Year in Review 2017
2017 got off to a rough start as 5 lives were lost to gun violence in the first three days of the year Colin Sutherland, 22, was killed on New Years Day, Robert Gillett, 28, and Kenneth Dobson, 32, were killed on Monday, January 2, Randolph Johnson, 19, and Bert Abraham, 47, were killed on Tuesday, January 3. Most of the deaths were as a result of gangland violence and these set the pace for the police’s course of action for the rest of the year.
With that the Ministry of Home Affairs began working on a plan for a short medium and long term plan to address the crime situation. From the beginning of the year ACP Chester Williams sounded the following warning, “You cannot be out there on one hand committing crime and pushing others to commit crime and on the other hand think that you can call me and I will rescue or take the police off your back. That will not happen.” By mid year under William’s leadership murders in the city slowed down, even ushering a gang truce.
Michael Peyerefitte New AG
January also saw Hon. Michael Peyrefitte being sworn in as the new Attorney General of Belize. Peyrefitte took up the position after serving as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 2012. He replaced Vanessa Retreage who demitted office in December of 2016. With Peyrefitte’s move, Laura Longsworth was nominated to replace Hon. Peyrefitte as Speaker of the House.
Other changes in the legislature also began in January of 2017 with the process to elect a 13th senator commencing. At the time the names of 6 persons were entered and accepted to be the 13th Senator. Those persons included Pablo Collado representing an NGO named Adopt a child with disability; Janelle Chanona representing Oceana, Belize; Edilberto Romero representing BACONGO; Osmany Salas representing the BTIA; Donovan Reneau representing the BCVI; and Valdemar Andrade representing TASA. The date to elect the Senator was scheduled for January 10th, 2017. On that date Osmany Salas was elected as the 13th Senator.
Biles visited Belize
While the year started off with murders, that did not overshadow a visit by Olympic Champion Simone Biles who was invited by BTB and the Government of Belize to spend her Christmas vacations here. Biles arrived in Belize on Thursday, December 22, she was greeted on the tarmac of the Phillip Goldson International Airport by Kim Simplis Barrow, wife of Prime Minister Dean Barrow and Special Envoy for Women and Children. Mrs. Barrow was joined by Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr., Minister of Tourism; His Worship Darrel Bradley, Mayor of Belize City and His Worship Khalid Belisle, Mayor of the Belmopan City. After a brief press conference with Hon. Patrick Faber, Deputy Prime Minister of Belize and Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, Biles was transported in a motorcade to the downtown Belize City NICH Parking Lot for a short rally. To end off her first night, a state dinner was held with Biles as the Guest of Honour.
From December 23 to 29 Biles visited a few of the tourist attractions in the jewel. She flew to San Pedro and had an opportunity to fly over the Great Blue Hole. From San Pedro Biles and family headed to the Cayo District. There they stayed at Ka’ana Resort and Spa. She took time to visit the Mountain Pine Ridge and the Rio On Pools and Big Rock Falls. Biles closed her visit to Belize with a motivational session with students and young Belizean athletes.
Ashcroft claimed $100 million for Accommodation Agreement
On January 9th Michael Ashcroft related companies, BCB holdings Limited and Belize Social Development Limited, received a $100 million dollar judgment against the government of Belize. In a statement by Global law firm, Sidley Austin LLP, and Benno Kimmelman, a partner with Sidley Austin LLP who argued the case on behalf of BCB Holdings and Belize Social Development Limited it stated that BCB Holdings limited was due U.S. $27.5 million while Belize Social Development Limited was due U.S. $22.5 million.
The judgment came after the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear the Government of Belize’s arguments that the Caribbean Court of Justice had deemed the BTL Accommodation Agreement illegal. In March of 2009 the London Court of International Arbitration had awarded BTL over 38 million dollars as a result of claims being made against government for the Accommodation Agreement. That judgment was resisted by government and the Ashcroft related companies took the matter for enforcement at a U.S. court where they were successful. The Government of Belize appealed the decision of the Supreme Court in the U.S. ending with the court refusing to hear GOB’s arguments.
In a release from the office of the Prime Minister it stated that it, “makes clear that while the US courts have upheld the awards, those courts have no authority to overrule the CCJ and certainly the Ashcroft companies can never collect on those awards in Belize. Accordingly, the Government of Belize under the current administration, refuses to subject the Belizean people to this monstrosity of the PUP’s making, and has no intention of paying a penny of these Ashcroft awards.” The Prime Minister asserted that GOB has no assets in the U.S. for enforcement to be leaned on.
Superbond renegotiations begin
While January saw Ashcroft claiming against Belize’s finances, this was also a month that saw renegotiations of the Superbond begin. Greylock Capital Management and Grantham Mayo van Otterloo, the financial agencies representing holders of the Superbond began talks with the Government of Belize to renegotiate the bond. At that time government presented its proposal on a second restructuring to the Superbond. This came after trustees of Belize’s superbond officially recognized a bondholder committee to hold talks with Belizean representatives.
In a report by Reuters, “Trustee Bank of New York Mellon has formally approved the committee to negotiate with Belize, which says that its US$530m bond, issued in 2013, is unsustainable.” The government of Belize maintained that there were a number of factors which were pressing Belize’s economy and making it impossible for it to meet its superbond debt service requirement.
Shortly after the proposal bondholders rejected the first offer to restructure the Superbond.
In its first offer the government said it would pay a consent fee of .25% of the face value of the bond. That came along with a proposal to reduce interest rates to a fixed 4% per annum. At the time those stood at 5% and increases to 6.75% in August of 2017. There was no suggestion to reduce principal or to extend the maturity date.
As had been expected by government officials, on Tuesday January 17th, the bondholders reacted to the proposal rejecting it. In a release from them they stated that “If approved, the proposed amendments to the terms and conditions of the Bonds contemplated by the Consent Solicitation would crystalize a further reduction in the net present value of the Bonds in excess of 40%, in addition to a cumulative reduction of more than 50% already provided by bondholders in restructurings of predecessor instruments to the Bonds in 2007 and 2013. The members of the Committee view the Consent Solicitation as premature.”
Assistance after Hurricane Earl continued
Keeping with assistance following Hurricane Earl in 2016, Minister of National Emergency Management Hon. Edmond Castro handed over two houses to hurricane victims on Caye Caulker in the Belize District. The houses were among the over 300 constructed countrywide by the Government of Belize through the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) as part of its rebuilding efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Earl which affected Belize on August 3 and 4, 2016.
Aside from the two houses, NEMO also assisted a number of residents on the Island with building material for them to be able to repair their own homes.
Garbage managers pull out of Belize
The Solid Waste Management Authority (SWAMA) issued a press release on Tuesday January 10 explaining, “that the operator of the solid waste transfer stations (San Ignacio/Santa Elena, Burrell Boom, Belize City, San Pedro and Caye Caulker) and the Mile 24 Regional Sanitary Landfill has ceased operations effective January 9th, 2017.” SWAMA assured the general public that they are making every effort to contain the situation designating temporary dumping areas on the transfer station compounds. It goes on to ask the public to minimize waste.
The company had long been clamouring for an increase in the cost per ton to haul the garbage. That was as a result of under estimation as to the volume of garbage which needed to be hauled to the mile 24 sanitary landfill. Apparently there was 30% less garbage that needed to be hauled to the landfill and that caused for the company to be losing money. PASA was being paid 60 dollars per ton to haul the garbage but the volume simply did not allow for the company to be profitable nonetheless it continued operations while it attempted to negotiate a better price of 90 dollars per ton to haul the garbage. Those negotiations never materialized and after suffering losses in the millions of dollars PASA pulled out. Compounding the problems was the fact that PASA was being met by internal problems of its own where one of the principals was constantly taking the parent company to court for various reasons.
Integrity Commission Reactivated
After 8 years of dormancy the Integrity Commission was reactivated. Seven members of the commission were sworn in including Marilyn Williams who was sworn as the Chairman. She is an experienced lawyer who served as the Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit. Having led investigations into financial crimes. Also sworn in was Nestor Vasquez, a chartered accountant. The absence of a chartered accountant willing to serve was a major setback for the Prime Minister, which caused the commission to not have been appointed 1 year, maybe 2 earlier. The other members appointed were Armead Gabourel, Wilmot Simmons, and Lisbeth Delgado. It was also at the advice of the Opposition Leader, John Briceno, that Melissa Balderamos-Mahler, and Claudet Grinage were also appointed.
The Integrity Commission will be able examine the assets and earnings of those politicians to ensure that they are not unjustly enriching themselves on the backs of the general public. The Office announced that in accordance with Section 5 of the First Schedule of the Prevention of Corruption Act, #21 of 2007 that a new Commission has been established under Section 3 of the law.
Referendum Act amended for simple majority to rule
The House of Representatives approved an amendment to the Refrendum Act which removes the mandate for sixty percent of the electorate to turn out for the process to be deemed valid. The new law requires only a simple majority from participating voters to decide the outcome of a referendum. The law passed with 16 votes on Friday, January 13. Nine of the Opposition members voted against the amendment, five parliamentarians were absent and one was on suspension.
The Opposition voted against the bill because they see it as an appeasement to the Guatemalans, a country that has only been hostile towards us, said Rt. Hon. Said Musa. Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington responded, “Every advanced democracy in the world, when dealing with referendum, use the simple majority; and that is the norm when we have General Elections.” In order to fully appreciate the need for the amendment, it is important to review how we got to where we are.
Grenades taken off the streets
On January 3rd, the Gang Suppression Unit removed an American Type M26-A1 hand grenade from the Old Fabers Road Area in Belize City. The grenade was taken by BDF personnel for it to be destroyed. Eleven days later BDF commander David Jones was called by police to an empty lot on the Lake Independence Boulevard where police had discovered yet another grenade of similar type as the one found earlier.
The second grenade was found in a container and was likely left in the area for police to find. The grenades are not the type used by Belize’s military and speculation is that they are being imported into the country via our porous borders. As with the first grenade, the second one found was taken into BDF’s custody for later destruction.
Social Security Board conducts consultations on contribution increase
In the last week of January the Social Security Board hosted its 16th public meeting at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel. Facilitator for the Social Security Board Consultations, Sandra Cansino, shared with the public that there has been only one increase in the social security contributions in over 30 years and that our contribution rate is the lowest in Central America and the Caribbean; except for Jamaica. Cansino also said that people are living longer and that has an impact on the Social Security fund. With an average of 2000 employment injuries per year, coupled with the heightening cost of medical care in Belize and abroad, the increased life span of Belizeans, management cost and other factors, the Social Security Scheme has reached an equilibrium. “Today contributions are lower than total expenditure, that means that the portion of investment income have to be to be used every year to complete the little deficit, but that deficit; if there are no amendment to the scheme, the deficit will grow over time, so there has to be amendments to the contribution rate,” says Dominican Hernando Montas, who is an actuary at the Social Security Board.
Mediation between BNTU and Ministry of Education
On Friday December 16th Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin referred the dispute between the Belize National Teacher’s Union (BNTU) and the Ministry of Education to mediation. The dispute is on whether or not the teachers who were on an 11 day strike last year between October 3 and October 18 are to be paid. The Ministry had taken the position not to pay the teachers and had already done a salary deduction when the matter was taken to the Supreme Court where they teachers got and injunction and later a reversal of the deduction until the matter is fully ventilated. But before the matter goes to court hearings, the CJ ordered mediation. With five days left before the deadline, both parties agreed to the first mediation meeting.
Prime Minister Barrow secures Belize’s reserves
On Monday, January 30, Eamon Courtenay voted in favor for Belize to secure the country’s assets from the reach of predators like Michael Ashcroft. Before voting in favour of the bill, Courtenay said, “No one - absolutely no one in this chamber - myself included - will vote against a bill that seeks to give further immunity to the assets held by the Central Bank. No one.” Three days earlier, on Friday, January 27, Prime Minister Barrow introduced the Central Bank Immunity Bill. The bill passed with unanimous support from members of the House, Government and Opposition, and makes it tougher for the Ashcroft Alliance to go after the country’s assets abroad as payment for arbitration awards upheld by U.S. Courts.
Prime Minister Barrow had at the previous House Meeting on January 13 warned that if they try to go after the country’s assets, “I would consider that an act of economic war.”
New Catholic Bishop
Dangriga native Father Lawrence Nicasio was in February appointed to lead the Catholic Diocese in Belize. He took over from outgoing Bishop Dorrick Wright, who has been locked in a prolonged struggle with severe illnesses, including kidney failure.
Published information from Catholic Church says that Bishop Nicasio holds a Bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, USA. He also holds a Masters degree in Divinity from the Kenrich College Seminary, from the same archdiocese. He was ordained as a priest in 1989, and he has served the church all over the country.
The Elections and Boundaries Commission decided that the re-registration of voters will take place in 2018 after the Municipal Elections. The Commission will also carry out a redistricting exercise to try to balance the 31 constituencies, so as to try to reduce the disparity in their respective sizes. The Opposition, PUP, on no proper basis, are interpreting this postponement as something sinister, blowing it out of proportion.
Courtenay comes under pressure to resign
A clear conflict of interest was displayed by Senator Eamon Courtenay when as a senator he passed a law to protect the assets of Belize and shortly thereafter began a challenge to the very law he passed. As a result, a group of Belizeans calling themselves BALAC organized themselves to publicly and loudly call for Courtenay to resign.
The group of about 120 Belize City residents gathered at the intersection of A street and Baymen avenue from where they walked over to the law offices of Eamon Courtenay. Chanting “Eamon Courtenay, Demon Courtenay’ and holding placards declaring: ‘Charge Courtney for Treason’ ‘Courtney nuh deh wit Belize’ and ‘Ashcrot the Vulture’ among others, the demonstrators brazed the mid morning sun in front of the law firm keeping on point. One of the most vocal was the editor of this publication, Alfonso Noble, who as dispassionately as he chanted he spoke to the media. His message was one where he pointed out that there was a clear conflict of interest between Courtenay’s role as a senator and his role as Ashcroft’s attorney.
Denys Barrow New Justice of the CCJ
In February news came out that Senior Counsel Denys Barrow would be appointed as a Justice of the Caribbean Court of Justice. Barrow was invited to become a Justice of the CCJ and he communicated his acceptance. This will be the second time that he left Belize to loan his legal mind to the region. Barrow previously served as a Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court of Appeal. He returned to Belize at the end of 2008 and was appointed as a Justice of the Court of Appeal on August 10, 2009. The new position is the most prominent office he has ever held. He will become the first Belizean to sit on the region’s highest appellate court. His appointment became effective on June 1, 2017.
Haulover Creek ready for La Ruta Maya
Personnel of the Department of the Environment and the Belize City Council worked countless hours in order to make the Haulover Creek passable in time for the March 6 Ruta Maya. Increased siltation combined with overgrown mangroves, fallen trees and debris from Hurricane Earl made the over two mile stretch of the creek virtually impassable. On February 7 officials from the Belize City Council, Belize Port Authority and the Department of the Environment (Forestry) visited the area for an initial report on the extent of the problem and on Monday, February 13, a detailed report was compiled with the use of drone technology. The Deputy Chief Forestry Officer, Marcelo Winsor, and team drafted a plan to execute a labour intensive exercise. With the use of pontoons employees of the Belize City Council and the Forestry Department made their way into the Haulover Creek with chainsaws and machetes clearing the two mile stretch.
Live cattle exported to Guatemala
On February 13th, 2017, a first shipment of live cattle was exported to Guatemala duty free, via the Belize-Guatemala Western Border. This marked the first export of live cattle under the Partial Scope Trade Agreement between the Governments of Belize and Guatemala. It activated the Sanitary Agreement signed between Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) and its Guatemalan counterpart. This shipment formalizes the trade of live cattle and provides a framework on which to build a robust cattle trade.
Banana Bank AgCo, the company that completed the first export of live cattle already exports corn and other products to Guatemala. The Ministry congratulates them and stands ready to assist others wishing to follow their lead.
Danny Mason’s wife cleared of conspiracy charge, Mason committed to stand trial
A preliminary inquiry in the case against alleged conman and accused murderer Danny Mason, and company, was set to commence on Friday, February 10, before Chief Magistrate Anne Marie Smith. However, only Mason’s wife. Melissa Ferguson, made it on time to court. Chief Magistrate Smith ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to proceed to trial against Ferguson for the indictable charge of conspiracy to kidnapping. Meanwhile her husband’s matter was also heard separately and the Chief Magistrate determined that there was sufficient evidence for William “Danny” Mason, Terrence Fernandez, 31, Keiron Fernandez, 29, Ernest Henry Castillo, 20, and Ashton Vanegas, 24, to stand trial for the July 2016 murder of Pastor Llewellyn Lucas in the June 2017 Session of the Supreme Court.
Teachers get paid and make up for strike time
The Ministry of Education decided to end the fight over pay with the Belize National Teachers Union. It took the decision to not cut the pay for the teachers who went on strike, and the teachers have committed to give back 6 of those 11 school days lost in the strike. Eamon Courtenay, acting as the attorney for the BNTU filed a lawsuit to stop the Ministry of Education from docking the teachers pay at the end of November. The BNTU successfully convinced the Chief Justice to grant an injunction restraining the Ministry from moving forward, and the Ministry had to pay the teachers, even though the deductions were already taken out. 4 weeks after that, in December, both sides agreed to the suggestion by the Chief Justice, that instead of litigating the case, both sides would attempt to resolve it through court-ordered mediation. That happened in January, days before the case was scheduled to go back before the Chief Justice.
Leela Vernon passes away
Cultural icon Leela Genus Vernon passed away around 9 a.m. on Sunday, February 19, after a battle with chronic renal failure. A blood drive was held for Vernon the week before while doctors did all they could to keep her alive. Reports are that she showed signs of recovery but her body succumbed to the strain placed on her heart in the battle to stay alive. Vernon officially died as a result of cardiac arrest.
Leela Vernon will be best remembered for her classic “Who Seh Kriol Noh Got No Kulcha”. This track is a song that encouraged Creole Belizeans to take pride in their identity and culture. This was at a time when the country’s expanding demographics was causing Creole Belizeans to lose grip on their cultural identity. Because Belize was becoming such a diverse country (a beautiful thing) with widespread culturally borrowing there was an idea that Creole doesn’t have any particular culture. Vernon challenged this in her song pointing out the many things that are Creole. So while we are Belizeans and our country’s diversity has caused us to embrace practices and food from various cultures, we should never forget that there is a Kriol kulcha and that is Leela Vernon’s legacy.
Vernon was a founding member of the National Kriol Council and in 2011 she was the recipient of the Woman of the Year in Culture Award.
Julius Espat calls PUP executive Bench players
Julius Espat made an appearance on Louis Wade’s Plus TV morning show. During the entire time he was on Espat minced no words in attacking Briceno’s leadership. Oftentimes Espat was blunt and outright disrespectful to Briceno. In one instance he said that Luke Espat was doing the work of the PUP and he would prefer to have him in the national assembly. He went on to say that the executives of the PUP is made up of bench players. That is, persons who were not elected are making decision for the party.
“Dirty Cop” sentenced to 3 months in jail
Interdicted police officer Jamil Scott, 32, was convicted on Friday, February 24, by Chief Magistrate Anne Marie Smith for stealing a Kenwood handheld radio valued at $650 from the Belize Police Department. Scott was initially charged with two counts of theft, one for the hand held radio and a second for a watch and bracelet allegedly stolen from the home of Shannon Davis during a search on September 20, 2014. Since Davis did not wish to proceed with the matter, that charge was withdrawn.
600 million dollar saving from renegotiated Superbond
Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, announced on Friday March 10 that a final agreement should be worked out with the holders of the Superbond. The Government of Belize was negotiating with a creditor committee which represented 61 percent of the bond holders, they along with the Venezuela government which holds 8 percent of the bondholding agreed with the new bond. Ambassador Mark Espat, who was part of the negotiating team simplified what the new terms of the Bond will be. “The net present value of the new bonds will be 25% less than they are right now, that is 85 million U.S. dollars or 170 million Belize.” He added that, “this is a combination of a 27 percent reduction in interest rate from 6.767% to the 4.9375%. It means that between August of this year and August of 2019 when the principal repayments were to start we will pay out 40 million dollars less in that period in interest.” Espat noted that over the duration of the bond the Government of Belize will pay 53 million dollars less in interest throughout the term of current bond compared to the new one and we will pay 600 million Belize dollars less between 2019 and 2030 in principal payments. The life of the bond will be extended from 11.8 years to 15 years. During the 11 year period there will be no principal payments.
Belmopan City Council launches 6.5M bond
A 6.5 million dollar municipal bond was launched in Belmopan for the benefit of its residents. The Bonds have 13 individual tranches with maturities from two to 14 years. Since the mid of last year the Belmopan City Council had been marketing the bonds to investors. According to Mayor Khalid Belisle, proceeds from the bonds will be used for infrastructural improvements such as Cohune Walk Phase One, Belmopan Heights Phase One, the BTL Housing Area, the Hummingbird Avenue at the South of the City as well as other areas. Funds from the bonds will also be used to retire an inherited loan facility from the Holy Redeemer Credit Union.
Luke Palacio must account for 10 Million dollars belonging to public officers
About 640 retired teachers and public officers won a major judgment in the control of close to 10 million dollars in back pay that their unions were not properly managing under the Public Sector Worker’s Trust. They disagreed with the way the leaders of their unions were managing their money, and they successfully sued them. After several months, Justice Courtney Abel heard arguments for the claimants and on behalf of the trustees of the Employees Trust. After consideration of all the arguments, Justice Courtney Abel ruled that the trust deed set up by the Public Sector Workers Trust is invalid, unenforceable and in breach. He has also defined beneficiaries of the Trust to mean ONLY those public servants who were affected by the wage freeze of 1995 to 1997. The judge ordered that the unions must consult with the Government and the claimants for a new trust deed to be drafted. These trustees must also give account of all the money in the Trust’s account, and an accounting of all expenditures that have taken place so far. The claimants have complained that the Trustees have not cooperated with transparency on the Trust’s money.
Glenn Godfrey did not win any award against GOB
The Media, print and television had reported that Glenn Godfrey had won an award of US 22 million dollars against the government of Belize.
Addressing the matter at a press conference held on the first week of March, Prime Minister Dean Barrow explained that there is no such award. Prime Minister Barrow explained that what took place was a decision where Glenn Godfrey, through his company GDG acquisitions LLC was given the green light to proceed to trial against the Government of Belize. No monetary award was given. Godfrey was suing the government for payments which were not made for INTELCO.
Salary increase for public officers
On Wednesday March 8 the Prime Minister held a press conference in which he was very categorical in stating that while there will be belt tightening, the burden will be as minimal as possible. According to the Prime Minister, there was a demand for a 3% surplus of GDP in the budget and it came with demands that if that was not met there would be penalties. While the government agreed that they would work towards this there was no concession to the request. In fact the request was worked down to the surplus being 2% and even so while there was demand to the contrary, there would be no ‘claw back in interest if the target is missed,’ stated PM Barrow
Additionally while there will be belt tightening, with government raising revenue and slashing spending, the Prime Minister emphatically stated that not a single public officer will be retrenched either overtly or in a backdoor or sleeper-type retrenchment. He also expressed that there will be no increment freeze, the last installment of a 3% salary increase for public officers will be paid along with interest.
How many people will be affected by the BEL tax threshold adjustment?
On presenting his budget Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow announced a decrease of the threshold in BEL rates. Previously anyone who consumed $200 or less in electricity was not subject to the 12.5% in GST. With the new budget, that was adjusted to have only persons who consume $100 or less in electricity being subject to the GST. BEL stated that as of December 2016, it has 91,281 active customer. Of that number, 80% or 73,242 customers consume below $100 in electricity. The company says that approximately 11,500 or 12.6% of customers will be affected by the change.
Hon. Tracy Panton Hands Over Houses to Albert’s Hurricane Victims
Hon. Tracy Taegar-Panton on Monday, March 20, accompanied by the Minister of National Emergency Management, Hon. Edmond Castro, visited the Conch Shell Bay area to hand over houses to victims of Hurricane Earl. While she had the eyes and ears of the Minister responsible to address disasters, Panton invited him on a visit Miss Arileee Scott and her family on Prince Street who lost her home and belongings in a fire. They assured Miss Scott and her family that materials will be provided to them to assist with the reconstruction of their home.
Hon. Tracy taegar-Panton and Edmond Castro were accompanied by personnel from the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO).
Floyd Neal Elected President of NTUCB
The President of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize, was elected with 45 votes in an Extraordinary General Meeting on Saturday, March 18. Marvin Mora was re-elected at the Annual General Meeting in December 2016 but he was stripped of the title since he had served more time than an individual is allowed to be on the executive body.
Veteran labour rights advocate and unionist Jaqueline Willoughby had been serving as Interim President since the post was made vacant in December. She submitted her name to vie for the post of President at the Extraordinary General Meeting on Saturday. She was challenged by Floyd Neal, who was brought into the union leadership by Audrey Matura-Shepherd when she assumed the presidency of the Christian Workers Union in December of 2013. Shepherd appointed Neal as Secretary General of the CWU and he has worked his way up the ladder since then.
When the votes were tallied at the end of the election, the newcomer received 45 votes and the seasoned unionist received 21 votes.
Second phase of Philip Goldson highway started
On Tuesday March 28, the Ministry of Works and Cisco Construction signed on to a contract that will see the upgrading of the second section of the Philip Goldson Highway from Buttonwood Bay to the Haulover Bridge.
The contract which amounts to BZ $20,899,031.40 will see the repaving of the road including widening it to accommodate 4 lanes of traffic. Additionally the shoulders will be widened with sidewalks and drains being installed as well as a median and an auxiliary lane for bus parking at designated areas of the road. Lights, signs, reflectors and road markings will also be installed along with other security features.
According to Francis Woods from Cisco Construction, work has already begun at this time it being concentrated in putting in place underground infrastructure for Belize Water Services Limited, Belize Telemedia Limited and Belize Electricity Limited.
In December of 2015 work commenced on the first section of road works between the junction of the Philip Goldson Airport road to the north side of the Haulover bridge. That work has progressed steadily and is at this time on its final stages before completion. Work on that section was completed in June of this year. That section of work cost 13.6 million dollars and includes the installation of retaining walls along the banks of the river as well as the widening of the road and installation of lights, signs, reflectors and other road markings.
Financing for the second section of road upgrade was made possible through a loan from the Caribbean Development Bank. The project will be implemented by the Ministry of Works – Project Execution Unit, while Beca International Consultants of New Zealand will provide technical supervision.
Suspected drug plane found in the north
On Monday 27th March police visited an area in Northern Belize where they found an abandoned but functioning Piper airplane. The white plane with burgundy and silver trim bears numbers PA-23-250 aircraft with tail number N6769Y.
Belizean Civil aviation authorities and Anti-Drug Unit police officers visited the area after they were notified of the plane’s possible presence by Guatemalan authorities. Inspections of the plane determined that it was in working condition and it was subsequently flown out of the area and brought to the Philip Goldson International airport.
Belizean Artists tell music users Pay to Play
The Belizean Society of Composers Authors and Publishers (bscAp) held a press conference on Tuesday March 28 to tell anyone who uses Belizean music that in order to play their music they must pay. Started in 2011, and having membership of the big names like Jackie Castillo, Super-G, Ernestine Carballo, Ivan Duran and others, it is just over the past few months that the organization has taken flight and began a public awareness campaign with a simple message ‘Protect music’. And under that theme Belizeans artists are now demanding that those who use their music must pay for it.
Marissa Longsworth, an intellectual property rights attorney practicing in Belize, stated that “this applies to every event promoters, everybody who holds a party, every d.j., every club, restaurant, hotel and so on.” She added that bscAp has the authority to collect on behalf of Belizean artists as well as international artists. She noted that copyright for artists is automatic due to conventions which Belize is signatory to. To use what artists produce, the users must pay she said. She added that as the copyright legislation stands in Belize, there are many infringements and illegal uses of all kinds of copyright in Belize.
One Million dollars for non-striking teachers, President says refuse it!
In April the Government of Belize set aside 1 million dollars to compensate teachers who did not participate in the strike action. Shortly after the announcement Luke Palacio urged teachers not to accept the honorarium. He stated, “We are saying to them reject that money.” He continued stating that “We believe our position is, was and continues to be that you are paying teachers who did not go on strike because you want to weaken the BNTU. The fact of the matter is that all teachers were paid, those teachers who did not go on strike for whatever reason were also paid and they were not working at school because most of those schools were closed and if they were open very very few children were at school. So what are we saying now, we’re going to pay people for doing nothing, simply because you want the BNTU to look bad?”
UB has New president
Professor Clement Sankat arrived in Belize as the 7th President of University of Belize and on the 15th of February assumed the role. Sankat was born in Guyana and is a trained professional engineer. His teaching experience stems from teaching Engineering Graphics, Design and the Management of Innovation. He is also an expert in researches in engineering applications for Food and Agriculture: post-harvest technology and the utilization, processing and preservation of tropical agricultural commodities especially through refrigeration, drying and dehydration. At this point in time, Professor Sankat says he is acquainting himself with the university, the people and their work. He says he’s been having meetings, listening, looking, learning and engaging all the faculties and campuses. So far Sankat says he’s been pinpointing challenges being faced by UB but as he does so, he’s also been able to identify some good work that the university has accomplished.
Mark Seawell beats US extradition request
After 10 years on lockdown at the Belize Central Prison, Mark Seawell was released following a judgment from the Chief Justice, Kenneth Benjamin. He is the third Seawell brother who was indicted by a US grand jury for narcotics trafficking, and he has been fighting – and has now beaten – his extradition to that country to face trial.
On Friday, March 31, Seawell’s legal team told the court that the examining Magistrate, which was then Chief Magistrate, Margaret McKenzie, failed to issue a committal warrant that is in line with what is expected under the Extradition Act. They submitted, secondly, that the examining magistrate failed to send the Minister of Foreign Affairs a certificate of committal, and a “report upon the case as he may think fit”. Finally, Mark Seawell’s attorneys asserted that the examining magistrate failed to state the offences proven against him in the committal warrant. These, they argued, are breaches to Seawell’s constitutional rights, and that they make the extradition proceedings against him defective.
The Chief Justice heard Acting Solicitor General Nigel Hawke’s response to these new arguments, and 6 days later, he agreed with Seawell’s attorneys. He granted the writ of habeas corpus, discharging him of all extradition procedures, and setting him free.
Seawell arrived at court in handcuffs, and with a police escort, but after the judgment was handed down, he was able to exit court a free man. He immediately made his way out of court and presumably home to his family.
Cops interdicted for contraband
A pair of police officers were accused of behaving like contrabandists. The officers are from the Corozal District, and swift action has been taken against them.
The Customs Department reported that on Saturday, April 8, 2017, at around 2 p.m., officers were at the Northern Border Station, at the edge of Santa Elena, Corozal. That’s when a police vehicle, with two police officers, passed through the mandatory checkpoint, and refused to stop, so that they could be searched.
The customs officers chased after them, but the police pickup evaded them by diverting into a feeder road where a package was thrown out of the vehicle. The customs officers searched the area, and that’s when they found a black plastic bag, which matches the description of the bag that the officers spotted in the pan of the runaway police pickup.
When they searched it, they found an assortment of slippers socks and underwear, and handed that over along with surveillance footage of the police mobile refusing to stop.
Police launched an investigation on Constable 885 Elston Rojas, and Corporal 263 Abnor Marroquin who have since been charged with the disciplinary offence of prejudice to good order and discipline. They were placed on interdiction from duty until after their case is done.
The Police Department’s high command continue to maintain that no corruption, abuse of process, or unprofessionalism will be tolerated, and they have demonstrated this by charging 3 pairs of policemen in less than 2 weeks for questionable behaviour.
Lemonal Road hotmix complete
On February 20th, without great fanfare, the paving of the road from Bermudian Landing to Lemonal village was completed. The road provides an easy access for tourists to visit the popular Archaeological Site at Lamanai, but it also brings great benefit to the residence of Lemonal, one of the oldest communities in the Belize River Valley area, as explained by Village Chairman Kenroy Reynolds.
“The paving of the road from Bermudan Landing to Lemonal comes as a great help to the people of Lemonal Village, because before we only had one bus that used to run on Fridays, because the road was in a deplorable condition. Since the paving of the road, we have a regular bus run; and people that used to live in Belize City and had to pay rent, can now come home and catch the bus every morning and come back in the evening from work,” Reynolds explained.
Reynolds says another significant benefit of the paving of the road that has come almost immediately is the establishment of a major new resort in the area providing employment for many villagers, particularly young people, who no longer need to travel out of the village in search of jobs.
The road from Bemudian Landing to Lemonal is 7 miles long. The project to pave it began in November, 2015 and was executed by Rodla Construction Company.
New BNTU president elected
The Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) elected a new leader after 9 years. Elena Smith, the current Senator for Labour and Civil Society, will take over from Luke Palacio as National President. Palacio will now serve as first Vice President.
Around 630 teachers, who are paying members of BNTU, showed up at the Escuela Secundaria Technica Mexico in San Román, Corozal. On Thursday, April 20, 2017, the second day of their annual convention, to select their new leadership. 3 candidates contested the post. They were Troy Coleman, the President of the Stann Creek Branch, Mario Mesh, the President of the Corozal Rural Branch, and Senator Elena Smith. About 2 hours or so after the voting was done, the Election Committee emerged with the results: Elena Smith got 349 votes. Troy Coleman got 197 votes, and Mario Mesh received the least of the 3 with only 140 votes. That automatically meant that Elena Smith had won the election for president by a landslide.
Freak Storm rips through Biscayne Village
Nine families were affected on late Saturday afternoon, April 22 after a freak storm ripped through Biscayne village. Three (3) homes were destroyed beyond repair and six (6) others were significantly damaged, most of the families losing their roofs and much of their belongings. Fortunately, there was no loss of life or significant human injury resulting from the storm.
Hon Edmond Castro minister responsible for NEMO was on the ground shortly thereafter and delivered immediate relief supplies to the families, including mattresses and food stuff. Meanwhile, the affected homes were assessed to determine what kind of assistance was needed for rebuilding and repairs.
Also, as part of the immediate emergency response, damaged electrical lines were restored by the Belize Electricity Limited (BEL).
Belmopan gets traffic lights
At the end of April Belmopan City got a new set of traffic lights to improve public safety for both motorists and pedestrians. Chair of the Belize Road Safety Initiative, Ms Yvonne S. Hyde, Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Economic Development and Petroleum, passed through for an inspection of the Traffic light system at the T Junction by Constitution Drive and Forest Drive in Belmopan. Also on site were representatives from the Belmopan City Council, Shane Orillo and Israel Chuc. Also present were the Contractor’s Representative, Jacob Banman and Daniel Cano from the Belize Roadway Construction, along with the Traffic Light Experts from CEMEX Mexico.
A series of tests on the traffic lights conducted were very useful to make the necessary adjustments. Hon. John Saldivar, representative for Belmopan described the new lights stating that, “As we welcome visitors to Belmopan for Agric Show, I cannot help but feel proud of some of our recent infrastructure achievements, which visitors will no doubt enjoy. Proud to be the Area Rep under whose watch Belmopan has received its first set of traffic lights; proud to be the Area Rep under whose watch Belmopan has received a fabulous walking, running, and cycling track, and proud to be the Area Rep under whose watch Belmopan has received three spanking new roundabouts fitted with water fountains and lights.”
Missing American man and his Canadian girlfriend found dead in cane field
On Wednesday, April 26, 2017, Joseph Milholen, an American national, reported that he went to pick up his friend Francesca Matus, a 52-year-old Canadian National of Consejo Road, Corozal, to drop her off at the Phillip Goldson International Airport. According to Milholen, he could not find Matus even after attempting to call her several times. He also stated that he called her 36-year-old boyfried Drew Thomas De Voursey, an American national of Ranchito Village, Corozal, but did not receive a response. Milholen claimed that De Voursey’s motorcycle was parked on Matus’ driveway but that her white Isuzu Rodeo was missing. Milholen stated that the last time he saw the couple was on Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at a bar and grill on 1st Avenue in Corozal Town.
The couple was later reported missing. The two were last seen at a Scotty’s Bar in Corozal Town on Tuesday night, April 25. Matus was last seen wearing a denim white short pants and a white long sleeved blouse with a pair of brown shoes. Matus, 5’ 5”, had shoulder length brown wavy hair with highlights. Drew was last seen wearing a blue and white shirt with markings of Toronto maple leaves on the front and a camouflage long pants, a pair of brown boots, and a black wrist watch. He had a chain tattooed on his right arm and was 6’ 6”.
On Sunday, April 30, 2017, the missing Isuzu Rodeo was found in a cane field in Paraiso Village, Corozal. They searched the immediate area but did not find the couple. It was not until a day later at around 4:45p.m. that they were called to another cane field on Monday, May 1 in the village of Chan Chen where they saw the man and woman that were reported missing dressed in the clothes that matched the description of what they were last seen in. The man was partly on top of the female and both bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition.
Guatemalan gold panner dies in Chiquibul
In mid May, a Guatemalan civilian was found dead in Belizean territory, and forensic evidence pointed to an accident. Belize authorities confirmed that 18 year-old Marvin Cristobal Chac Pop’s body was removed from the Chiquibul. 2 Belizean forensic doctors were taken to the Ceibo Chico area of the Chiquibul, and from their examination, they concluded that Pop fell down a cliff and died in an area almost 5 miles inside Belizean territory. He hit his head when he fell on stones in a creek at the bottom, and he died from the injuries he suffered. Chac Pop was reportedly illegally panning for gold in the area when he fell to his demise.
60 million dollars for SIF and DFC
There was a meeting of the House of representatives on Friday May 12 during which Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow announced that the government will be taking on two loans for the Social Investment Fund (SIF) and the Development Finance Corporation (DFC). These loans will be facilitated by the Caribbean Development Bank at interest rates not exceeding 3.3%.
The PM noted that 20 million U.S. dollars will be borrowed to make loans available at the DFC for small and medium sized enterprises, student loans, low income housing and renewable energy projects in Belize. The motion was taken through the three readings and the Prime Minister stated that there was urgency to have the money available to the DFC since there is a queue of persons at that institution who have made applications for loans.
A second loan of 10 million U.S. dollars will also be made for the SIF to implement a variety of projects that will directly impact as many as 35 thousand beneficiaries. According to the Prime Minister the money will finances, “8 community subprojects, finance 24 small medium size community projects to improve the living conditions of approximately 35 thousand beneficiaries.”
Government of Belize signs contract for airport link road project
A contract was signed between the Government of Belize, Nabeel Abdul Raheem Consultants, and BECA International Consultants Ltd. The contract, which was signed on May 11, 2017, has the purpose of the services of consultancy and construction supervision of the Airport Link Road Project. The contract was agreed for BZ$4,973,500.
The GOB procured the services as a counterpart measure to its existing funding parter the OPEC Fund for International Development. OFID had no objections and the award for supervision was made to a joint venture with the two firms, both having years of experience in Belize.
The Airport Link Road Project was appraised by OFID who presented it to its board of directors. They approved a loan for approximately US$12M.
The Airport Link Road is approximately 8.1km (5miles). The upgrade proposed includes the construction of a high-level bridge crossing the Belize River near to the existing airport access road. The proposed alignment intersects the George Price Highway, follows some existing trails before traversing with a bridge crossing the Belize River, and finally intersects the airport access road near Gentrac Belize Ltd. The project includes the construction of earthen embankments, crushed gravel pavements, and two lanes with paved shoulders conforming to a 100kph design criteria. The bridge structure has a span of 81.7 meters, a trafficable width of 12.05 meters, designed to AASHTO Standards, and is of reinforced concrete build.
Internal union squabble turns into racism
Major upheaval was caused within the Public Service Union and the trade union movement in Belize following the recording and release of a conversation between union executives. In it, the PSU President, Eldred Neal, and trade unionists, Marvin Mora, Lorelei Westby, were heard carrying on in an embarrassing conversation in which prejudicial remarks were made against the Garifuna people, and members of the union who are of the Garifuna Culture.
It caused 9 members of the PSU’s council of management to ask for Eldred Neal’s resignation, and not to offer himself as a candidate for president in the upcoming August elections. They sent a letter to him accusing him of racism against Garifuna members of the council. They also alleged that he is “in the process of conducting an exercise to purge the Council of Management of its Garifuna constituents”.
The most explosive parts of the conversation, which circulated among the members of the union, and then leak to the media, are as follows.
Neal is heard saying, “I find myself [in a] stalemate now. I have a culture war in the PSU… [A] Culture war, Garifuna f**ing versus everybody else. And these people will do anything to maintain power… Around July last year when I went to St. Vincent I spent all my night researching why the Garifuna in Belize behave how they behave. Because this is the only country they behave [like that]…I gone da south last month and the motherf**ers they [are so] fixed [on] position.”
Marvin Mora, the General Secretary of the Belize Energy Workers Union, is heard in the recording saying, “here was a law, there was a law that was enacted in Belize City that did not allow the “Garif” to be here after 6:00.”
There is a dispute as to who said, “So after 6:00 [those motherf**s had to hit the bus and haul they r** outta town!”
Mora is heard saying, “And the creole applauded that law. That’s why they have it against we because we supported that the white people instituted for segregation. But then their revenge came about because when the education system was set up, the people from the different churches set up the thing so that the people who were educated were the Garifunas and they would educate the rest of us…
Mora is heard saying, “The Garifuna are greedy for power, what the “Garif” did, was, the “Garif” decided that, you know what?”
He disputes that he said it as a declaratory statement. He said that he was asking Eldred Neal if they are greedy for power. He said that he was not making a statement of fact.
There is a dispute as to who said, “Every single F**ing head of department in the public service, we gwen after them. So (inaudible) they go into the… PSU, they make sure they go into the f**ing BDF, they make sure they go into the police, they make sure they go into everything. So now you see the culture.”
This is strong prejudicial language, aimed at the Garifuna culture, and it was universally condemned, especially from the Garifuna conscious organizations who have spoken out publicly.
4 Million dollar football field for San Pedro
Residents of San Pedro proudly gathered at the San Pedro Ambergris stadium along with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, Hon. Patrick Faber; Area Representative, Hon. Manuel Heredia and the Mayor of San Pedro, His worship Daniel Guerrero to officially declare the state of the art facility opened.
And the investment is a significant one, a total of 4.4 million dollars were invested in the 4 and a half acre space of land. The football field boasts a synthetic field with proper drainage. The stadium has a seating capacity of between 1200 and 1500 persons. It has VIP rooms, a media booth, locker rooms, bathroom facilities and concession areas. It also features lighting that conform to international standards.
Harvest Caye opens to Placencia
Tour guides from Placencia, the surrounding communities, and other parts of Southern Belize got an economic boost as tourists visiting Harvest Caye will now be able to go on any tour of their choice. Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) has agreed with the Barrow Government and BTB on a model that the guests, who are looking for more than the Harvest Caye experience, can get to experience other parts of the southern district.
When Harvest Caye opened in November of last year, the local tour operators from Belize City complained bitterly that because NCL moved majority of their ships down south, their businesses suffered. A few months since then, and a number of NCL’s own guests have been reviewing Harvest Caye on travel sites like Trip Advisor, and their main complaint is that they do not get to experience the attractions that Belize has to offer because their movement is restricted, once they land at Harvest Caye.
The cruise company had always committed to opening opportunities for local Belizeans once the Placencia Municipal Pier was prepared to be able to accept Norwegian cruisers. That commitment was fulfilled on Tuesday, May 30, when 38 cruise tourists landed at the pier to go visit parts of Placencia as they saw fit.
GOB to defend 186 million dollar claim by Ashcroft
In June the government prepared to defend a claim by the Ashcroft Alliance for 93 million US dollars in fees that have arisen out of the acquisition of BTL. The Prime Minister said that the fees that the Alliance is claiming are for legal, accounting and funding costs. In June of last year, Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow announced that the government of Belize had reached a final settlement for the purchase of BTL. That price stood at 453.5 million dollars. 40 percent of this figure however was as a result of the actual value of BTL and the remaining 60 percent was as a result of the PUP’s Accommodation Agreement. At the time it seemed as if the matter was finally settled and there were arrangements made to pay for BTL which has since started.
A saving grace for the government was that in finalizing the price for BTL, Ashcroft had agreed with the Prime Minister that the 60% portion of the cost of BTL would be placed in a trust from where the government would be able to access finances to fund projects to help the people of Belize. That meant that GOB could access 233 million dollars to implement capital projects for the development of Belize.
The 186 million dollar claim now will significantly cut into these.
$114,000 stolen from Toledo Teacher’s Credit Union
The Toledo Teacher’s Credit Union in Bella vista village suffered a major blow when burglars made their way into the institution and made off with 114 thousand dollars in U.S. and Belize currency along with two firearms a pump 12 and a 9mm gun. Surveillance footage from the building shows two men coming to the establishment properly equipped to gain entry into the building an further to the vault. The burglars were armed with a steel cutter, drills and a five ton jack. The thieves cut a hole in the wire perimeter fence of the credit union and then made quick work of prying open the burglar and wooden doors. They then unhinged the vault’s door using a 5 ton jack and made their way in and further broke into the credit union’s safe.
All of this was caught on surveillance equipment which caught the two men as they went about the office of the credit union until about 3:30 on Friday morning. While the thieves were inside they were aware that there was surveillance equipment recording and in an effort to try to cover their deed they took a monitor instead of the recording device that documented their crime.
The money which was stolen was to have been used to pay pensioners, social security and employees of Belize Aquaculture Limited on Friday. The credit union has insurance on the building, the contents and cash so they are now looking at recovering the money by this means.
Titan’s appeal against government fails
The Court of Appeal lifted an 8.8 million dollar judgment that the Supreme Court said was owed to Bahamians Rohn Knowles and Kelvin Leach. The panel of judges agreed that the police department went too far with their search and seizure at their Titan Securities International Office, but not so far that an award of damages are owed.
In September of 2014, US officials unsealed an indictment naming Knowles, Leach, their company, and other defendants. They were being accused of participating in securities fraud, tax fraud, and money laundering in which US government was owed 1 billion dollars in tax revenues.
The Government of the US requested the assistance the Belize government to prosecute the defendants, and on September 9, 2014, the police department’s Anti-Drug Unit went into the Titan Securities office at the Matalon Building. At the Coney Drive office, the police officers conducted a raid which lasted for several hours, and they cleaned out the Titan office of all company records, business documents, and computers.
The company owners, Rohn Knowles, and Kelvin Leach, sued the Government for damages, claiming 23 million US dollars. The case was argued before Supreme Court Justice Courtney Abel, and in January of last year, he ruled in favor of the Bahamians. He found that the search and seizure was excessive, and that they should be paid 4.46 million US dollars in damages.
The government’s position was that this business was dead the moment when the US Government’s International Financial Service’s Commission suspended their license to operate securities trade. If it has no earning capability, then it has no value, and therefore to compensate them for the loss in business was wrong.
The Court of Appeal considered the arguments which Barrow made on behalf of the Government, and those made by Eamon Courtenay, on behalf of the Bahamians. On Friday, June 16, the Court handed down its decision and allowed the appeal partially for the Government. The Appeal Court judges agreed with the Supreme Court that the raid on Titan did go too far. They did not agree, however, that the Bahamians are entitled to damages. So, they reversed the ruling, which releases Belizean tax payers of that judgment debt.
FFB fails to have presidential elections
The Football Federation of Belize could not hold its 10th ordinary congress because a majority of the congress members protested and refused to show up.
There were two important agenda items which couldn’t be addressed. First, the Congress was supposed to elected a new executive to run the Federation for the next 4 years. Also, the Federation needed its budget funding approved by the congress members to run its functions, but because the congress had to be canceled, there is now uncertainty about funding to carry out its business.
The Congress members boycotted the congress in support of Sergio Chuc. He believes that he was unfairly disqualified from running for the presidency by the FFB Electoral Committee and the Appeals Committee on baseless allegations of bribery. Acting President Marlon Kuylen and his executive tried twice on Saturday, June 24, and the following day, Sunday, and in both instances, the Congress had to be aborted. There were representatives from the regional bodies of CONCACAF and FIFA who flew in to witness the elections personally, and like the football executives, they wasted their time, all because of political infighting among the would-be leaders.