supplies and equipment to hospitals throughout the country. The program has been highlighted by Mrs. Barrow’s powerful address in the United States at Project C.U.R.E.’s third annual First Lady’s Luncheon, in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2009, which secured donations of medical equipment for Belize valued at $2 million.
Over 70 youths receive certificates in Life Skills Training
Over 70 young persons from Belize City and surrounding areas received certificates after completing an intense 72-hours skills training program organized by the National Kriol Council. The skills training is part of an organizational strengthening/cultural entrepreneurial training project of the National Kriol Council (NKC), which was implemented by the Social Investment Fund. The project was financed by a $171,000 grant from the Basic Needs Trust Fund (BNTF5).
The skills training program has equipped participants to identify skills and talents that can be utilized to enhance their self-esteem and set themselves firmly on the road to becoming independent entrepreneurs by using their entrepreneurial potential and talents to generate income. The training areas included basketry, sewing, traditional dance, bamboo craft, drama, script writing and drumming. The Council will promote and market the services and arts and crafts produced by the trainees.
Brukdown King and Icon Wilfred Peters dies
Belize’s Brukdown progenitor, Wilfred Peters, died after being admitted to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital. Peters was admitted after he began experiencing shortness of breath while at his North Creek home in Belize City. Doctors at the KHMH treated Peters for three days for heart problems and he eventually succumbed to his illness.
The 79-year-old Peters had become a legend in Belize with his trademark music of Brukdown made more iconic by his use of the accordion in his compositions. Peters began his music career as early as age seven when he became proficient in playing both the guitar and accordion. By the time he reached his early teenaged years he had become popular being requested to play at special events in Belize. In the prime of his music career Peters played in various international concerts including major music festivals in Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean and North America.
A State Funeral was held in his honour.
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The Guardian, July - December
PM Visits Belizeans in Miami
Prime Minister Dean Barrow along with a delegation of government ministers including Minister of Foreign Trade, Hon. Wilfred Elrington; Minister of Works, Hon. Anthony Martinez; Minister of Health Hon. Pablo Marin and Minister of the Public Service, Elections and Boundaries and Sports, Hon. John Saldivar visited Belizeans in Miami on Saturday, June 26.
The event was hosted at the Miami Beach resort and though the event was briefly interrupted, the Prime Minister noted that he was able to touch base with Belizeans living in Miami. He says that it was with a sense of having them reconnect to their home country and appealing for them to contribute to the development of Belize and identify ways in which they can assist in the crime problem in Belize.
PM Barrow Opens First Summit of Belize’s Consular Network in Washington D.C.
The First Summit of Belize’s Consular Network in the United States and Canada was held in Washington, D.C. on July 8 and 9. The two day event was hosted by the Embassy of Belize in Washington, D.C. and was opened by the Honourable Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize, and the Honourable Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.
This is the first time that the Consular Representatives of Belize in the US and Canada have been brought together, and the event was in consonance with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ efforts to improve its overseas representation through better coordination, training and information sharing. During the Summit, the Consular Representatives received presentations from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Belize Tourism Board, BELTRAIDE, and the Department of Immigration. Other invited speakers included high level representatives from the U.S. Department of State, the Organization of American States and the International Organization for Migration.
Water Treatment Plant in Caye Caulker
The inauguration of a water treatment plant in Caye Caulker occurred on Thursday, July 1. Haydon Brown, Belize Water Services Human Resources and Public Relations Manager, said that the project is based “on the foresight of the Government of Belize seeing the need for better water service in Caye Caulker”. According to Brown, it was a two part project. The first phase was the construction of a reverse osmosis water treatment plant. This was followed up by the laying of main lines throughout the village.
Before the implementation of the plant, most residents of Caye Caulker got their water through a village system operated by the council or they used rain water. The BWS system uses the water from the sea and through reverse osmosis transforms it into potable water. The system maintains a constant pressure throughout the day.
This government has been dedicated to expanding water services throughout the country. Brown said that as the only water services provider in Belize, BWS is government’s number one partner in that effort. He said, “Part of government’s millennium goal is to have 99.9% of the country with access to potable water by 2015.” He said that if we are to achieve this we need to continue being aggressive. The Caye Caulker plant costs more than $3 million.
More water and electricity for Banana Belt
The official inauguration of the San Pablo Village Rudimentary Water System and the Electrification Project was held on Friday, 23 July, at the project site in San Pablo Village, Toledo District.
The water project in San Pablo Village, located about nine miles southwest from Bella Vista Village on the Southern Highway, was financed by the Government of Belize and the European Union as part of the Banana Belt Clean Water Project. The Banana Belt Clean Water project aims to provide clean potable water to over 2,035 residents in Trio, Bladen, San Isidro and San Pablo village in the Toledo District. The targeted villages are poor communities which experience critical water shortages especially during the dry season. The situation in these villages has continuously posed health hazards from water borne illnesses. The provision of potable water to these four communities is therefore considered urgent and beneficial to their social and economic development.
The scope of works for the San Pablo Village Rudimentary Water system included the construction of a 20,000 gallon Ferro-concrete elevated tank reinforced for earthquake resistance, a pump house and chlorinator unit, a filtration gallery and the installation of 6,520 feet of transmission and distribution lines. The cost for the project is estimated at just over 424,000 Belize dollars. Of this amount, the Government of Belize contributed BZ$106,000 and the remaining sum was provided by the European Union. Over 250 residents of San Pablo Village will benefit from the project, which was implemented by the Social Investment Fund, a statutory body under the Ministry of Economic Development.
In addition to the launch of the Rudimentary Water System, the electrification project for San Pablo Village was also implemented by Belize Electricity Limited as part of the Banana Belt Electrification Project. Under the project, seven communities in the area have been connected to the national electricity grid. The communities are: Santa Cruz, Monkey River, San Isidro, Trio, Bladen, Cowpen and San Pablo being the last village to benefit from the project. The electrification project will not just benefit local residents but banana workers and growers, small businesses and small manufacturers of local products. The total cost of the San Pablo Village electrification project is approximately BZ$900,000 of which the Government of Belize has contributed BZ$225,000. The remaining sum was financed by the European Union.
The project in San Pablo completes the provision of water systems to four communities in the Banana Belt; namely, Trio, Bladen, San Isidro and now San Pablo. The total cost of the four water systems is about BZ$1.72 million. Of this amount, the Government provided BZ$437,000.
Inspiring the Future at a Historic UDP Convention
Party Leader, Hon. Dean Barrow: "It’s two and a half years into our term and it is clear that the magic is still there.”
After two and a half years, some have questioned the strength and staying power of the UDP government. After a massive motorcade which boasted more than two hundred buses and even more private vehicles, the host of the event, Area Representative for Orange Walk North, Hon. Gaspar Vega, expressed what the historic turnout confirmed: "The United Democratic Party is growing.” The convention was a massive event. There were way more than 10,000 people at the convention. But what made the turnout more impressive was the demographic. The majority of the attendees were not the usual convention participants like campaigners, party employees and long time party supporters. The majority of the participants were first time convention attendees who were attracted to the warm embrace of the UDP. These were young Belizeans who had Representatives that they can identify with and single mothers who wanted to honour leaders fighting for them. There were reformed gangsters who are now working under the many government programs and current gang members who appreciate a Party that does not refer to them as devils and terrorists but instead continues to work with them in hope of rehabilitation.
By one o’clock in the afternoon, the musical entertainment was in full effect as delegates from the different constituents made their way to the voting area. The Garifuna drummers, Youth Connection Band, Captain Roby and others performed for all to enjoy. Many showed off their dancing skills, including, the Representative from Port Loyola, Hon. Anthony ‘Boots’ Martinez. The delegates endorsed the Party Leader, Hon. Dean Barrow; First Deputy Party Leader, Hon. Gaspar Vega; Second Deputy Party Leader, Hon. Erwin Contreras and Vice Chairman, Senator Roosevelt Blades. One post was up for election and that was for the chairmanship of the Party. In that election, the Representative from Collet, Hon. Patrick Faber, emerged as the winner over the Representative for Belmopan, Hon. John Saldivar.
In his Keynote Address, the Party Leader thanked the members and supporters of the United Democratic Party for displaying the confidence in him to lead the Party once again. He emphasized that the Party we represent is a united Party that stands on democratic principles. He then congratulated Hon. Patrick Faber and Hon. John Saldivar on their display of democracy. After pumping up the crowd, he encouraged them to keep the faith.
Supreme Court Confirms Constitutionality of BTL Nationalization
On 25 August, 2009, the House of Representatives and the Senate of Belize enacted the Belize Telecommunications (Amendment) Act No. 9 of 2009. This is referred to as the Acquisition Act which allowed the Government to nationalize Belize Telemedia Limited for the sake of public interest. However, soon after the nationalization, representatives from the previous ownership group challenged the constitutionality of the takeover. The claimants requested damages including “punitive damages; interest; other reliefs as the Court deems just and equitable and cost.”
In his conclusion, Justice Oswell Legal said that telecommunication services are a “critical part of the development of Belize”. He continued:
“In the life of B.T.L. and later Belize Telemedia, the company faced major issues, including a quagmire of lawsuits resulting from fights for control and management of the company, which had an unsettling effect on it and which was “detrimental to the public interest; the possibility of the life of the company coming to an end by a winding up petition; the use of a large loan from the claimant bank to the company which was used substantially to buy shares in itself; and the decision of the management of the company to lend to a commercial bank – the Belize Bank – $30,000,000 of the company’s financial resources. There is therefore no merit in the submission that the Minister acted unreasonably, did not take relevant matters into consideration, acted on no evidence when he made the Acquisition Act and Orders.”
Justice Legal then dismissed the claims brought fort by British Caribbean Bank Limited and Dean Boyce. He also ordered that they pay cost to the defendants for the litigation process. The Attorney General and Minister of Public Utilities were represented by Lois Young and Deanne Barrow.
Belize Bank refused injunction against Central Bank - Belize Bank’s non-performing loan portfolio at 28%
Earlier in the year BCB Holdings Limited and the Belize Bank sought an injunction against the Central Bank. The injunction was sought after the Belize Bank failed to comply with a directive given by the Central Bank to the Belize Bank to reverse a transaction which saw the Belize Bank including ten million U.S. dollars (Venezuelan Grant Money) as part of its assets. The fact remains that the money is in possession of the Government of Belize and is currently being used to construct houses and do home repairs for poor families of this country. Because the Belize Bank was listing the 20 million Belize dollars as an asset when the bank was not in possession of the money, the Central Bank gave a directive in which the money should be written off as an asset.
Since then, the Belize Bank sought an injunction, and after hearings took place on the 16th and 22nd of July before Justice Oswell Legal, the judge ruled that the Belize Bank should not be given an injunction. More importantly, however, is the revelation that was made through an affidavit by the Governor of the Central Bank. In it the Governor points out that “the CBB (Central Bank of Belize) is also keenly aware of BBL’s (Belize Bank Limited) extremely high ratio of non-performing loans to total loans of 28% which is more than five times the prudential benchmark of 5%”; he goes on to explain that “the Belize Bank’s performance is deteriorating and if left unchecked and unresolved could lead to the bank becoming financially unstable. The Belize Bank’s published financial statements at 31 March 2010 show that the Bank’s non-performing loans were at 206.9 million dollars out of a total portfolio of 680.4 million dollars.”
PM Barrow Pushes Political Reform
Prime Minister Dean Barrow introduced what some have called the most meaningful political reform bill in Belize’s modern history at the Friday, August 6, session of the House of Representatives. The bill is entitled the Recall of Elected Representatives Bill 2010. It is an act that allows voting residents of a constituency to demand a recall election for their division. The bill requests that 30% of voting residents sign a petition requesting the recall of their Representative. The petition must be taken to the Governor General who may call for the referendum. For the referendum to be legitimate, 65% of registered voters from the constituency must take part. If that occurs, a simple majority of votes will be upheld as the decision. If the decision is to remove the Area Representative then a bi-election will be called to select a new representative and the recalled representative cannot take part in that election.
CISCo Awarded Contract for Construction of New Kendal Bridge
On Thursday, August 5, two tenders were presented for the construction of the new Kendal Bridge. One was from Kier/Kee Chanona Limited (Joint Venture), a Jamaican based firm, for the total cost of $16,085,627.07. The second was from CISCo Construction Company Limited for the total cost of $11,899, 079.35. Cadet Henderson, Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Works, explained that the disparity in total cost does not play a major roll in the decision. He continued, “We had cases where a million dollar proposal had a $900,000 error.” After the projects were reviewed, CISCo Construction was the winning tender. On Tuesday, September 28, the contract was signed between CISCo Construction and the Government of Belize.
Signing on behalf of the government was Minister of Works, Hon. Anthony “Boots” Martinez, and Chief Executive Officer Cadet Henderson and on behalf of the Cisco Construction Company was Francis Woods. Minister Martinez said CISCo was awarded the contract because “Their proposal was impressive and they are a proven company in Belize.” The civil works comprises the construction of a new high level bridge which will consist of a 90 meter span steel truss supporting reinforcement concrete deck founded on driven piles. The bridge abutments will include anchored pile retaining walls with precast concrete facing panels to contain the new embankment fill. The work should commence immediately and it is expected to be completed in an 18-month time frame. The bridge, located at mile 13 on the Southern Highway in the Stann Creek District, was designed by Beca International Consultants Limited, a New Zealand based firm. Funding for the project is being provided by the Government of Belize and the Caribbean Development Bank.
Dialysis Machines arrive in Belize
On Friday August 6, the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital received a forty foot container with approximately 1.5 million dollars worth of dialysis equipment and supplies to be distributed between the KHMH and the Loma Luz Hospital in the Cayo district. The shipment contained reverse osmosis machines, mixing tanks, carbon tanks and dialysis recliners, among other equipment.
The equipment was delivered to CEO at the KHMH Dr. Gary Longsworth along with members of the Haemodialysis project task force. Also coming into the country was Richard Parson, a founding member of the Board of Directors and the Director of the Biomedical Unit at the World Organization of Renal Therapies (WORTH). He was in the country for a week to assist with the installation of the dialysis machines and will also provide practical training on the use and maintenance of the machines to four biomedical technicians who will work in the dialysis unit at both hospitals.
Boardwalk for San Pedro
The Ministry of Tourism, the Belize Tourism Board and International Environments Ltd. (IE)., a local architectural firm, signed off on a $482,500 dollar agreement for the designing of a 2000 foot long boardwalk in San Pedro Town.
The boardwalk will be constructed along with a multi-purpose pier to accommodate international and domestic water taxi terminals along with small scale shopping operations in the back lagoon area of San Pedro Town. The project is part of a six million dollar Sustainable Tourism Program which is being funded by the Inter-American Development Bank and which will see similar tourism oriented developments taking place in other parts of the country, including Placencia, Belize City and other destinations. The San Pedro development is expected to become a destination for tourists and locals with the boardwalk being designed to promote an atmosphere of leisure and relaxation; maintaining the identity of San Pedro Town, while revitalizing the surrounding area.
Construction will commence early in 2011.
PM Barrow Meets Belizean Diaspora in L.A.
Over the weekend of Friday, August 13, to Sunday, August 15, the Prime Minister met with Belizeans living in Los Angeles California. He was hosted at a reception by members of the Belizean Community in Los Angeles, Los Angeles Consular Corps as well as elected officials, civic and religious leaders. The PM was also hosted at a banquet where a special posthumous tribute was paid to persons who had contributed to the Belizean communities. Several other individuals also received Certificates of Recognition for the work they have done for communities at home and abroad.
On Sunday, August 15, the Prime Minister presented a State of the Nation address and answered questions from members of the community. It was an unprecedented event as many Belizeans were unable to make it inside because the venue was full to capacity. As a result, the Prime Minister agreed to make his remarks a second time for those who were unable to hear him the first time. It was a celebratory mood for Belizeans as they waited in long lines to meet and greet Belize’s Prime Minister as well as to take pictures with our country’s leader. During the course of his visit, Prime Minister Barrow met with the Los Angeles City Council, the Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca.
Twenty-six Belizeans accepted for Scholarships in Taiwan
Twenty-six Belizean students were awarded scholarships for studies in Taiwan under the Belize-Taiwan Cooperation Program. Twenty students have been awarded scholarships through the ICDF-Taiwan (International Cooperation and Development Fund) Scholarship Program whereby twelve students will pursue a two-year Master’s Degree and eight students will pursue a four-year Bachelor’s Degree. Six Belizeans will also be allowed to attend any university of their choice in Taiwan to pursue their undergraduate or graduate degrees through the Taiwan Scholarship Program 2010. As well, they are offered the opportunity to take a Mandarin Language Enrichment Program for one extra year to improve their language abilities.
24 students completed their studies this year and graduated from their respective universities in Taiwan and returned to Belize. There are currently 80 Belizeans students still studying in Taiwan.
BELIZE AWARDS SCHOLARSHIPS TO 25 YOUNG MEXICANS TO STUDY ENGLISH AT THE UNIVERSITY OF BELIZE
25 Mexican students will study English at the Regional Language Center of the University of Belize (UB) in Belmopan, through the scholarships granted by the Government of Belize. The program “English as a Second Language” started in September 2010 and will last ten months. Students of different nationalities will also participate in the course.
Out of the 25 scholarships funded by the Belizean government, 20 are part of the Cultural and Educational Cooperation Agreement between Mexico and Belize, and five are granted under an agreement between Mexico’s National School for Technical Professional Studies (CONALEP) and Belize’s Ministry of Education.
15 BELIZEANS OBTAIN SCHOLARSHIPS TO STUDY IN MEXICO
15 Belizeans obtained scholarships to further their studies in Mexico. The scholarships were granted by the Government of Mexico through the National School of Professional Technical Education (CONALEP), as part of the agreement with the Ministry of Education in Belize.
The period of the scholarships is from two to three years depending on the program. The scholarship of the Mexican government consists of the payment of food expenses; registration and school fees. The Belizean students will study programs such as computer science, telecommunications, construction, electromechanical, diesel engines, nursing, food and drinks in various establishments of CONALEP along Mexico, in Quintana Roo, Michoacán, the State of Mexico, Jalisco and Mexico City.
In the last three years, more than 100 Belizean students have benefited and received qualifications in technical careers.
22 Youths Receive BTL Scholarships
On Wednesday, August 18, Belize Telemedia Limited handed out 22 scholarships to students from across the country as part of its 2010 Belize Telemedia Scholarship Program. Telemedia has been issuing out scholarships since 1991. 500 students have received scholarships so far totaling a cost of over $1 million. Linette Canto said that over 300 people applied for the scholarships. The application process opens up in May each year. She says that in addition to fees and books, Telemedia provides assistance for the recipient in various areas including tutoring.
PM Announces BTL is Ready for Sale to Belizeans
During his Independence Day Address, Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced that the process of completing the prospectus for Belize Telemedia has been completed and shares will be offered to the Belizean public shortly. In speaking with the Chairman of the Board of Directors Nestor Vasquez, he confirmed that the final preparations were being made for the offer to be made to the public. Though he did not comment on what number of shares will be issued or for what price they will be sold, he did say that the target date of October 15 will be met for the opening of the sale of BTL.
The news of the ‘re-Belizeanizing’ of BTL is one which received much fan fare. Belizeans finally had the opportunity to purchase shares in one of the most profitable companies in the country.
PM Honours 25 Patriots
The Prime Minister of Belize, Hon. Dean Barrow, honoured twenty-five distinguished Belizeans at the Tribute to Belizean Patriots ceremony on Thursday, September 16. The PM said that the men and women being honoured represent the true spirit of Belize. Two individuals were honoured with the Order of Belize. Those individuals were Dr. Lennox A. Pike, for his contributions to Belize’s Consular Service, Medicine and the Belizean Community in Detroit, Michigan, and Hon. Curl Osmond Thompson who was honoured posthumously with the Order of Belize for his contributions to Public Service and Industrial Relations.
Four individuals received Order of Distinction honours. Hon. Faith Babb was honoured for her contributions to Public Service. Mr. Nestor A. Vasquez was honoured for his contributions to Telecommunications. Mrs. Floss Cassasola was honoured posthumously for her contributions to Education and Music and Mr. Terence Leo Keating was honoured posthumously for his contributions to Scouting and Uniformed Services.
Nineteen men and women received Meritorious Service Awards. Those individuals are Mr. Edison Staine, for contributions to Music; Mr. Delhart L. Courtney Sr., for contributions to Sports; Mr. Theodore Burrowes, for contributions to Music; Mr. Owen “Sonny” Meighan, for his contributions to Sports; Mr. Bonifacio Moh, for contributions to Industry and the Credit Union Movement; Mrs. Alberta Cano, for contributions to Education and Community Service; Mrs. Barbara Harris for contributions to Community Development; Ms. Myrna Manzanares for contributions to Culture and Arts; Mrs. Sonia Lenares, for contributions to Social Services and Community Development; Mrs. Andrea Gabriel for contributions to Culture; Ms. Olga Myers, for contributions to Public Service and Community Service; Ms. Rose Armstrong, for contributions to Social Services and Community Development and Mrs. Velda M. Aguet, MBE, JP, for contributions to Voluntary and Community Services. Mr. Bartolome Rodriguez Sr., Mr. Evert Coe, Mr. Bedford Richie, Mr. Walter Panting, Mr. Salvador “Jorge” Iglesias and Ms. Melba Nora Bodden were honoured for contributions to Community Service.
Record Profits for BWS
At the Belize Water Services Limited’s 2010 Annual General Meeting it was announced that the company increased its overall profits in the reporting period by 136% from 2.069 million dollars in 2008/09 to 4.878 million dollars in 2009/2010. This increase in profits was a result of efforts made at reducing cost by 5.2%, from 27.604 million dollars to 26.169 million. Despite an increase of 2.3% in water consumption, the company managed to decrease water production by 4.3%. This is a direct result of the Non-Revenue Water section of that department. The amount of Non-Revenue Water has gone down from 34.5% last year to 29.4% this year. Water Sales Revenue of 30.5 million dollars, up from 29.563 last year, increased by 3.2% driven by an increase in the volume of water sold. The company ended the year with 45,537 active customer connections which went up from 44,610 last year.
The Government of Belize, for a second consecutive year, elected to forgo its dividend as the majority shareholder allowing for the historic payment of 15 cents per share to minority shareholders.
BCWU executive square off
On August 21 there was an election for a new executive of the Belize Communication Workers Union (BCWU) where seven new executives were selected. However, the old executives headed by Mark Gladden sought legal advice on the election of the new executive to the Union. They told the Guardian that the election was held contrary to the BCWU’s constitution. According to them, BTL’s management is recognizing the old executive as the true representatives of the workers of BTL and that the former executive was elected to serve from 2008 to 2011. Elections were not due until sometime between February and March of 2011.
Allegations were thrown from both sides in a nasty public feud.
Restore Belize Establishes 1st Safe Zone
The Restore Belize Program announced on Tuesday August 31 that the first Community Safe Zone has been established in Belize City. The Ministry of Works launched a clean up campaign in the area which is defined by boundaries as follows: Central American Boulevard between Faber’s Road and Neal’s Penn Road and extending into the sea.
Work crews moved into the area to clean drains, cut overgrown lots as well as do painting on St. John’s Vianney School as well as Excelsior High. Additionally, derelict vehicles were removed from the area. The physical upliftment of the area is to be followed by social interventions through the Ministry of Education and Human Development. The issue of children being out of school is a major contributing factor for a high rate of crime. To alleviate the problem, social assistance was and will continue be given to households to increase school attendance. Added to that, there will be the implementation of afterschool programs with the assistance of high school students as well as other volunteers. Increase security measures were put in place. The full program for the zone is still being rolled out.
Audralee Enriquez wins Queen of the Bay
The 65th Queen of the Bay pageant was held on Saturday, September 4, at Birds Isle. This year ten beautiful young ladies competed to be crowned Queen of the Bay 2010-2011. They were Salome Cardinez, Miss Corozal; Diana Hemmans from Belize City; Shanice Flowers, Miss Belizean Pride; Audralee Enriquez, Miss Freetown; Lisa Gutierrez from Independence; Danielli Rodriguez, Queen of the West; Ashley Glenn from Placencia; Julie Vargas from Punta Gorda; Shana Evelyn from Belmopan; and Shanice Skeen, Miss Belizean Haven. The Queen’s advisors ruled that Audralee Enriquez was most fit for the crown. The first runner up was Ashley Glenn. Salome Cardinez finished as the second runner up; while Julie Vargas and Shanice Skeen finished as the third and fourth runners up, respectively.
Belizean Diaspora and Belize Homeland Reconnected
In September 2009, the Cabinet of Belize approved a special program entitled Engaging the Belizean Diaspora in Belize's Renaissance and Renewal. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and Belizean Diaspora organizations observed 10-21 September 2010 as a Special 12-day Period of Appreciation and Reflection. This period also represents the peak time in visits of Belizean Diaspora. It afforded Belizeans at home and abroad the chance to engage in face-to-face dialogue aimed at maximizing the impact in Belize and the Diaspora in pursuit of programs that can help Belizean communities everywhere to develop and prosper. During this period, workshops and media events focused attention on (i) the unbroken partnership between the Belizean Diaspora and Belizean homeland (ii) the contributions of Belizean Diaspora to Belizean Sovereignty and National Development and (iii) to encourage reflection on ways that Diaspora homeland reconnection can strengthen our nation to meet the challenges.
Richard Destroys Homes and Citrus Industry
Hurricane Richard made landfall on the evening of Sunday, October 24, 2010. By 3 o’clock residents of the city were already experiencing strong winds. The first house that Richard claimed in Belize was on Mex Avenue. By 5 o’clock the wind was howling. Zinc fences were banging and garbage was flying. The eye did not make landfall until 6, but by then residents were already worn down by the storm. Power was out and the thick cloud of the storm made it pitch dark outside. Around 7:45 there was a sudden rise in water. In certain parts of the city it rose by at least 18 inches in 15 minutes. The storm lasted about six hours. Belize City was hit hard. Hit worst were the areas of Port Loyola, Collet, Lake Independence and Belama Phase 3 and 4 in the Freetown division.
At 3p.m. on Monday October 25, after receiving preliminary information as to the extent of damage that Hurricane Richard had caused on the country, and after doing a fly over assessment, Prime Minister Dean Barrow; along with Minister of NEMO, Hon. Melvin Hulse; Minister of Works, Hon. Anthony Martinez; NEMO Coordinator Noreen Fairweather and other key officials in the restoration process held a press conference to update the nation on the situation and offer assurance that the recovery effort will be top priority. Based on preliminary reports, 150 to 200 homes were damaged; that number later grew. More than 4,600 people accessed shelters countrywide and many of them did not have a home to return to. The most significant damage caused by Richard was to the citrus industry. The entire harvest, all the oranges were literally on the ground. The damage to the citrus industry was estimated at more than $29.1 million and the overall damage by Richard was in the area of $60 million. The recovery efforts led to significant job creation.
PM Chooses Mexico for First Official Visit
The Prime Minister of Belize led a delegation of government officials to Mexico on Tuesday, October 19. That delegation included Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education and Youth, Rt. Hon. Manuel Esquivel, Fomer Prime Minister of Belize, H.E. Alexis Rosado, Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Ms. Audrey Wallace, Chief Executive Officer in the Office of the Prime Minister, Lawrence Sylvester, Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Housing, Eng. Cadet Henderson, Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Works and Ambassador Rosendo Antonio Urbina, Ambassador of Belize to Mexico.
While in Mexico, the Prime Minister and the Belizean delegation took part in several symbolic ceremonies including the laying of a wreath at the Altar of the Nation. He then took part in a welcoming ceremony by the President of Mexico, C. Felipe Calderon Hinojosa. Subsequent discussions included the common problems facing both countries such as the illegal trafficking in narcotics, arms, and humans. He thanked the Government and people of Mexico for their support in contributing to the education and training of Belizeans. PM Barrow said that he looked forward to working with the Government of Mexico for support in social housing and infrastructural projects.
A number of agreements were signed. There was the Agreement between the Ministry of Education and Youth of the Government of Belize and the Secretariat of Public Education of the United Mexican States for Educational and Technical Cooperation to Support Quality and Competitiveness in Technical Education and Training. There were three agreements signed on behalf of Belize by Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. The first is the Memorandum of Understanding on Technical Cooperation between the Belize Intellectual Property Office and the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property of the United Mexican States. The objective of this Memorandum of Understanding is to establish the general basis for the participants to undertake activities related to technical cooperation and the promotion of mechanisms in the fields of industrial property and information technology services.
There was then an agreement for the extension of visa waivers between the two countries. Based on this agreement, the holders of official passports issued by the Government of the United Mexican States may enter into, stay and transit through the territory of Belize without prior visa, up to a period of ninety (90) days. The same is worded for a holder of a Belizean passport travelling into or through Mexico. The fourth bilateral agreement signed during the Prime Minister’s visit to Mexico was the Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Belize and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the United Mexican States Regarding the Cooperation to Support National Communities Abroad. The objective of this Memorandum of Understanding is to establish cooperation mechanisms between Belize and Mexico in an effort to provide support and assistance to communities of Belizean and Mexican nationals living in other countries.
The Prime Minister’s first official visit was extremely fruitful and much of the results have not surfaced as yet. The Prime Minister said to the Government and people of Mexico, “Mexico is big, Belize is small. But we possess the same determination, in equal measure, to always protect, defend and lift our people up.”
BTL Shares for Sale- $5 each
On Friday October 15, after much anticipation from potential investors and the general public, government announced the sale of shares in Belize Telemedia Limited. The sale of shares in the company will be to the tune of 44.54% of the share capital. According to the prospectus, that is some 22,069,687 shares at a price of five dollars each. Those shares were officially made available on the 15th of October.
Only Belizean investors were being accepted to purchase shares. Those investors could either be Belizean individuals or Belizean companies both at home and abroad. The prospectus stated that the government “reserves the right to accept or reject application to purchase shares in whole or in part.” The Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow assured the public that due diligence will be done for every company that is interested in purchasing shares to protect it from companies masking themselves to purchase shares for individuals who do not fit the criteria.
Among measures that will be taken to ensure optimum returns on investment, government will be reducing the Business Tax currently placed on BTL from 24% to 19%. Added to that, the normal 15% tax that dividends attract will be removed. On the issue of pending litigation with the former owner of Telemedia, during his address the Prime Minister explained that whatever litigation that is pending will be dealt with by the Government of Belize. The company and its shareholders will bear no responsibility in any litigation proceedings. The government also reserved ten percent of the shares for BTL employees. The shares will be sold to them at a discounted rate and added to that they will be in a position to place one director on the company’s board.
Under the company’s newly constituted Articles of Association the government will hold a ‘Special Share’ which will entitle it to name two directors to the board of BTL. The share is iron clad and will in no manner be able to be transferred to anyone else. All those measures being put in place will ensure that BTL remains in the hands of the Belizean public and that profits derived from the company will remain within the country and for the benefit of Belizeans.
GOB condemns Godfrey Smith
The Government of Belize registers its strongest condemnation against the actions of a Belizean attorney and former parliamentarian deliberately intended to smear our country’s reputation abroad and discourage foreign investment in Belize.
Former PUP Minister and practicing attorney-at-law Godfrey Smith, in a letter dated September 17, 2010, wrote to Richard Fraser of the Digicell Group headquartered in Jamaica, warning him and his company against contemplating any investment in Belize Telemedia.
According to Smith, “Belize, over the past decade has become highly politicized and successive governments have displayed an alarming disregard for sanctity of contracts involving foreign investors.” He cites various examples of this, including agreements entered into and later reneged on or unilaterally cancelled by the last PUP Administration in which he himself served as a Minister of Government and Attorney General. Among the examples he cites are Cascal and Belize Water Services Limited, Fortis and Belize Electricity Limited, and Newco and the Belize International Airport.
Smith then went on to accuse the current administration of refusing to honour consequent international arbitral awards to foreign investors including Newco and the former owners of Belize Telemedia and associated interests, such as BCB Holdings and the Belize Bank. He then points to recent amendments to the Supreme Court of Judicature Act and the appointment of the current Acting Chief Justice as further confirmation of the Belize Government’s attempt to “frustrate existing arbitration proceedings against it”.
Smith concludes his letter as follows: “If indeed you are contemplating doing due diligence on acquiring an interest in BTL, we would be happy to share substantial and detailed information with you on Belize’s very disturbing attitude and track record as it relates to foreign investment and international business contracts.”
For a former parliamentarian and practicing attorney, born, bred and fed in Belize to so deliberately and calculatingly undertake to undermine the economic interest of his country and people, is outrageously unpatriotic, if not treasonous. The Government of Belize strongly condemned such actions and called on Mr. Smith to publicly apologize to the people of Belize and to desist from any further actions of the sort, which are clearly motivated and sponsored by some interest other than the national interest.
Smith has not yet apologized.
PM Reveals PUP Intrusion of Civilians Privacy
The Interception of Communications Bill provides for the legal interception of communications that could possibly lead to the commission of crime. By giving the Police Department the resource and authority to intercept these messages through legislation, many crimes can be prevented. However, the Opposition rose in the House and opposed the bill. The Leader of the Opposition spoke about the bill being loose; opened to abuse and an invasion of privacy. PM Barrow reiterated that there are provisions included in the bill that make its intrusion on privacy limited if not nonexistent. In order to intercept communications, the Police Department must apply for an order from a Supreme Court Justice. They must prove that their subject is a criminal threat to society. The strict procedures in acquiring an order to conduct communication interception ensure that only individuals involved in crimes will be monitored. Once the order is approved the Justice will set a time limit on the order and there must be periodical updates to determine if the order is worthy of an extension.
The Prime Minister explained to the Leader of the Opposition that, just as the criminal bills he opposed were not new, interception of communications in Belize is not new. He then made a shocking revelation that the People’s United Party has been intercepting communications of individuals dating back to October 5, 1981, shortly after Independence. The earliest record of interception, October 5, 1981, was done through a warrant signed by Minister CLB Rogers of the People’s United Party. PM Barrow revealed that there were several intercept orders signed by various Ministers of Internal Affairs or National Security. Those included several signed by Curl Thompson in the mid 80’s and George Price in the early 90’s. This practice stopped in 1993 when the Honourable Dean Barrow became the Minister of National Security. The revelation of the most recent cases of unlawful intercepts was jaw dropping. PM Barrow shared that an official police report provided information about intercepts that were conducted during the last administration headed by Said Musa. Wires were extended from the St. Thomas Street tower to the “basement” of the Raccoon Street Police Station. The facility at the police station was used to tap land lines of members of the public. Since only a certain number of lines could be tapped at any one time, technicians were routinely sent back to the “basement” to change the subject of the intercept. Musa rose and demanded that PM Barrow withdraw the statement. However, he was silenced and humbled as the PM threatened to show the proof and share the subjects of the intercept. “Who were the subjects of those intercepts?”
The Interception of Communications Bill does not only provide for the legal interception of communications that could lead to the commission of crime. It also criminalizes the unlawful interception of communication.
Crime Bills Passed Despite PUP Opposition
At the Friday, September 24, sitting of the House of Representatives the PUP opposed every bill designed to better handle the crime plague that has attacked our nation. Five pieces of legislation were introduced by the Prime Minister on Friday, August 6. Those are the Families and Children (Amendment) Bill, 2010; the Criminal Code (Amendment) Bill, 2010; the Crime Control and Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill, 2010; the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, 2010 and the Interception of Communications Bill, 2010.
Three of those pieces of legislations will act as deterrents to criminal gangs because they allow harsher penalties for violent offenders. The Criminal Code (Amendment) Bill calls for an increase in penalties for crimes such as attempted murder, rape, carnal knowledge and other offences of a violent or sexual nature. The Firearms (Amendment) Bill calls for an increase of penalties for firearms offences. The Crime Control and Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill is aimed directly at gangs. It calls for the strengthening of punishments against crimes related to criminal gangs. Normally, legislations like these pass without much opposition. However, just as they showed when they abandoned the Restore Belize Program, the Opposition is clearly not on the side of the Belizean people. The bills were passed without their support.
Ministry Equals Playing Field with Secondary School Finance Reform
The Ministry of Education held a press conference to explain the purpose of the Secondary School Finance Reform. Hon. Patrick Faber had always spoken about the disparity between funds allocated to high schools like Saint John’s College and Saint Catherine Academy and funds allocated to schools like Anglican Cathedral College and Nazarene High School. The schools mentioned earlier are those with more resources. However, based on the system, they continue to receive the most funds from government.
The financing reform seeks to level the playing field. As it is now, the funds allocated to the schools are based on the diversity of the curriculum and the number of teachers hired. The reason certain schools receive substantial amounts of money is because of the caliber of teachers they recruit. Teachers are attracted by the track record of a school. Since a school like Saint John’s College is labeled as being one of the best schools, the most qualified teachers apply for vacancies at such institutions. That causes a professional neglect of the schools that do not have the “prestigious” image. The teachers that apply for the vacancies at the other schools are usually less decorated. Since the Ministry pays salaries, the bulk of the budget goes to the school that already has more resources because they have the more decorated teachers. Therefore, the current system causes the schools with the least resources to attract the least decorated teachers and receive the least funding from government. This is the neglect that has our education system at the point where three out of every five high school age children are not in high school; only two out of every five Belizeans complete high school and repetition and dropout rates are high.
Based on the Ministry’s reform, the funds will be proportionate to the number of students at the institution. Based on this formula, an overview at how the funds are allocated today would show that certain schools receive more than two times per student as others. The reform measures will not seek to cut the funding of those institutions receiving more; instead, it will offer those receiving less the opportunity to get on par with the others. They will have more incentives to increase enrollment, decrease dropout rate and improve performance. The new method will also include performance incentives in which schools may receive additional funds for certain achievements. Schools may also receive grants for enrollment of students with special socio-economic needs. The new program commenced in November but the Ministry states that it will take up to five years for the program to be fleshed out completely.
Samuel Lungole Awich sworn in as Acting Chief Justice
On Thursday September 30, a special sitting of the Supreme Court was held during which Dr. Abdulai Conteh retired as Chief Justice of Belize after service for ten years and eight months. He had been appointed in 2000 and served uninterrupted in the position since then. Justice Conteh reached the retirement age of 65 in August.
On Monday October 4, Justice Samuel Lungole Awich was sworn in as acting Chief Justice. He will serve in that capacity until January 1, 2011 when the new CJ will be installed.
Immigration Officers Charged with Forgery and Aiding
After a week into the investigation of alleged human smuggling through the Phillip S.W. Goldson International Airport, warrants were issued for the arrest of six Immigration Officers on Tuesday, October 12. Those officers were Martin Guy, Mark Tench, Jason Daly, Angelica Lima, Lindsay Wade and Candra Coleman Wade. These six officers were assigned to the airport when the three flights landed on September 18 and 19 and on October 3.
The six officers were charged with numerous counts of Forgery of an official document and Purposely aiding and facilitating the commission of an offense under the immigration act. Those charges were for facilitating the illegal entry of 33 Chinese Nationals.
GOB saves Sugar Industry
A special house meeting was convened on Thursday, November 25, in order for government to pass a ten million dollar loan to the Belize Sugar Industry (BSI) factory after the company found itself in a financial dilemma; being unable to meet the third payment to cane farmers and having the next crop year in jeopardy.
The announcement was made on Tuesday, November 23 after over a week of negotiations. The Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow, flanked by Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Gaspar Vega; Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Rene Montero and representatives of BSI and the Cane Farmers Association held a press conference in Belmopan just minutes after a memorandum of understanding was arrived at between the BSCFA, BSI, the Sugar Industry Control Board and the Government of Belize.
In making the announcement, the Prime Minister pointed out that “the sugar industry has to be preserved and the government recognizes that.” The collapse of the industry was almost a reality after the BSI was unable to meet the cane farmer’s third payment and the crop which was scheduled to start on December 6 had to be pushed back to December 13.
The Memorandum of Understanding is an unprecedented one for the Sugar Industry as it commits government to lend BSI ten million dollars and also binds the major stakeholders to serious pledges. Crucial among those is the commitment by all to improve on the quality of cane delivered to BSI.
The BSCFA’s Chairman Alfredo Ortega committed that there will be strict control in the burning of cane as well as the cutting system and the loading of cane. This is all in an effort to reduce the amount of mud that is delivered along with the cane to the factory. The effort to improve on quality of sugar delivery will be equally matched by government’s efforts to ensure that the money is well spent. In doing so, government appointed Sir Manuel Esquivel to the BSI board as one of two government representatives who will have veto powers over BSI’s spending.
BSI was also in need of an additional ten million dollars which the company received through a pre-payment arrangement with BSI’s European counterpart, Tate and Lyle. Government also continued supporting the cane farmers with an additional million dollars.
It took the foresight and compassion of a UDP government to ensure that an industry in which 30 thousand Belizeans are dependent on does not fail.
Social Security Board Invests in BTL
On Tuesday, November 2, the Social Security Board’s Investment committee voted five to four for 50 million dollars from the Social Security Board to be invested for the purchase of shares in Belize Telemedia. The ownership of the shares will entitle SSB to two seats on the telecommunication company’s Board of Directors. It will also secure, conservatively speaking, a 15% return on the investment.
The investment is a significant one for the SSB since the fund has been under pressure recently to get better returns on investments. In speaking with Prime Minister Dean Barrow on Wednesday November 3, he explained that the money held at the Central Bank will be used to purchase the first amount of shares in BTL. The difference that will make up the 50 million dollars will come from SSB’s commercial bank accounts.
BTL and Smart in Court
Shortly after the Government of Belize nationalized Telemedia, four agreements between the companies were brought to the fore. Those included: The Master Agreement between Speednet and Belize Telecommunications Limited, an Interconnection Agreement with Speednet, the Lease of the MCS Room with Speednet, and a tower lease agreement with Speednet. All the agreements were dated February 6, 2004. Upon reviewing these agreements, it came to light that most if not all gave an unfair advantage to Speednet’s Smart over BTL. As a result, BTL took measures to rectify most of the areas where Smart was seen as taking advantage of BTL.
Among the many rectifications was the BTL’s discontinuing Smart’s access to an E-1 service which Smart was using in an unlimited fashion and which was not available to anyone else since BTL simply did not offer that service. That led to Smart losing international access but not before BTL gave them an option to use the international switch, but Smart refused it. They then took actions which breached a number of the agreements and at times entering BTL’s properties without authorization.
The wrangling then ensued with the PUC being involved, and after Smart broke away from negotiations, that company took BTL to court hoping to have a ruling that would see the unfair practices continued. The case started in the first week of November with Chief Executive Officer in BTL, Karen Bevans and BTL’s Board Chairman, Net Vasquez, testifying. It continued through December.
IDB President Visits Belize with Working Delegation
Luis Alberto Moreno, President of the Inter-American development Bank, was in Belize on Thursday, November 4, and Friday, November 5. The IDB’s role is to assist Latin America and the Caribbean countries to reduce poverty and inequality, and promote development in a sustainable, climate-friendly way.
While in Belize, as a result of Prime Minister Barrow’s invitation, President Moreno met with government officials and representatives of the private sector. The actual invitation was extended months ago by Prime Minister Barrow. Though the original purpose of the visit was to look at the challenges and opportunities available in the private sector of Belize, the attention turned towards how the IDB would contribute to Belize’s post Richard recovery efforts.
At a joint press conference with president Moreno on Thursday at the Belize Biltmore Plaza, Prime Minister Barrow announced that the President himself would “oversee the fast tracking of an initial funding component that will help us with putting in place some mitigation efforts in the areas that have been particularly hard hit.” The initial hurricane relief loan from the IDB is set at US$5 million. Prime Minister Barrow said that the focus will be on, though not exclusive to, developing the vulnerable Port Loyola area in terms of proper drainage, street rehabilitation and the possibility of constructing a sea wall to provide primary protection for residents of the area. President Moreno said that the goal should be to build back better. The President promised to send a team from the IDB to Belize to further assess the situation and diagnose and establish the scope of IDB’s involvement in the recovery effort.
PM Pushes More Political Reform
At the Friday, November 12, House meeting there were five bills introduced: the Income and Business Tax (Amendment) (No.2) Bill, the Finance and Audit (Reform) (Amendment) Bill, Blair Athol Power Project Bill, Evidence (Amendment) Bill and the Married Persons (Protection) (Amendment) Bill. The most significant of those were the Income and Business Tax Bill and the Finance and Audit Reform Bill.
In the 2010/2011 budget, Prime Minister Barrow introduced legislation that changed the earnings threshold on income from $19,600 to $26,000. In keeping his word that “We might look at increasing the threshold once again in the near future” the Prime Minister amended the legislation covering income tax and eased the deductions for those earning up to $29,000. The act also reduced the Business Tax on telco providers from 24% to 19% and removed the 15% tax on dividends.
The Finance and Audit Reform Bill is a continuation of the Prime Minister’s reform agenda. The bill on finance and audit reform enhances transparency in the tendering process for the Government’s procurement and sale contracts; to enlarge the regulation-making power of the Minister in interest of expediency; to restore Financial Orders and Stores Orders to their original status of subsidiary legislation and to provide for relating matters. This bill demands transparency and accountability at all levels of government. All tendering processes must now be transparent at every stage. This bill allows individuals and businesses presenting tenders to be aware of the selection process. They will know what the tenders are and why a particular tender was selected. Thus ensuring that there will be no back door deals as was the case in the previous administration. In a time of regional integration and globalization, having such legislation is extremely important. Tenders are submitted from all over the world for projects and services in Belize and transparency is a necessity.
Three million dollars to DFC for youth, women and single parents
On Wednesday November 24, the Government of Belize announced that it will be disbursing three million Belize dollars to the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and the Youth Business Trust of Belize. The monies are part of government’s commitment to ensure that small and micro enterprises are developed at a much faster pace.
Of the three million dollars, 2.5 will be disbursed to the DFC while the additional half million dollars will be disbursed to the Youth Business Trust. Both organizations will serve as lending agencies that will target young persons, women, single parents and existing micro entrepreneurs who would like to consolidate or expand their operations. Government’s initiative will be accompanied with measures which will ensure that the terms and conditions of the loans will not be as stringent as borrowing at the commercial banks. There will be greater flexibility during the application process as well as collateral that will be required to make loans at both institutions. While the DFC loans program will be made available countrywide, the YBTB loans will only be available in Belize City.
The Youth Business Trust Belize is a program offering young individuals between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five assistance in starting their own businesses by offering loan financing, training and mentoring to help entrepreneurs become successful. The Development Finance Corporation is Belize’s leading development finance institution and offers a wide range of project financing.
Over 1,500 students benefit from New San Ignacio Resource Centre
A modern and well equipped resource centre that will serve residents of San Ignacio and Santa Elena in the Cayo District, including students from primary, secondary and tertiary level institutions, was officially inaugurated on Wednesday, November 3, in San Ignacio. The project was a joint venture of the Social Investment Fund (S.I.F.), the San Ignacio Town Council, the National Belize Library Service & Information System and the Rotary Club of San Ignacio. It was implemented by S.I.F. and funded by the Government of Belize through a Loan from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
The total cost of the project is estimated at approximately $377,474.00. Of this amount, the Government of Belize contributed $213,374.00. The community of San Ignacio/Santa Elena contributed the old market building and land valued at over $110,000.00 towards the project while the Rotary Club of San Ignacio provided $54,100.00 in the form of office furniture and equipment. The upgraded centre houses the current San Ignacio library. Over 1,500 persons are expected to benefit from the new San Ignacio Resource Centre. The new facility has an area for users to leave their bags, a library with a children section, an adult section covering fiction and non-fiction books, periodicals, reference books and materials; an audiovisual and multimedia area, an internet café, and an auditorium and display section. It will also have an administrative office, a utility room and two bathrooms.
New water systems benefit over 2,500 residents in northern villages
Two new rudimentary water systems - valued at just under $1.0 million dollars - that will benefit over 2,500 residents in three northern villages in the Orange Walk District were inaugurated on Saturday, November 6, 2010. The first system inaugurated was the Douglas/Nuevo San Juan rudimentary water system at the project site in Nuevo San Juan Village. This system will provide quality and reliable potable water to Nuevo San Juan and Douglas Villages and will replace the deteriorated galvanized water tank in Douglas Village and a small concrete tank in Nuevo San Juan.
The San Felipe Rudimentary water system is at the old tank site in San Felipe Village. This project will provide safe and clean potable water to over 1,618 persons in 310 households in San Felipe Village. The new rudimentary water system in San Felipe will replace the old one built in 1974, which is deteriorated and too small to supply the entire village with quality potable water. Both rudimentary water projects were implemented by the Social Investment Fund at a total cost of $947,000.00. Of this amount, the Government of Belize provided $189,000.00 and the remaining $758,000.00 was a grant from the Basic Needs Trust Fund (BNTF5), a program promoting poverty reduction through socio-economic initiatives and community empowerment.
Mexican Government to Rehabilitate or Rebuild City Centre
Based on Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s official visit to Mexico, a commitment was made by President Felipe Calderon to send a technical team to Belize to look at the Belize City Centre to determine how the Mexican Government can assist in reconstruction or rehabilitation of the structure. The City Center was recently determined by our local engineers to be unfit as a venue for public events it once accommodated.
In fulfillment of President Calderon’s commitment, a team of Mexican engineers and rehabilitation specialists, commissioned by the President himself, was in Belize to do a preliminary assessment on the City Centre. Their assessment will be followed up with a more detailed study which will determine whether the best option is full reconstruction or rehabilitation of the Centre.
Belizeans Learn of the “Fonseca Organization”
The most recent scandal including leaders of the PUP derived from a drug trafficking case against Robert Hertular in the United States. In mid 2001, Robert Hertular was charged for trafficking 1,161 kilograms of cocaine in Belize. According to case files, he admitted that the drugs belonged to him and that it was destined for the United States. Knowing that he would eventually be the subject of a United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigation, Hertular initiated cellular contact with DEA Special Agent Vincent Williams who was assigned to investigate drug trafficking from Belize to the United States. The agent met Hertular on September 18, 2001 at which time he expressed an interest in cooperating with US authorities as an informant. He described his drug trafficking operation; identified various Belizean government officials as partners and admitted to transporting large quantities of cocaine by plane and speedboat from Colombia to Belize. According to the DEA case files, “Hertular admitted that, since 1987, he had been a member of the
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‘Fonseca organization,’ a group involved in drug trafficking and money laundering in the United States and Europe. ? Hertular implicated a former Belizean prime minister and police commissioner in the organization and identified the Belize Alliance Bank as the entity used for money laundering.”
$62 Million for Rural Development and Sugar Sector Improvement
On Monday, December 20, Prime Minister Dean Barrow and the European Union’s Head of Delegation to Belize, Marco Mazzocchi-Alemanni, signed three financial agreements totaling 24.9 million Euros or 62.3 million dollars to assist with projects geared towards rural development, poverty reduction and sugar sector improvement. Of the three agreements, two are based on the 10th European Development Fund and the other is based on the Accompanying Measures for Sugar Protocol Countries for Belize.
The European Development Fund (EDF) is the main instrument for providing Community aid for development cooperation in the African, Caribbean and Pacific states. The first agreement signed between PM Barrow and Mazzocchi-Alemanni covers financing for Phase II of the Belize Rural Development Programme. Phase II is expected to build on the initial project and will see the investment of 29.5 million dollars from 2010 to 2015. The European Union will contribute $25 million; the Government of Belize will contribute 10% of that amount ($2.5 million) and the beneficiaries will contribute $1.8 million. The overall objective is to promote rural economic growth and reduce poverty in Belize’s rural communities.
The second agreement is for Institutional Support for the sugar industry, other government agencies and trade related assistance for the sum of 4.5 million dollars. That agreement stems from the third agreement signed which was the Accompanying Measures for Sugar agreement 2009 (AMS) which allocates 32.8 million dollars to Belize. The AMS was drafted as a result of the reform of the EU Sugar Regime and the consequent reduction in sugar prices. That reform will force transformations aimed at fostering the competitiveness of the Belize Sugar Industry and where this is not possible seek economic diversification opportunities. According to the EU, the aim of the project is to improve the physical access, communication and transportation efficiency through the rehabilitation of the Sugar Belt road network and to support an enabling environment for rural recovery and economic diversification in sugar dependent areas of Belize. Under this agreement, in January projects will commence that undertakes the paving of 8.3 miles of sugar roads from Orange Walk Town to San Lazaro. That is worth $8.6 million. Other paved roads will include three miles from Patchakan to Xaibe; 1.7 miles from Calcutta to Xaibe, and 0.8 miles from San Roque to Xaibe, totalling 4.1 million dollars.
30 Million Dollars more for Southside
With a signed contract in hand, Minister of Works Hon. Anthony ‘Boots’ Martinez proudly announced to a gathering of Ministry of Works employees that his ministry has been able to secure 22 million dollars from the OPEC fund during a press conference held on Wednesday December 15 at the Princess Hotel. Amidst thunderous applauses the minister went on to explain that he had visited Vienna Austria where on Friday of last week he and representatives of the OPEC fund signed the loan agreement.
The 11 U.S. Million dollar loan forms part of the second phase of the Southside Poverty Alleviation Project. Hon. Martinez explained that the second phase of the project will now see some major infrastructural work being done in Belize City’s Southside.
Among the work that will be implemented with the new financing will be the hot-mix paving of Central American Boulevard from Save-U to Caesar Ridge Road. Included in the project will be the paving of Jane Usher Boulevard as the last remaining residents who are still squatting on what is supposed to be the boulevard will be relocated within the next couple of weeks. That street upgrade will see the paving of the street as well as the placing of drains. Other areas to be addressed include Neal’s Penn Road which will be completely paved. Faber’s Road will also be resurfaced from the Western Highway to Queen Charlotte Street. West Canal will also be upgraded with the canal being lined with retaining walls from Yarborough Bridge to Conch Shell Bay.
Also a part of the second phase of the Southside Project will be the continuing of repairs being done to homes as well as the construction of new homes. Additionally, there will be components in the program to address programs for education and entrepreneurial development.
The Belize City Rejuvenation Project which started in 2009 was to have come to an end in April 2010, but with the assistance of Prime Minister Dean Barrow that project was extended into August and further into December of this year. Now that project has come to an end close to 300 persons would have been left jobless but Hon. Martinez pointed out that under the Southside Project all the employees will continue to have a job.
With the $22 million in place government will have to now provide an additional eight million dollars in counterpart funding for the project.
$10 million to improve waste water management in the Placencia Peninsula
Belize will build a new wastewater collection and treatment system in the Placencia Peninsula, its second most important tourist destination, with a $5 million loan approved by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
In addition, $5 million will be provided to Belize from Global Environment Facility (GEF) resources under the “Testing a Prototype Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater” (CReW) project. Currently there is no wastewater collection and treatment system serving the Placencia Peninsula. Residential and business facilities must provide for their own wastewater treatment solutions, a practice that is becoming unsustainable with the growth in tourism.
The IDB and GEF funds will be used to design and build an environmentally sound, sustainable and cost-effective wastewater management system that will reduce the risk of environmental degradation while contributing to the improvement of health conditions for residents and visitors alike. The system will include the construction of a sewerage collection network, a treatment plant and disposal system that will also incorporate existing individual wastewater treatment facilities.
The project will also finance public awareness campaigns to promote public understanding of wastewater management, as well as the establishment of benchmarks for replicating additional wastewater investment projects in Belize. The financing provided by the IDB will be drawn from the Bank’s Ordinary Capital and will be lent on a 25-year term, with a 5-year grace period and an interest rate based on LIBOR.
GOB Solves Free Zone Crisis
At the sitting of the House of Representatives on Friday, December 17, the Prime Minister announced that the crisis at the Corozal Free Zone had been solved. The root of the crisis started when the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) terminated its relations with the commercial banks inside the zone. HSBC, which calls itself “The World’s Local Bank”, had decided to discontinue the transfer of US currency globally because of problems they have been facing internally. The Central Bank was able to extend the transfer services but finding a new foreign banking partner was top priority.
In brief, most of the transactions in the zone are executed with the use of US dollars. The businesses deposit those cash earnings into their bank account. They then do their other operations such as paying bills, foreign purchases, payrolls, etc. through wire transactions. Since the currency transfer service was terminated, it was no longer in the local banks’ best interest to accept US currency from the zone. Therefore, the businesses would not be able to make deposits in order to continue their operations. Had this crisis last for any extended period of time the operations in the zone would cease to continue; many would lose their jobs and the Belizean economy would have taken a crippling blow.
Fortunately, the Central Bank of Belize was able to acquire the services of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in order to transfer the US currency out of Belize. Prime Minister Barrow said that there are at least two other banks that the Central Bank has engaged to provide the transfer service because, as he puts it, “it is never good to have all your eggs in one basket”. Those institutions are the Bank of America and Commerce Bank. Nevertheless, the potential catastrophe at the zone is another crisis this government has solved.
Middlesex Bridge Officially Opens
The Middlesex Bridge on Mile 21 of the Hummingbird Highway was inaugurated on Tuesday, December 21. The reconstruction of the Middlesex Bridge cost a total of $2,832,800 and was financed by the European Union and the Government of Belize through a grant from the 9th European Development Fund’s (EDF) Belize Rural Development Program (BRDP). The Hummingbird Highway is of major importance for the agricultural, industrial, tourism and social development of Belize.
The inauguration of the Bridge was presided over by Ambassador Marco Mazzocchi Alemanni- Head of the Delegation of the European Union and Hon. Anthony Martinez, Minister of Works. Minister Martinez said that Middlesex is the gateway to the south. He said that it used to be one of the worst bridges in the country and posed serious risks because of its deteriorated condition and for being a single lane primary bridge. According to the Minister, the bridge would have collapsed eventually.
The reconstruction consists of a reinforced concrete structure with a total width of 9.63 meters and a carriageway of 7.3 meters provided with new metal vehicle parapets. Other ancillary works include the rehabilitation of both approaches to the bridge and the installation of erosion control measures, road and bridge safety furniture such as handrails, guardrails, road markings and warning signs.
The Ministry of Works was responsible for the design and oversight of the project and the construction was executed by CISCO constructions.
Public Servants Promoted at Appreciation Ceremony
When he sat out on his nationwide consultation tour of public service departments, Hon. John Saldivar, Minister of Public Service, Governance Improvement, Elections and Boundaries and Sports, listened to the concerns of public officers in an attempt to address issues that had been sidelined for a long time. He quickly realized that the morale of public servants was at an all time low and measures to improve that must be drafted immediately.
One of the main concerns centered on the lack of a defined criterion for appointment and advancement throughout the departments. The Ministry embarked on an exercise to review the criterion for appointment and advancement within the Public Service. The exercise started in May of 2009 with the Finance, Administration, Foreign Services and Secretariat grades, and then moved to the technical grades.
Over 120 officers from the Income Tax, General Sales Tax and Customs and Excise Departments were promoted based on the established criteria. An appreciation ceremony was held for those officers at the Belize Biltmore Plaza on Tuesday, November 30. Minister Saldivar said that the officers were promoted based on their years of experience, performance in examinations, training and performance appraisals.
Similar revision exercises are currently being conducted for other technical departments, including the Post Office, Public Health Department and Fire Service. 470 police officers recently sat the police examinations. Saldivar said that the exam “has been long overdue.” He said that the Ministry is currently looking at ways to improve the process as well. One possibility is appointing an independent team to administer the exam or verify the grades. That is to “ensure that there is no hanky panky going on with who gets promoted or not”.
Perdomo remains UDP Representative in Caribbean Shores
The United Democratic Party began the process of selecting standard bearers to represent the Party in the next General Elections. That process began on Sunday December 5 as the Caribbean Shores Constituency held its convention.
The polls opened at ten in the morning and closed at 5 p.m. City Councilor Roger Espejo challenged incumbent Area Representative Hon. Carlos Perdomo for the seat. It was a well contested convention with both candidates placing their best efforts forward. Even before the opening of the polls, the contestants brought out the voters to begin the process of voting promptly at 10. Both candidates did their best as they met the Party-faithful in the division, greeted them and gave the last words of encouragement before the votes were cast.
In the end it was the incumbent Hon. Carlos Perdomo who would retain his constituency. He secured 695 votes while Espejo garnered 385.
Landy Burns wins Orange Walk East
With the energy and enthusiasm of a general election, voters of the Orange Walk East constituency made their way to the Louisiana Government school to show their support for one of three candidates who on Sunday ,December 12, placed their names on a ballot in the hopes of becoming the UDP Standard Bearer in that constituency.
The polls opened promptly at nine and even before then, long lines of eager voters had queued up at the school’s gate just waiting for them to be opened. In the end, a record, 2820 voters had cast their ballots and Orlando “Landy” Burns secured 1377 of those votes. Denni Grijalva secured 787 votes while incumbent Hon. Marcel Cardona received 621 votes.
Belize Hands Over SICA Chairmanship to Guatemala
Heads of States and top government officials from across Central America flew to Belize then to the beautiful island of San Pedro for the 36th annual Summit for SICA Heads of States. The summit commenced with a brief official opening ceremony then it was off to consequential meetings. The officials addressed issues dealing with Climate Change, regional security, juvenile delinquency, and the newly established Regional Coordinating Commission on Security and other issues affecting the region. Though those are all pressing issues, the most immediate concern was the territorial dispute between two of the member countries- not Belize and Guatemala. The conflicting countries are Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Both Heads of State were noticeably absent from the summit.
According to PM Barrow, the Belize/Guatemala relation was hailed by the Guatemalan Foreign Minister as a modeled example for how “states with differences ought to proceed”. The Nicaragua/Costa Rica conflict was addressed at the Summit and a joint communiqué was release in which the Governments of Guatemala and Mexico offered to the Government of Costa Rica and Nicaragua to act as facilitators “in an informal mechanism of dialogue and political coordination with the objective of promoting the lowering of tensions between the two parties, and to generate an environment conducive to dialogue which would contribute to a satisfactory solution to their present differendum”. The Governments of Costa Rica and Nicaragua accepted the offer.
The closing press conference was cordial and stately. Prime Minister Barrow officially passed over Chairmanship of SICA to the President of Guatemala, Alvaro Colom, who congratulated him on a fine tenure. Prime Minister Barrow and President Colom exchanged pleasantries and the need to stress regional integration. One plan is to work closer with CARICOM to address issues of regional importance.
Oceana Celebrates GOB’s Ban on Trawling
On Wednesday, December 8, Minister Montero signed an SI in front of an audience compiled mainly of Oceana executives. The SI bans all forms of trawling in Belize’s waters including its EEZ effective January 1, 2011. Montero thanked the Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Oliver Barrow, for “not only supporting the SI but for his commitment to protecting the resources of our country.”
The NFC owned the two operating trawls in Belize’s waters and the operation is key to their shrimp catching. Oceana’s Vice-President for Belize, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, collaborated with the Government of Belize to try and resolve the concerns of the Cooperative. Shepherd met with executives of the cooperative and dialogued with the fishermen themselves to make them aware of the destructive nature of trawling and the impact it will have on the future of the fishing industry if it is not stopped. Trawling destroys the reef which is home and feeding ground for marine life. If their habitat is destroyed the number of species will decrease and maybe even disappear. One major concern of the NFC is the fact that they have invested significantly in trawling and they are still paying loans for the equipment.
Audrey Matura-Shepherd negotiated the buyout of the two shrimp-trawlers. In effect, this gave the cooperative a soft bed to land on.
The end of trawling should benefit small fishermen significantly. In simple words, there will be many more fish in the sea. The catches and income of small fishermen will increase. Also, since the huge demand for shrimps will not be met by trawlers, it means more job opportunities since there will be need for a wider base of small fishermen. Belize has become the third country in the world to institute a complete and permanent ban on trawling in all its waters. Venezuela and Palau are the other two countries. Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s administration has also passed legislation to protect parrot fish, regulate sport fishing and control the issuing of fishing license.
Audrey Matura-Shepherd called it a historic milestone in the life of the Belizean fishers and the environmental community. Andrew Sharpless, CEO of the Oceana Board, and Superstar actor and Oceana Board member Ted Danson were present at the SI signing. They said that it is an important statement made by the Government of Belize. It shows that the government is serious about protecting its marine resources. They said the act is even more significant because Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world and it will show UNESCO that the government is taking measures to remove threats to the reef system. A video was shown in which Law and Order star Sam Waterson thanked Prime Minister Barrow for his efforts to protect the reef.
Tim Kennedy Shriver Applauds Belize’s Commitment to Children with Disabilities
Dr. Timothy Kennedy Shriver, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics, was in Belize on vacation with his family. On Wednesday, December 29, he took a break from his vacation to visit the students of Stella Marris School and attend the launching of a calendar based on the art pieces of 12 children with disabilities. At the calendar launching Tim thanked Kim Simplis-Barrow, Special Envoy for Women and Children and Global Ambassador for Special Olympics, for the invitation to come to Belize. He commended her for her dedication to the development of all children in Belize; especially those with special needs. Mrs. Barrow said that for people with disabilities “it is a constant challenge to access even their basic right to education, self determination, safety, earning a living and being a productive citizen.” She said that they just want the opportunity to be accepted “for who they are and not rejected for what they are not”. It is their resilience and resolve that has inspired her to fight on their behalf.
The calendar project is an initiative of Lifeline Foundation, Special Envoy for Women and Children, CARE Belize and Special Olympics Belize. It is entitled “Inspiration”. The organizers approached 12 children with disabilities and asked them to draw something that truly expressed their feelings. Those special 12 children are Doris Staine, Jerome Bennett, Destiny Ariola, Kenroy Rosado, Ruby Garcia, Joshua Nisbet, Reynaldo Pop, Akeem Jones, Angel Santoya, Janielli Davis, Aiden Rosado and Trimaine Vernon. They each received a copy of the calendar autographed by Tim Kennedy Shriver and Kim Simplis-Barrow. Tim said that the most special thing about the calendar is that it “reminds us that inspiration is not once a month, week or day. It is everyday and every minute.” Kim said that she hopes the calendar inspires more Belizeans to “applaud, work with and help these truly special children.”
Last edited by Marty; 01/08/11 09:33 AM.
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