The San Pedro Sun caught up with Belize Rural South (BRS) Area Representative Honorable Manuel Heredia Jr., Minister of Tourism, Civil Aviation and Culture, to follow up on some community projects and issues. Below are some of Minister Heredia's responses to the questions posed to him.
Naturally the state of crime on the island was the first topic discussed, in particular, reference was made to a letter which was jointly written by a group of concerned residents and presented in an open forum meeting at the Lion's Den a few months ago, where signatures were collected. Minister Heredia stated, "We have done several things in an effort to address the crime situation on the island. For starters I have met with the Minister responsible for police and other interested parties and discussed the matter. One of the requests presented was for a permanent social worker on the island. This would help to target problematic children at an early age. In a way, target the problem before it starts. This matter was addressed and it was decided that we would have one as of April 1st. I was informed on Tuesday April 12th that we do in fact have a full time social worker on the island; however she was only here on Mondays and Tuesdays. This is not to have happened as the new budget provides for a social worker permanently on the island. This, I will look into and update you as I can attain information as to what has transpired."
Recently, The San Pedro Sun published an article in regards to the street lighting situation north of the bridge. When asked about what the Minister thought and whether he would be directly involved in rectifying the situation, he commented; "As the Area Representative I can do the request for proper street lighting up there, however I am yet to do a survey, as well as a public consultation with the residents and businesses north of the bridge, because up north is [a complicated situation]. If one would really look at it, it would seem like those residents, I wouldn't say all, but there are a number of them who practically would not want anything to be done over there. I recall that we once had the okay to put a number of lights up there, but there was an outcry that they didn't want any lights because that would encourage more people to be going over there, and that wasn't in their plans."
While the Minister disagrees and believes that lighting would actually assist, he insists that the general population north of the bridge seemed to be opposed to infrastructural progress.
As for the Saca Chispas project, the minister informed that the plans are practically completed and were presented to the San Pedro Town Council. A contract had been drafted and are to be presented to the stakeholders shortly to see how many of them will voluntarily agree. The project however, will go through. The International Development Bank (IDB) has agreed to most of the demands of the stakeholders. He assures that the scenery created by the project will be absolutely spectacular and will further assist in lowering the occurrence of crime in that area of town, where drug trafficking is reported to be very prevalent.
In speaking on the level of corruption in San Pedro and the country in general, the Minister gave the following comment: "To tell you the truth, corruption is all around in several different departments. While I don't think it's as much as in the past, we are doing our best to keep it to a minimal. But, I must say it is not easy. Allow me to be very, very open. We have tried as a government to battle this problem, but we would have to do away with almost everybody in the public sector and put somebody new, in order to completely eradicate the problem of corruption, and we all know that is practically impossible. So, what we have been doing is slowly making changes to the ones that we feel can actually affect our society. Let's for instance take the police departments. If we were to try to get rid of corruption in the police departments, we'd have to do away with practically everyone. At the higher rank it's not that much, but at the lower rank, it's terrible. And this is also true for the Customs and Immigration departments as well, to name a few. The selection process is hard. In San Pedro, what we need to do is to start to prepare our people to be able to take over some of these positions. This might help to ease that problem here."
Hon. Heredia went on to inform us that in the next couple months, we should expect to see two major government projects being realized. Both of which will serve to provide much needed employment opportunities to residents of the Island. The first of these being the construction of the new airstrip is scheduled to commence shortly. The fence for the airstrip should have commenced already, however due to technicalities, it was not allowed to start. That issue has been resolved, and the job will be contracted out to two contractors on the island. Due to the type of materials and the process needed for the construction of the actual runway, this project will be outsourced to a company which is qualified as well as properly equipped to deal with the hot mix. While the project will be outsourced, the minister assures that manual labor will be provided by local residents of the island.
Honorable Heredia informs the general public that himself, along with his ministry and the government will continue to work together for the betterment of the island and its residence. We thank Minister Heredia for taking the time to meet with us and answering these pressing questions. We hope to be able to bring you more information and answers at a later date.
San Pedro Sun