The San Pedro Town Council (SPTC) under the United Democratic Party (UDP) administration has been in power in the Belize Rural South (BRS), going on nine years now. During the last elections held in 2009, the slate won in a landslide. Along with a UDP town council, the group was fortunate as they counted on the support of a UDP Central Government and UDP BRS Minister Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr.
With municipal elections scheduled for early 2012, The San Pedro Sun sat down with Madam Mayor Elsa Paz to discuss the councils pledges and whether, in her opinion those pledges were met. In our interview with the Mayor, she informed The Sun that just about all of the pledges have been met.
The first pledge involved Governance and Taxation: to Maintain current practice of providing quarterly financials and dialoguing with Central Government and the Community to assure transparency in all council business. To this pledge the Mayor stated; “To be very sincere, we haven’t been having those quarterly meetings. We usually try to provide a yearly meeting instead of quarterly. Why? Because it seems like the citizens of the community don’t, well we don’t get a good turnout. Sometimes we get ten to fifteen people there.” While this has deterred the council from holding public meetings, the Mayor informed that they have made attempts to use other media to get the information to the public, including appearing on the morning show to do presentations. There should have been a report released in April of this year, however due to circumstances not within the council’s control, a report was not generated. However the report should be available in late September to early October of this year. Apart from the council’s yearly presentations, the Mayor also informed that Central Government has been very diligent in performing quarterly audits of the council’s finances and these reports are available upon request.
Another council pledge was to: Work to maintain our position as the leading tourist destination in Belize by continuing collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism and the Belize Tourist Board to promote investments and projects in San Pedro that will enhance our tourism product. To this pledge, the Mayor stated; “That has been accomplished because we have been representing the community, San Pedro, in two Expos – one in El Salvador and the other in Guatemala, and this first weekend in September, the second and the third, we will be having an expo, San Pedro Vacations, in Chetumal, Mexico where we will be promoting the island to the Mexicans.” The Mayor added that that there will be individuals from all the various states of Mexico in Quintana Roo, where the Expo will be held. She hopes to take cultural groups and have extended an invitation to different local businesses to be represented. There are also plans to be represented at the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association (DEMA) Show 2011 which will take place November 2-5 in Orlando, FL, USA; however this has not been confirmed. She affirmed that locally the council has been and continues to maintain a presence and representation internationally, increasing tourism influx to the Island.
In response to the pledge: Continue the fight to adhere to international environmental standards in proposed projects that impact the survival of our ecosystems which in turn affects our livelihood. A major objective in the next three years is the completion of a multi-purpose tourism/sports complex at the site of the ball field at Saca Chispas, the Mayor stated: “That has not been accomplished as yet but it’s on the way, we have gotten confirmation from the International Development Bank that they will finance that six million dollars project. The funds are there, work should commence shortly. Although this will be a project that will take like three years, so unfortunately I won’t be here to see it through.”
Next up, the council pledged to: Persist in efforts to provide the Community with accessible medical, sports, and recreational facilities for old and young alike and activities to honor and celebrate recognized anniversaries of noteworthy events in the history of the community and the nation. Liaise with the Belize Tourist Board to provide ongoing training for tourism product facilitators and to ensure quality assurance testing is being done. To this the Mayor stated, “The only thing we try to do as local authorities, is to provide assistance to the different departments. We try to help the Poly Clinic with doctors, nurses and so forth, in any way we can. We do not have a sporting facility per say so what we do is try to maintain sports by having different types of tournaments like right now we have the football tournament that will start, we had a soft ball tournament.” As per providing a sporting facility, the Mayor stated that while this is very much needed, it requires money, which is always the problem. While she agrees that this is a necessity, she regrets that the finances that are at her disposal must go towards maintaining and creating much needed infrastructure. Due to the lack of funding, the best the Council can do is assist when it comes to medical and sports.
The pledges continue; the Council pledged to: Complete the road on the western side of the airstrip to facilitate commercial traffic from the marina and reduce congestion on Coconut Drive and create a commercial route through the back streets of town core to alleviate downtown traffic congestion and rapid deterioration of cobblestone streets. According to the Mayor, “That road, we are still working on it. I think it will be completed anytime before this year is gone. It’s almost completed, we still have about a 150 ft to go.” The access road, which was addressed with concerns in The San Pedro Sun, Volume 20, #44 of November 18, 2010, is intended to take heavy traffic from the Marina locate at the south end of the island, through San Pablo, the Collin Clark Sub Division and the San Pedrito area behind the airstrip to the town core. This access would alleviate congestion and heavy traffic along the strip of road from the Airstrip to South San Pedro Town.
Another infrastructure project that the Mayor touched upon and is taking credit for, includes the San Mateo road. The Mayor stated, “The other infrastructure that we didn’t mention but have been putting a lot of our tax-payers’ money into is the San Mateo Sub Division. We have built a road all the way from the entrance of the bridge, all the way to San Mateo. The road goes to almost all the subdivision. However, we still have a lot more to do there because as you know San Mateo is one of the areas that people started to move into without the proper infrastructure, so it creates a problem. But even so we have been working on those roads and a lot have been done. There is a committee in San Mateo that is also working on building the same road. They were coming from the lagoon forward and we were coming from the entrance of San Mateo at the bridge to meet with them. We have done maybe three times more than what they have done.”
Other projects include the rehabilitation of streets, namely the portion of the street from the San Juan roundabout to the Boca de Rio Bridge. This project is an estimated M1.6 project. As of print time, the third phase of the seven-phase project has been completed. These first three phases were done at an estimated cost of $700,000. There are also plans to rehabilitate the road from Tropic Area around to the Maya Island Air Terminal using concrete.
The council also pledged to: collaborate with the Police and other law enforcement agencies to minimize and reduce criminal activity on the island and assist with housing, transportation, and funding for their operations. Mayor Paz responded, “From day one that I have been elected here, we have always assisted the police department with whatever they ask; beds, windows, doors, material for housing repairs, transportation and maybe one of the biggest assistance would be with fuel.” In addition to physical assistance, the Mayor informed that, on a monthly basis representatives of the Police Force, the Town Council and the 13 Neighborhood Watches hold meetings where possible criminal behavior or situations are addressed. She applauds the Neighborhood Watches and the Police Department for working hand in hand to put a significant curb in the criminal activities on the island.
As per Town Planning, the Mayor agrees that there is a dire need for a Master Plan which would ensure that all development on the island would be done taking the island’s best interests in to consideration, yet this has not been accomplished. It is the hope of the council that a Master Plan will be available for usage sometime in the near future. The San Pedro Town Council pledges to continue their work with all other entities to ensure the continued success of San Pedro. As it stands, the council has a couple projects that it hopes to see through, at an estimated cost of $M1.5. This money will be acquired from a Government Loan from Central Government, to be re-paid through tax collection. The exact terms of the loan are not yet known, however as that information becomes available The Sun will report on it.
San Pedro Sun