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#528065 01/04/18 05:29 AM
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News 5 Top Stories (Dececember 31, 2017) from Great Belize Productions Ltd. on Vimeo.

PGTV Year-In-Review 2017 (JAN TO APRIL)

News 5 Top Stories 2017

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Highlights of 2017

Belize, like countries all over the world, experienced its share of victories and challenges for the year 2017. While people were divided on some issues, 2017 also had its share of people uniting for a common cause. Some events were more memorable than others but these ten events particularly stood out this year.

10. Two Queens of the Bay

In 2017 Belizeans witnessed history in the making as two Queens of the Bay were crowned simultaneously on the same stage. After a surge of controversy that exploded just before coronation day, QOB Committee Chair Zenida Moya walked up on the rear of the stage and crowned Ezmeralda Cal, at the same time the official QOB, Aaliyah Ysaguirre was being crowned. The event was the first time in the pageant's 72-year history that anything of the sort had ever happened. Ysaguirre remained the official winner, while Moya found herself relieved of her duties as committee chair, all on the same morning. Cal was later crowned in Orange Walk at her own ceremony.

9. The Kelvin Usher episode

An outraged society, mistrust for the police department, and a mother's desperate search for her missing son set the tone for the ninth most memorable event of 2017, the disappearance of 17-year old 6th form student Kelvin Usher. Usher's mother reported him missing following a raid by the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) at a marijuana plantation in Lucky Strike, where both he and his father were found at the time of the raid. The situation worsened, and reports were that the GSU had opened fire at the fleeing Usher, while he ran into the bushes. Usher was missing for four days until he was discovered, unharmed, around mile 41 on the Philip Goldson Highway.

During the days he was missing there were various protests by his fellow students, including a "walk out" staged by the students at St. John College Junior College. A large protest had been planned on the same day Usher was found, but around 350 continued with the protest anyway to voice their discontent with the way the authorities had handled the situation and various other social issues.

8. Belize/Guatemala relations

While 2016 was a much more adversarial year for Belize and Guatemala, 2017 saw its fair share of issues between the two countries. Guatemalan gun boats entering Belizean territorial waters to harass Belizeans exercising their constitutional right to travel within their own country became even more common than it was in 2016. Guatemala's government, despite a ruling by its congress, decided to print a map showing Belize as a part of its territory, to use as educational material for its education campaign coming onto its 2018 referendum on taking the territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice.

In response, the Government of Belize sent a "strong diplomatic note" in protest. There was also an incident where Guatemalan journalists, accompanied by armed military personnel took a leisurely walk into southern Belize, shooting footage of some of the villages there. Authorities did not disclose what it was they were doing in Belize.

7. Pink eye outbreak

Conjunctivitis (Pink eye) was a serious health concern in 2017, with the number of reported cases being more than nine times what it was the year before. The Ministry of Health reported that there were over 18,000 cases reported at the peak of the outbreak, as opposed to the 2,000 that was reported in 2016. The outbreak spread countrywide causing huge patient turnouts at clinics all over the country.

Pinkeye cases became so numerous that some clinics developed a fast track system, assigning pink eye patients to see a specific nurse and doctor once they entered the clinic with a suspected diagnosis of pink eye. The outbreak also brought to public attention the issue of price gouging by local pharmacists, as the demand for medicated eye drops grew along with the number of pink eye cases.

Pharmacies began over charging, some almost doubling the price of what the product had costed initially. The outbreak also caused an economic backlash, with the Social Security Board announcing that there were more than 5,000 claims for sick leave benefits, amounting to over $700,000 in payouts during the outbreak.

6. Vega land scandals

Former Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega resigned last year, after he was caught up in a land scandal that saw his son Andre Vega receiving undue compensation of over $400,000; however the Vega family name was called several more times in 2017, connected to even more land scandals. Local media houses reported that numerous documents emerged showing land transactions in which the Ministry of Natural Resources allowed Vega family members to buy land that already had an owner, then later compensated them with public land as a result of the faulty transaction.

There was also a scandal where persons purchased land on Mosquito Caye for cheap and later sold the land to one Vega family member or the other, allowing the Vegas to amass huge acreage on the Caye. Prime Minister Dean Barrow addressed the Mosquito Caye scandal pointing out that while the situation did look bad, the properties were legally bought and sold, therefore there was no actionable illegality.

The plot thickened when Amy Forte, one of the persons who reportedly bought and sold properties to the Vega family, wrote a letter to the Prime Minister claiming that her signature was forged in the transaction. Police said that since Forte did not make a formal complaint they could not proceed with an investigation into the matter.

5. Controversial contracts

Government contracts are always a source of contention, no matter which political party forms the Government of Belize; however, two particular contracts made headlines in 2017 because of the level of controversy surrounding them. The first was the contract for the construction of the Lake Independence Boulevard, issued to the state-owned company Belize Infrastructure Limited. Lake I Blvd, now in a state of disrepair, became a hot-button issue after the Prime Minister declared that the $3.2 million project was a failure, and that the whole thing would have to be re-done.

The opposition, People's United Party, raised several questions about the decision to have BIL take control of the construction when the company was originally formed for the sake of construction and upgrades to sporting facilities. The PUP additionally demanded to see the list of BIL's employees and managers, and information on how much each of them were being paid. GOB has not acknowleged that request.

The second contract leads back to the Vega family, with the issuance of an $8 million contract for the upgrade of Fabers Road to RJB Construction, owned by Imer Hernandez, the nephew of Gaspar Vega. The opposition, political third parties, and even community activist group Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) condemned the decision to give the contract to Hernandez given his relation to Vega. GOB did not relent and construction began on Fabers Road in October and is still ongoing.

4. Gas pain The cost of fuel, which has a bearing on the cost of everything else, was a major concern for Belizeans in 2017, given the escalation in price. In total, the cost of fuel adjusted 14 times in 2017, with the majority of those adjustments meaning that the price went up. The first adjustment took place in February, and the last in November.

The price change which took place at midnight on November 10, sent the price of Regular fuel from $10.13 to $10.40. Premium fuel got a reduction in that price change, going from $11.92 to $11.07. The cost of Premium fuel had been above $10 since the first price adjustment in February, while Regular exceeded $10 in June. Diesel is currently on its way to $10, resting at $9.50 since October.

The GOB had explained that one such price increase was due to the effects that Hurricane Harvey had on the state of Texas, where GOB gets a significant portion of its fuel from. Financial Secretary, Joseph Waight, told the country in November not to expect any more reductions in gas in the near future.

3.Senate Inquiry

The Senate Special Select Committee tasked with holding public inquiries with respect to the Auditor General's Special Audit Report of the Immigration and Nationality Department was formed in 2016, but did the majority of its work in 2017.

The pubic inquiries saw many notable witnesses being called to give testimonies, among them were Auditor General Dorothy Bradley, Commissioner of Police Allen Whylie, former Immigration Director Maria Marin, several ministers of government and less known witnesses like Alvarine Burges and the now famous Barton Middleton.

The inquiry, like the report that started it, painted a picture of high level corruption within the Immigration and Nationality Department, and was responsible for some memorable quotes in 2017 such as the "Belly of the beast," comment from former Immigration Financial Officer of the Immigration and Nationality Department, Teresita Castellanos, or Transport Minister Edmond Castro rebutting a question by asking a senator about sexual misconduct allegations.

The committee is working on a full report and a set of recommendations to submit to Cabinet, following the end of the hearings in November.

2. Police relations with the public

The Belize Police Department had a rough year for policing with the number of murders unofficially exceeding those of 2016. That job was made even more difficult with the amount of embarassments that the deparmtent suffered due to the behavior of some of its officers.

In 2017 the department saw officers terrorize downtown San Pedro, get busted with contraband goods, come under suspiscion for removing 26 parcels of cocaine from evidence holdings at a precinct, get accused of being involved in illegal arms trade wth Guatemalans, commit several acts of brutality, some of which were caught on camera; and ended off the year with a Woman Police Constbale being charged for the murder of a well known barber and sports enthusaist.

Two senior officers, Senior Superintendent Marco Vidal and Assistant Commissioner of Police Chester Williams, also had a very pubic falling out, in which Williams threatened to sue Vidal if he did not release a written apology and refrain from making certain allegations against him.

Police media relations were also strained in 2017, with the major media houses in Belize collectively deciding to boycott police events, because the department decided not to release any information on crimes all over the country.

Honorable mentions

While some events did not make the list, many were noteworthy enough to be mentioned, given the amount of buzz they generated in 2017. Those events included the saga of police interactions between the police and the sons of Transport Minister Edmond Castro, Wasani and Jafari. Both men were busted with thousands of dollars worth of contraband beer, allegedly driving a vehicle without insurance and assaulting a police officer within the same weekend.

The murder of well known taxi man and community activist Albert Cattouse, was also an event that shocked Belizeans, given Cattouse's character and the brutal way he was killed. The suicide of accused child abuser David Doehm made headlines after Doehm and his wife were facing charges of child neglect for the death of the adopted Faye Lin Cannon. Doehm later committed suicide at the Princess Ramada Hotel. The public also looked on with horror as police tear gassed protestors in Orange Walk, which was followed by an officer roughing up KREM News Director, Alindi Marisol Amaya

1. Millions of dollars in litigation losses

The most important significant event of 2017, however, was a collection of losses that the Government of Belize had in various courts amounting to millions of dollars that will take Belizeans generations to pay.

GOB lost an eight year legal battle with the group of companies owned by Michael Ashcroft for the acquisition of Belize Telemedia limited, which cost the country some US$78 million, and another $90 million case against the Belize Bank over the PUP issued debt guarantee for Universal Health Services Limited. GOB also lost a US $67million case in the United States to Dunkeld International Investments Ltd. and the BTL Employees Trust.

The government also lost three arbitration enforcement cases in the US; one to Caribbean Investment Holdings vauled at US22.5 million; one to Belize Social Development Limited (BSDL) valued at US $22.5 million, and one to the Amercan investor company Newco, valued at BZ$ 8.5 million plus interest.

The total of these losses amounts to $366.5 million for 2017 alone. Apart from the massive accumulated debt, GOB also has to contend with the new terms of the the 2034 US Dollar bonds (Superbond), which was renegotiated in March.

The Reporter

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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.

13th Senator

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.

Voter re-registration

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 Rom�n, 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.

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Too much noise for Senator Woods causes business shutdown on the Strip

The Belize City Council held a meeting with community members at the BTL Park to discuss the playing of music 'after hours' in the area know as the Entertainment Strip in Belize City. During the meeting various residents stood up to voice their concerns about various establishments in the area that play music late into the night not allowing for those who live in the area to have a peaceful night's rest. Among those who raised the most concerns was Senator Valerie Woods.

Speaking during the consultation Woods said that she was fed up of the noise in the area, she pointed out that people park in front of her driveway, urinate on her fence, break bottles on her street and she would take it no more. She added that if it meant that she would have to write a letter every week she would.

The day after the consultation the Mayor of Belize City, Darrell Bradley, wrote a memorandum to the Belize City Councilors and Senior Management with 4 basic points. In effect he said that as the law prescribes there should (1) be no extension of licenses to establishments that are not sound proofed. Pickwick has a nightclub license and so it should be sound proof. (2) No outside music should be played at that establishment. (3) He went on to say that the council itself had discontinued having music in the park but that businesses who play loud music in the area defeat the purpose of having a quieter neigborhood. (4)Finally he stated that no license should be granted to Hour Bar for outside concerts. In effect if night clubs are required to have sound proofing so should Hour Bar.

The decision to basically enforce existing laws has sent shockwaves across the entertainment community as all will agree that the area from Newtown Barracks up to the Hour Bar is Belize City's entertainment strip. Those affected say that the enforcement of the laws is stifling business.

Northern Regional Hospital has two new operating theaters

In June the Northern Regional Hospital got a fully functioning operating theater following investments made by the Government of Belize through the ministry of health. The Theater had not been functional for the past two years and the government saw it as a priority to have it back to operation and invested approximately 400 thousand dollars in the facility. The theater saw some major work done to repair the walls, ceiling, floor as well as the structure being reinforced. With the investment, the Northern Regional Hospital now has two fully functioning theaters.

There will now be moves to staff the facility with surgeons and anesthesiologists to cover all areas of medicine.

4 helicopter pilots and 13 maintenance personnel for BDF

For the first time in the history of the Belize Defense Force, they have 4 trained pilots and 13 trained technicians who are able to fly the helicopters which were generously donated by the Taiwanese Government. The BDF now has 3 helicopters that they can deploy for air support, and they also have trained Belizean soldiers who are able to operate and maintain these choppers.

The 4 new pilots are Captains Adrian Ramirez, Radford Baizar, Kenroy Smith, and Mark Babalola. The engineer technicians who will keep the helicopters in perfect working condition are Captain Derricia Castillo, Warrant Officer Class 2 Evaristo Cho, Staff Sergeant Emmanuel Cob, Sergeant Moises Tosh, and Corporals David Moh, Kieron Ciego, Kevon Gongora, Yassir Mendez, Miguel Mendez, and Steven Reymundo.

Those 17 soldiers were in a year-long training to learn how a rotorcraft operates, and how to fly them with a high level of proficiency. It was paid for by the Government of Belize at a total cost of just under 3 million dollars. The BDF worked with their long-time partners at Belize Aviation to get American specialists such as John Fullerton, an experienced maintenance instructor, and William Malo, an instructor pilot who has experience with training military units all over the world.

Among the first cohort of trained pilots, the BDF also has its first instructor. That pilot will take on the task for preparing the rest of the soldiers who sign up to be a part of the BDF Airwing. He is Captain Radford Baizar, who only just graduated, and apart from flying the helicopters, he has been schooled on how to train incoming pilots.

The 2 UH-1H Helicopters, which the BDF now owns and is able to operate, were donated by the Taiwanese Government back in April of 2016. The third helicopter in the BDF's possession is the Bell 407 chopper which was found abandoned in Northern Belize, which the Government has legally confiscated.

Destra buss a Bladder during 2015 concert

Attorney Steve Perera, on behalf of his client, Fernando Oliva, retained the services of Trinidadian attorneys to enforce a Belize Supreme Court judgment against Soca mega star, Destra Garcia. The claim comes after Destra was taken to court for rupturing Oliva's bladder during a concert in 2015.

On September 9th, 2015, Destra along with Ricardo Drue and Kes the Band performed at the Hour Bar field to a ram jam audience in a high energy up tempo Soca concert. During Destra's performance she called up an audience member on stage for a treat to dance with her. During the act Oliva was asked to lie on his back on the stage while Destra straddled him. Instead of seductively dancing over Oliva, she instead pulled a wrestling maneuver on him, suddenly leg dropping on his midsection.

A Youtube video shows the action as it played out and shows Oliva getting up and continuing to dance when Destra called to his attention saying, "dah so quick water has come out of you?" Attorney Steve Perera says that Destra's actions caused Oliva to suffer a ruptured bladder having him have to seek medical attention. She was sued in the Supreme Court in Belize where Supreme Court Justice Courtenay Abel ordered on Wednesday June 28 that Destra pay Oliva the sum of $16,577. The judgment was a default one as Destra did not put up a defence. Perera says that she was served in her home country and provided evidence from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Trinidad and Tobago where documents were actually served on her on May 4, 2017.

Soft launch for the San Ignacio and Santa Elena By-Pass

There was a soft launch of the San Ignacio and Santa Elena By-pass. The Hon Rene Montero, U.D.P. Party Chairman Alberto August, Mayor Earl Trapp, Councilors and invited guests took a walk and drive over the New Santa Elena Town Bridge as a soft opening for the new state of the art structure.

Public highway managers temporarily gave access to traffic for one week on the just completed bridge.

American couple charged for death of adopted child

The Director of Public Prosecutions gave a directive that charges be brought against Anke Doehm and David Doehm. They were jointly charged with the crime of "Cruelty to a child". Anke Doehm has been arrested and charged for that crime while David Doehm will be formally arrested and charged on Thursday July 13 when he is brought from the Belize Central Prison on a removal order.

According to the police the crime is to be tried on indictment and carries a sentence of 10 years in prison. Though charges are now forthcoming the police say that the investigation regarding the death of Faye Lin Cannon continues.

For almost an entire week, the American couple, David and Anke Doehm, had been in police custody while they were being investigated for the very questionable death of their 13 year-old adopted daughter, Faye Lin Cannon. A post-mortem says that this little girl was physically and sexually abused.

Police first learned of the death of the child on Monday, July 3, when the husband and wife first called the police to their condominium, located on Northern Ambergris Caye. They told police that their daughter woke up at around 7 o'clock that morning. She reportedly asked for a drink of water, and shortly after that, she went back to bed. Anke Doehm told police that her husband, David, went to check on her about 15 minutes later, and he noticed that she was unresponsive.

New bridge for Maypen

The community of Maypen saw the official opening of a new bridge that will connect the village to the Philip Goldson highway over the Black Creek. The work came as area representative, Hon. Edmond Castro, consistently lobbied the Ministry of Works to have the works done. It took just under 2 years to construct at a value of 250 thousand dollars; including the approach to the bridge as well as the bridge itself, the new link will open an access route through what Hon. Castro says is one of the most scenic routes in the Belize River Valley area.

Previously there was an old dilapidated wooden bridge that was in dire need of repair most of the time. Seeing this Hon. Castro pledged that a new bridge would be constructed. With existing funds within the Ministry of Works work was done on the bridge with M&M engineering doing the foundation and the carriageway while the ministry assembled the bridge.

With the new bridge travelers can now access Maypen from the Philip Goldson highway and can make their way to Isabella Bank.

John Zabaneh says he's no kingpin

John Zabaneh, Stann Creek businessman who has been living for 5 years with the US Government treating him as a drug king pin, is making moves to get the US sanction lifted off his shoulders. Since the blacklisting by the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, his business interests have had a series of great misfortunes.

Zabaneh's blacklisting was first announced in August of 2012, when he and 2 other Belizeans, Daniel Moreno, and Dion Zabaneh were named as the Belizean associates of the Mexican Drug Lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, and his Sinaloa Cartel. Under the US King Pin Act, it is prohibited for U.S. persons to conduct "financial or commercial transactions with these individuals and companies, and also freezes any assets they may have under U.S. jurisdiction."

Zabaneh filed a lawsuit in the US Courts, claiming that the US Treasury Department caused the closure of his farm while it was in pursuit of "El Chapo" Guzman. He believes that the designation was unjust, "arbitrary and capricious", and in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

He is also asking the Washington DC court to revoke his king pin designation and to consider any forms of, "relief that the court may deem just or proper in the case. There is no indication when US Court will hear the matter.

Bert Vasquez sentenced to 10 Years

Businessman Bert Vasquez, who was accused in 2011 of forcible abduction and aggravated indecent sexual assault against a 16-year-old at the time, was sentence to 13 years in prison for the charges. He was sentenced by Judge Adolph Lucas to 10 years for the abduction and 3 for the sexual assault but will only be serving 10 years since the sentences are set to run concurrently. Vasquez's sentence has been effective since his court date on July 28, 2017.

The victim said that she was taken into a vehicle that was being driven by Vasquez at the time. He allegedly took her to a location in Vista Del Mar where he hit her with a pistol and caused injuries to her face before indecently assaulting her. The two struggled and she eventually managed to run out of the vehicle and find help from a woman. Vasquez denied the victim's allegations and said that he was with his mother at the time of the alleged incident. She was called as a witness and she testified the same.


Public Sector Workers Trust ignores Supreme Court orders

The Public Sector Workers Trust which was deemed back in March as being invalid and unenforceable continued to operate. Its functioning is flying in the face of a Supreme Court order which stated that the Deed of Trust dated the 29th August, 2013 between the PSU and the BNTU purportedly as "settlors" of the first part and Raymond Davis (PSU), Nadia Caliz (BNTU), Phillip Castillo (NAB) and Enrique Iglesias (BPA & BDF), purportedly as "Trustees" of the second part of the Public Sector Workers' Trust ("the Trust"), is invalid and unenforceable in that.

The court continued by ordering that the Unions or the present Trustees in consultation with the beneficiaries and the Government of Belize draw up a proper trust to include the GOB as the settlor. Under that deed public officers who had their salaries frozen are to be the beneficiaries. It continued ordering that there be account for all the funds that they have received from GOB from the BTL shares from 1996 to 2013 and that has been paid to them since 2104. It also ordered that monies that have been invested be recovered.

Part of the operations of the Trust included the issuing of loans and it seems that the order by the Supreme Court is playing no bearing as they have indicated that they will "resume its loan scheme shortly." This is in direct contravention of the order which has specifically stated that the entire trust was deemed invalid and unenforceable and more so that they must account for the trust's money as well as set up a trust for the benefit of only those public officers which were affected by the salary freeze of 1995-1997.

New outpost inaugurated in Chiquibul

On Monday July 31st, the Forestry Department, Belize Defence Force and the Friends for Conservation and Developmment (FCD) inaugurated a new outpost in the Chiquibul to curb the various threats facing the forests.

Coming at a value of 115 thousand dollars the new facility will be able to accommodate 14 persons, with one of those accommodations specifically designed for a female. The building and watch tower was constructed in under a month. Additionally a road was cleared to the outpost in order for personnel to be able to access the facility at a faster pace.

Back in 2007, a total of 11 threats to these forests were identified. Those threats are gold mining, logging, hunting, poaching, cattle ranching, marijuana cultivation and slash and burn agriculture.

As a result a joint unit patrol program was developed along with the installation of conservation posts, conducted active research and monitoring and introduced inter-institutional planning. As a result, xat� harvesting and illegal logging were reduced considerably.

The conservation post, along with joint effort, would help to prevent the further exploitation of the natural and cultural resources of Belize.

Belmopan selects UDP slate

On Sunday August 13th, the United Democratic Party successfully completed its convention to select a team in Belmopan to contest the upcoming municipal elections of March 7, 2018.

A total of 1067 persons cast their ballots and the results are as follows: Angel Pastrana received 786 votes; Jacklyn Burns received 769 votes; Jem Pascacio got 754 votes; Louise Willis got 747 votes; Isidoro 'Richie' Galvez got 734 votes; Paul Chun got 702 votes and Anna Banner-Guy received 512 votes.

At the end of the process Mayor Khalid Belisle who was uncontested congratulated the team that was selected and thanked all those who participated in the process.

Shyne resigns from BSCAP saying artists are being chanced

Shyne Barrow, Belize's Music Ambassador, resigned from the Belize Society of Composers Authors and Publishers (BSCAP). He is accused the board and the former CEO of financial mismanagement, which he thinks is going to hurt the over 100 artists who became members to collect their earnings for the use of their intellectual property.

In a letter dated Thursday, August 10, Barrow wrote, "Dear BSCAP members, I resigned as CEO� I cannot justify why my predecessor, Heather Cunningham, currently the Chairwoman of the BSCAP Board, is claiming $600,000 in expense and salary from 2010-2013� Yet, at this year's AGM, the paltry sum of $2,500 is being proposed to distribute to BSCAP members� The only reason I agreed to become CEO of BSCAP was to empower artists!"

Financial statements from within BSCAP ended up in the hands of the press, and they reveal that in 2010, the board agreed to pay Heather Cunningham, an attorney residing in the US, $50,000 for her salary as the CEO. For the year 2011, 2012, and 2013, she got an annual pay increase of $10,000. She's now claiming $260,000 as compensation for her time as CEO of the organization, but that debt hasn't been collected as yet.

Shyne questioned the prudence of that in addition to the expenses of $389,061 which is being reported as the organization's expenses incurred over the 4 years that she was the CEO. According to the financial statements, that's a total of $649,061 in debt that BSCAP has incurred during her tenure, and at the upcoming annual general meeting, a total of $2,500 is going to be distributed to the over 100 BSCAP members.

That disparity between debt the organization owes and the shares that the artists will get is what Barrow was complaining about. He told the press that he is hoping that the membership of BSCAP will demand answers from the board and specifically from Heather Cunningham, who is serving as the Chairwoman of the BSCAP board.

Corozal sets record number for conventions

The United Democratic Party held its convention in Corozal to select a team to represent the party in the March 2018 Municipal elections. During a spirited election process a total of 10 candidates placed their names on the ballot with the expectation of winning a position as a councilor candidate. Meanwhile 2 persons placed their names for the mayoral position.

Voting started at 10 and after 1,661 persons had cast their ballots the winners were declared.

Shortly after 6pm it was clear that Richard Quan had bested his opponent Rafael Castillo. Quan had received 1,274 votes while Castillo received 375. It would be about a half hour later that the results for the councilors would be know and in the end it was Melhem Williams who received the highest votes with 1,142; Nonita Ramirez received 1,012; Benjamin Acosta got 1,008; Carlos Acosta Sr. received 962; Rodolfo Riveroll got 920 and Juliet Marokin received 833. These are the candidates who will now represent the UDP in the upcoming elections.

Unsuccessful candidates were Guillermo Arana who received 794 votes; Estevan Cruz 767; Tarah Shah 653; and Austin Pate got 469.

At the completion of the result announcement the candidates were sworn in and notably, defeated mayoral candidate Rafael Castillo pledged that he would work tirelessly to secure a victory for the UDP in a united fashion. For his part Quan stated that the UDP is sure to win the upcoming elections as the work of the party in municipal development will continue.

John Zabaneh no longer considered a drug kingpin

After 5 years of suffering, Stann Creek businessman John Zabaneh is no longer considered a drug kingpin by the US State Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The sanction was lifted, and he can resume conducting business relationships as per normal. His family owned businesses have had great misfortunes, however, where millions of dollars have been lost because of the designation.

Back in August 2012, when OFAC first sanctioned him, and his companies with the designation, those business interests took a nose dive. He and his businesses, Mid-South Investments Limited, Mayan King Limited, Crown Paradise Enterprise Limited, and Belize Chemicals Limited, were effectively isolated. No business entities, no service provider, and no financial institutions were willing to conduct business with someone designated a "kingpin". Zabaneh complained as loudly as he could, insisted that he was not a narco-trafficker, but it was to no avail. He even pointed out that this designation prevented not only US companies from doing business with him, but Belizean companies were giving him a wide berth, rather unfairly.

It was an effective punishment for a crime not yet proven, and as readers are aware, he began fighting to get his reputation restored. Just last month, he filed a lawsuit in the US Court to force OFAC to withdraw the designation.

That withdrawal came on Tuesday, August 22, in a letter that offers no apology for the distress this US Department's Office caused Zabaneh.

100 million investment in Stake Bank

On Friday August 25 after much delay, the Feinstein Group signed on to an investment agreement to construct a world class cruise ship docking facility at Stake Bank off the coast of Belize City. According to the Michael Fienstein, a principal of the group, the investment is for 50 million U.S. dollars and will commence immediately after the hurricane season is over. Construction will take approximately 18 months and as many as a thousand employees will be hired to execute the project. The facility will feature a resort complete with a theme park. It will accommodate four voyager class cruise ships with a marina and an 80 room luxuy hotel. The theme park will have water rides a roller coaster and aquaria.

PM directs investigation into land fraud

The Office of the Prime Minister announced that he has asked the Police Department to launch a criminal investigation into what appears to be fraud at the Lands Department. A civilian has shown with proof that her name and signature was forged in a document which says that she sold land to Andre Vega, son of the Former Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega.

The land in question is outlined in a Ministers Fiat Grant #175 of 2009. It says that Belmopan resident Amy Forte allegedly bought a lot on Caye Caulker, a piece of land that is 3,826.903 square metres in size. This is private land owned by a real estate company, and so the Government had no business selling title to it. Yet, the Ministry of Natural Resources supposedly sold it and created a paper trail for this purchase on May 18, 2009.

Documents in the hands of the press say that a deed of conveyance, with a signature purported to have been Amy Forte's, was drafted on February 17, 2010. In this document, it says that Forte allegedly sold the land to Andre Vega, and she was allegedly paid $30,000. The documents were disclosed in the evening news, and Amy Forte learned of the implication against her.

A press release from her attorney, Deshawn Arzu Torres, says, "Ms. Forte applied to purchase national land in Caye Caulker in or around 2007, but never received any title to property from the Government of Belize or any response whatsoever to her application. She was only made aware of the issuance of title in her name during the Channel 7 Newscast on August 22, 2017. Ms. Forte did not pay any purchase price sums to the Government of Belize for the property allegedly acquired by her, nor did she transfer any to Andre Vega. Ms. Forte has never met Andre Vega and did not receive the sum of $30,000 or any sum of money from either Andre Vega, any member of the Vega Family, any other person on their behalf, or any at all."

That Fraud and forgery triggered compensation protocol at the Ministry of Natural Resources, and Former Minister Gaspar Vega traded his son, Andre, 7 Acres of land on Mosquito Caye for that fraudulently issued conveyance.

Amy Forte has provided the Prime Minister with a handwriting expert's certificate asserting that her signature was forged on the Conveyance. Provided with actionable evidence, Prime Minister Barrow has acted swiftly, and he has cancelled the Minister's Fiat, and the land on Mosquito Caye. Andre Vega's attorney, Estevan Perera, has written to Natural Resources CEO Sharon Ramclam, conceding that there were "issues with the purchase", and so he's relinquishing ownership, "so as to prevent any further issues".

That was not enough for Prime Minister Barrow, and his office asked that the Police Department investigate this transaction "with a view to bringing criminal charges against any person or persons responsible for forgery."

There was nothing further on the matter as Forte never gave police a statement on the matter and the police could proceed no further.

UDP Belize City slate selected

On Sunday the 27th August, the United Democratic Party held it convention to select the men and women who will represent the party at the municipal level in next year's City Council elections. The days leading up to the convention saw the candidates in full overdrive campaign mode.

Contesting for the top spot - the mayoral seat, were two veteran councilors with years of City Hall experience. Dion Leslie, the current Deputy Mayor and Phillip Willoughby vied for the opportunity to represent the UDP as the next Belize City Mayor of our fair city.

There were also sixteen entrants to fill ten posts for councilors. All quite competent and hardworking individuals. They were Hyacinth Latchman Cuellar, George Davis, Jason Edwards, Alifa Elrington, Judith Enriquez, Keera Ford, Dr. Alain Gonzalez, Leon Guild, Noreen Martinez, Victor Manuel, Bernard Q. Pitts, Dean Samuels, Kevin Singh, Mark Swift, Michael Theus and Phillip Willoughby.

An impressive 5,594 persons voted, of these 3,073 voted for Dion Leslie making him the people's choice to represent the UDP in the upcoming Municipal Elections.

When the last ballot was counted at around 2:00 a.m. the announcement and swearing in of the successful candidates took place. Party chairman administered the oath and so concluded one of the most attended convention in recent history. There are two new comers to the slate in the persons of Judith Enriquez and Noreen Martinez. All the current Councilors made it on the slate with the exception of Michael Theus.


Trapp is back and half his slate are women

On Sunday September 3 a total of 2,739 voters from the Twin Towns came out to cast their votes to select a UDP municipal slate. In the race to fill the slot for a Mayoral Candidate, the very popular, Incumbent Mayor Earl Trapp received: 2,102 votes. His challenger, Lupita Ferguson received: 548 votes. Some 89 ballots were spoilt and were therefore rejected .

In the race for Councillor candidates, like the week before, in Belize City, the two top positions were taken by women. This time it was the very popular, hardworking incumbent councilor, Bernadette Fernandez who received: 1,664 votes to top the polls. She was followed by the young, educated, dynamic and hardworking Shary Medina who received 1,443 votes. The remaining members of the team are, George Boiton who received: 1,402 votes .He was followed by another dynamic, educated, hardworking woman in the person of incumbent Vanessa Neal. She was the third female to make it onto the slate, by receiving: 1,387 votes. Mark O'Brien was next by receiving: 1,234 votes. Nick Singh received: 1,080 votes to fill out the final slot on the slate.

Eight other qualified persons contested the convention to fill the slots for Councilor Candidates.

Social Security may fail within 4 years if...

On Wednesday September 6th the Social Security Board hosted members of the media to a mixer with the sole purpose of informing on the proposal to increase coverage via increased contributions.

Established in 1981, the Social Security Board provides a safety net for employed persons who would otherwise not have benefits accrue to them while they work. Since its inception the board has had only one adjustment in its rates and coverage and that was back in 2001. Now a full 16 years later there is an urgent need to revisit the scheme.

Speaking to the media, the SSB's actuary, Hernando Montas, spoke plainly and explained that under the current demands, the fund will collapse within 4 years. Actually, the fund is currently operating at a deficit if it were solely dependent on contributions in order to make benefit payments. Chief Executive Officer for the SSB told the media that the deficit is for 11.4 million dollars. In 2016 there was 81 million dollars in contributions while benefits paid out amounted to 92.4 million dollars. The supplement came as a result of income from investments which are also taking a hit with banks reducing their interest on deposits.

Since January of this year they have been holding consultations with government, unions and employers and according to the SSB's Chandra Nisbet Cansino, the reception has been good. And the plan is to increase coverage. Currently the maximum insurable earning is 320 dollars per week with the fund covering persons employed and earning under 70 dollars. The payment for employees at the lowest end is 4 dollars and 40 cents with the employer paying 3 dollars and 57 cents and the employee paying 83 cents. At the highest end the maximum payment is 25 dollars and 5 cents with employers paying 16 dollars and 5 cents and the employee paying 9 dollars and 55 cents.

The new proposal will see these payments remain as they are, the difference will be an increase in the insurable earning to 520 dollars. So 5 more bands are being proposed to be added with the highest payment being 41 dollars and 60 cents per week for anyone earning 520 dollars and more. The proposal at this time is that any increment in payment be shared equally between the employer and employee. For now it is only a proposal and one that is being well received.

FFB spends more on fuel than on grassroots football!

The Football Federation of Belize held an extraordinary meeting where it passed a budget for the upcoming year. According to presentations the FFB admits and without remorse that the administrative expenses is a whopping 63% of the budget. The budget this year is for a total of $1,351,378. Of this a meager$20,239 will be spent on grassroots programs; $45,431 will be spent on school talent; $119,232 on youth football; training is $101,800; and women football is $100,000.

What is most worrying is how the administration expenses are broken down. There are 19 positions in the FFB including the President, General Secretary, Equipment Manager; Cook/Cleaner among others. Those 19 positions take up $593,100 of the budget. That's over half a million dollar in salaries for 19 people. What is more is that between the President and the General Secretary Fuel/Milage allowance is a whopping $41,200. That is far more than what is allotted for grassroots programs and just a little less than what is allotted for School Talent.

Drama at Queen of the Bay

In perhaps one of the more surreal moments of this year's September celebrations, the Queen of the Bay coronation took place. After the addresses, it was time for the crowning and in an unprecedented manner, Zenaida Moya, through Dr. Candice Pitts, led a proclamation of her own- declaring the Orange Walk delegate Esmeralda Cal as the Queen of the Bay. Immediately after, there was another declaration read by Neil Hall where Aaliyah Ysaguirre was also declared as the Queen of the Bay.

What followed was even worse: while the reigning queen removed her cape, crown, and scepter and recited the words of transition to pass on the title to the new queen- in the background, Zenaida Moya did the same on Cal. She had a scepter, a crown and a cape of her own which she placed on Cal.

The moments passed with jaw dropping effect, so much so that Moya had to be escorted off the stage by police officers- twice. As the spectacle ensued, the former coordinator for the Queen of the Bay pageant, Miss Emma Boiton having a letter read to Moya where she unceremoniously fired her, "services were no longer required". All this took place before dignitaries, such as the Governor General Sir Colville Young and Prime Minister Hon. Dean Oliver Barrow as well as on national television.

All the drama was the culmination of 5 days of uncertainty as to who the actual queen was. According to the judges, Aaliyah Ysaguirre, the Stann Creek delegate, had won at the pageant which was held on September 2, 2017. Five days later, the Orange Walk committee had challenged the win and asked for a re-audit of the scores. The revisiting of the scores entailed, according to Moya the reviewing of the tape of the event after which Esmeralda Cal, the Orange Walk delegate was declared the true and rightful winner. Moya stated that there were points which were not deducted from Ysaguirre which ought to have been taken off and as a result with a new tabulation, Cal emerged the winner.

The entire ordeal left it for a period of uncertainty from Thursday September 7th up to the morning of the coronation as to who would have been the queen. In the interim, on September 9th, the Chairman of the September Celebrations, Hon. Patrick Faber requested a meeting with the Queen of the Bay Committee to reach a solution. There was much back and forth in that meeting where Moya held her position. In the end however the decision was taken that Ysaguirre was the rightful queen and would be so crowned on the 10th. That led to the ensuing spectacle on the 10th morning where two queens were crowned. After it all Aaliyah Ysaguirre prevailed as the 72nd Queen of the Bay.

MOU signed for Port of Magical Cruise Ship Docking Facility

Belmopan. September 8th, 2017. The Government of Belize signed a Memorandum of Understanding Thursday, September 7th, 2017, with Portico Enterprises Limited (the "Developer" doing business as Port of Magical, to construct a world class Cruise Ship Docking Facility on a parcel of land located along the coastline just south of the Sibun River in the Belize District (the "Project").

The Port of Magical Cruise Ship Docking Facility, being led by David Gegg and Gulab Sharma, proposes to construct a cruise docking facility to accommodate four Oasis class cruise vessels in Phase I, inclusive of a marina, 120,000 square feet of retail space, a water park and pool area, an arts and craft centre, an aquarium and an indigenous cultural centre. Phase II of the project will include two (2) additional berthing docks, a Five (5) Star 300 room hotel and a water theme park. The total estimated investment size for Phase I of the Project is cited to be US $150 million. The Project seeks to employ at least 700 Belizeans, while maintaining employment and striving to achieve full-time status for those currently employed in the cruise industry.

BSI breaks ground on $22M investment

Belize Sugar Industries Limited broke ground on Monday September 18 for the construction of facilities that will see the production of direct consumption sugar in Belize. According to a press release, the company will invest Bze. 22 Million dollars in the facility. The decision comes even before the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association signed on to a cane purchase agreement with the mill. In its release BSI was unapologetic with proceeding with the investment quoting ASR Group VP of International Relations, Mac McLachlan as follows: "In this industry, the convoy cannot sail at the speed of the slowest ship. We need action now. That is why BSI, with the support of all but one of the industry stakeholders, has decided to move ahead with this significant investment for the benefit of the whole industry and nation. We sincerely hope that the divisiveness we have seen in this industry in recent years disappears with the preferential EU pricing that supported this luxury in the past."

With the investment BSI intends to increase it s capacity to produce direct consumption sugar which attracts a higher price than raw sugar to the markets to which Belize supplies sugar to. In its release BSI states that "Through BSI's investment, the company strategically hopes to mitigate the shock of falling sugar prices and therefore cane prices by producing more value added products."

Grenade blasts in San Pedro

On Saturday September 16 a grenade was thrown into the yard of Amancia Martinez, who lives in the San Mateo Area of San Pedro. This particular community is about a mile or so away from Downtown San Pedro, yet, those residents who live closer to the downtown were still able to clearly hear the blast of the explosion.

At around 8:20 p.m., 2 young men were reportedly seen throwing an object into Martinez's yard, and hastily making a retreat. Moments later, the explosion was heard. The homeowner told police that she was inside her house when she heard the detonation, and then felt her house shake. Those officers immediately realized that it was an explosive device which went off. The BDF explosive expert, General David Jones, was immediately contacted, and he told the media in a police press conference that he immediately dispatched to the scene of the explosion.

From his inspection of the area, General David Jones identified the particular type of device that was used as a US type, M67 fragmentation grenade.

Fortunately, there were no casualties, and though the general says that some of the grenade fragments went into Amancia Martinez's bathroom, it did not negatively affect her, apart from the hell of a scare she must have experienced when the grenade went off.

Sharon Fraser appointed New Chief Magistrate

The judicial and Legal Services Commission appointed Ms. Sharon Fraser as the new Chief Magistrate for the Magistrate's Court on September 1, 2017. Magistrate Fraser is now tasked with the administration of the ten Magistrate's courts country wide.

Also announced was the promotion of a new Clerk of Court, Mrs. Diana Hendy who was appointed by the Public Service on August 11, 2017, when Ms. Orleen Pitzold went off on pre-retirement leave.

Chief Magistrate Sharon Fraser is a Belizean and veteran public officer who first entered the Public Service in October of 1988 as a Customs Officer. In 1993, she applied for study leave where she ventured to fulfill her true passion and left the country to enter law school. She later returned in 1998 on the completion of her LLB and CLE and was directed to the Magistracy Department. In 1999, she was sent to the office of the Director of Public Prosecution with special assignment to the Prosecution Branch. Chief Magistrate, Sharon Fraser worked at the DPP's office until 2004 when she went to work at the Registrar's Office and acted as Registrar. Chief Magistrate, Sharon Fraser later that year received her appointment as Senior Magistrate and returned to the Magistracy Department, where she remained until her new appointment as Chief Magistrate.

Mrs. Diana Hendy entered Public Service in 1990 in the Magistracy Department as a secretary. In 2004, she was appointed Assistant Clerk of Court. She has been instrumental in the management of the records department since 1998, where her initiative and dedication showed to present day as she worked tirelessly on the computerization of Court records.

Upgrade to Hopkins Village Main Street and Water System

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on Friday September 22nd for the upgrade of Hopkins Village Main Street and Water System. The upgrade comes under the Banana Accompanying Measures (BAM) 2013.

The upgrade of Hopkins Village Main Street and Water System Phase 1 for a length of 3.2 km (2 miles), worth a total of BZ$ 2,688,885.10, is being financed by the European Union and the Government of Belize through funds from the BAM 2013 programme. The village main street rehabilitation includes the supply, construction, installation and completion of over three (3) kilometers of road with base material and double chip seal to pavement standards; eighty (80) meters of road concrete pavement; three hundred (300) meters of concrete culverts and nearly three (3) kilometers of V drains; over six (6) kilometers of water supply pipeline with assemblies and fittings along the road; two (2) concrete pedestrian crossings; road markings and over hundred (100) traffic signs.

Teenager missing in bushes of Lucky Strike

17 year old Kelvin Usher went missing on Sunday September 24. On that day, police conducted a raid on a farm in Lucky Strike village where they found Cameron Kelvin Usher, the young man's father, supposedly cultivating marijuana. He was charged with cultivation of 121 plants of marijuana. He was offered bail in the sum of 10 thousand dollars which he met and his case was adjourned until December 29.

Cameron Usher who is a devout Rastafarian had apparently gone to the plantation and taken his son, Kelvin along with him. When the Gang Suppression Unit descended on the field, Cameron was the only one who was detained. Kelvin's family says he was in the area with his father and did not return home. They mounted a search on Monday which led them to find the young man's cap as well as the wrapper of a granola bar and some shoe prints but usher was not found.

On Tuesday September 27 police officially joined in the search and enlisted the support of the K-9 unit as well as a drone in the hope of finding the young man alive. Those efforts were bolstered on Wednesday when Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Home Affairs, George Lovell said that "Belize Police and BDF will do all it can to find Kelvin Usher. All assets from the BDF will be used in the search." He added that an internal investigation will take place in order to determine the circumstances upon which the young man went missing.

There were concerns about the young man after bullet holes were found at the plantation and there was no original mention by the police of shots being fired in the area during Cameron Usher's arrest. Additionally one of Kelvin's sister told the media that at least one GSU officer had contacted her expressing concern over her brother's whereabouts and going to great lengths to assure her that the young man was only lost in the bushes as he ran off when gunshots were fired during Cameron's arrest.

All the hoopla continued with a group of friends and family members taking to the streets on Wednesday September 27 calling for justice and the safe return of Kelvin. A day later as the search was to have resumed the young man was found in the very area where he had gone missing. He had minor scratches but was in good health. He claimed to have survived for four days drinking only swamp water and receiving some fruits from someone in the area on the morning when he was found.


Banana farm and homes in Cowpen benefit from EU and BEL Electrification Project

According to representatives from the Belize Electricity Limited, the current coverage of BEL in the country is at 92% and is expected to reach 98% by 2020. With a GOB-EU-BEL initiative over 200 communities and a total of 5,000 households in both new and existing communities will be impacted. The project will require approximately $35 million to achieve and as a part of achieving that, residents in Cowpen have received electricity for the first time.

As a part of the European Union's mission to improve lives, as well as that shared mission with BEL, several banana farms were beneficiaries of the project. Go Bananas farm as well as persons living in the area were connected to BEL's system vastly improving their lives. With electrification of the banana plantation several parts of the process were automated reducing the cost of fuel needed to operate generators. The electrification project took place in April and there was a 40% reduction in costs.

Apart from the farm benefitting, the residents of Cowpen have also seen positive changes in their lives. The residents would have to wait until daylight to start their days but with electricity in their homes, they can start their day as soon as need to. One woman, Candelaria Ical, was very happy to be a beneficiary of the project especially as it relates to her children. They are now able to complete their homework at night and make it to school on time. She is also very happy that she no longer has to rely on candles and that her family is no longer endangered or vulnerable to the hazards of a candle's fire. Another man that went by the name Mr. Ayala was also happy to receive electricity and joked that he even has a wife now due to the progress.

ASR to distribute 6 Million dollars in shares to BSI employees

American Sugar Refineries (ASR) the parent company of BSI declared dividends in August of this year. The declaration is the first time that such has taken place since the company bought over Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSIL) which is the sugarcane processor in Tower Hill. That acquisition took place in October of 2012.

Now almost 5 years later the company declared a whopping six million dollars in dividends to the BSI Employee Holdings Limited which holds 21 point 4 percent of the shareholdings.

Punta Gorda selects slate for municipal elections

On Sunday October 1, the United Democratic Party held a convention to select a slate to contest the March 7, 2018 municipal election in Punta Gorda. Being the smallest municipality, there was not much fanfare that was expected from those participating in the election but contrary to that it was quite a lively race.

The polls opened at 10a.m. and closed at 5p.m. after which 984 residents had cast their ballots. Shortly after the polls closed the counting commenced at the end of it all Ashton McKenzie had secured the mayoral candidate seat with 606 votes; Christie Martinez received 351. Also successful was Mckenzie's slate of councilors with Stephen Polonio garnering 748; Raynell Tate 684; Cindy Martinez Buchub 623; Joicelyn Dawson 614; Winston Chun 585; and Kevin Choc 572

Unsuccessful candidates were Lucia Cayetano with 376 votes; Pastor Reyes 367; Clement Reyes 336 and Pedro Witz with 298 votes.

Faber's Road upgraded

In October the Government of Belize announced that through the Southside Poverty Alleviation Project Fabers road would be cemented. The first phase will including the cementing from Central American Boulevard to the police station. Thereafter the project will see the cementing all the way to the George Price Highway.

Along with the cementing of the road, the scope of works will include the upgrading of the drains and construction of sidewalks along with signage and placement of access ways for residents in the area. Work is expected to last somewhere between 10 to 12 months being a labor intensive program having young men in the area hired to conduct the works.

Another component of the project will be the upgrading of a number of earthen streets in the area. Among those to be addressed will be Arlington drive which will see the reconstruction of the road as well as the placement of culverts for better drainage. A canal will also be placed in the area to drain the road and its surroundings.

Another Musa as PUP leader

Kareem Musa, called the press to his office to say that he is being asked to run as the leader of the People's United Party. He in effect called out Briceno saying that he is ready for leadership especially because according to him Johnny pays no attention to anyone and in particular him as a deputy for the PUP in the East. He went on to say, not in as many words that Johnny was 'hard-ears.'

Musa's trial balloon would soon blow up as he would later take back the decision saying he would not run. It would not be without repercussions as he was dumped as the Deputy Leader of the PUP in Belize City.

Kendis Gibson in Belize

Through the facilitation of the US Embassy, Kendis Gibson visited Belize. Gibson, a Belizean native and co-anchor on ABC's World News Now, facilitated a journalism workshop as well as school tour in the country.

On Saturday, October 7, 2017, Gibson met with several media personnel at the House of Culture for a two-hour discussion on media in Belize. The meeting was a well-attended and very interactive conversation in which Gibson learnt some of what the media in Belize does. While he did agree with some of the norms of Belizean media, Gibson offered his advice as to how to approach some situations, especially as it relates to violence and other heinous crimes.

At the workshop, Gibson showed several videos and pictures that were just on the brink of being immoral. While the Belizean media shared some of the same sentiments it defended that the Belizean culture is different from that of the American one. Some of the participants in attendance argued that while we do not highlight crime and glorify the criminal, it is a part of our job to offer the complete story.

UDP selects municipal slate with record turnout

The United Democratic Party held a very successful convention in Dangriga where 1,301 supporters came out to cast their ballots.

There were two candidates running for the position of mayoral candidate and in the end, current mayor, Francis Humphreys received 914 votes while his opponent, Herbert Nicassio received 322 votes. In the race for councilor candidates, there were 12 persons vying for 6 positions. Topping the polls was Cheryl Molina who received 754 votes; Alexander Joseph got 692 votes; Aaron Gongora secured 687 votes; Earth Lopez got 627 votes; Gary Franscisco got 624 votes and Yadira Diego received 603 votes rounding off the 6 candidates. The other candidates who contested were Therese Ariola who received 585 votes; Alden Chavez with 498; Anthony Garbutt 596; Marshall Mejia 489; Patricia Usher 444; and Augustine Sabal 290.

New Haulover Bridge on the way

On Friday October 27th government introduced a bill at the National Assembly for it to borrow 12 million U.S. dollars for the construction of a new bridge to replace the Haulover Bridge. The bill was read three times and the Senate debated it and was passed.

Under the terms of the loan, the Government will borrow U.S. 12 million dollars for the construction of a new bridge to replace the Haulover Bridge from the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID). The loan will be for 20 years with a grace period of 5 years and payment at a semiannual basis will be made of U.S. $400,000 starting on July 15, 2022. Under the terms of the loan it will bear a concessionary interest rate of 2.5% per annum on the principal amount.

The financing will cover 68 percent of the construction of the bridge itself which will be 147 meters long and 20 meters wide with pedestrian sidewalks on each side. Also included in the construction will be road work on the approach, river protection, installation of drainage infrastructure as well as protection and safety features.

Mexican President visits and commits new school in Toledo

A delegation of CARICOM Heads of State along with the President of the United Mexican States, H.E. Enrique Pe�a Nieto, was hosted at the Best Western Hotel on Wednesday, October 25, 2017 for the 4th Mexico-CARICOM summit.

The purpose of the summit was to consider the relationship between CARICOM and Mexico which includes the CARICOM-Mexico programme of technical cooperation, infrastructural development in the region funded through the Mesoamerica Project, Agriculture, and Trade and Investment. Also on the agenda were the areas of mutual concern such as the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Climate Change, and Non-Communicable Diseases.

The Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow and President Pe�a Nieto held a bilateral meeting which evaluated their bilateral relations. The discussion focused on the strengthening of cooperation in the areas of education, sports, maritime security, and economic and political cooperation. Mexico is an important south-south development partner for Belize and is amongst our top five development cooperation partners. In the area of maritime security, the Mexican president committed assistance in the construction of two 100 foot patrol boats for the Coast Guard. He also expressed his country's willingness to continue supporting capacity building programs provided to the Coast Guard by the Mexican Naval Academy.

In the area of education, the Mexican government will assist in the construction of a new technical school modelled after the Escuela Secundaria Technica Mexico in the Toledo district. Additionally announced his government's support of partial scholarships to 25 low-income students to study at the Escuela Secundaria Mexico in their three year program.

Finally President Nieto committed to complete the partial scope agreement with Belize by 2018.

Pink Eye costs Belize over a million dollars

The Ministry of Health is reporting that since September 10th, up to Monday October 23, 2017, there have been 16,059 cases of Conjunctivitis reported to the Ministry of Health. The breakdown is as follows: Corozal: 2025; Orange Walk: 1326; Belize: 7307; Cayo: 2287; Stann Creek: 2167 and Toledo: 947. That is in stark contrast to last year where the total cases by this time were 2524.

The Ministry states that there is a decline in the number of infections.

But even as the numbers of the eye infection is taking a downward trend, the financial toll is taking an upward one. When persons are infected with Pink Eye, they are advised to stay out of school and out of the work place, that translates into loss of productivity as well as loss of wages. The organization that takes up the slack with wages is the Social Security Board. The Guardian spoke to Chief Executive Officer at the board who reports that as of October 18, SSB has processed 5,174 claims for pink eye for the month of September and a portion of October. These claims resulted in a total of 24,302 sick days, which resulted in Social Security Board paying out over $704,000 in sickness benefits. This figure is however not a full picture as the epidemic is still ongoing and claims keep coming into the board on a daily basis. It is estimated that by the end of it the board would have paid out at least a million dollars in benefits.

The largest number of claims have been received by the Belize City branch office, followed by Orange Walk and then the Belmopan branch. And as the board keeps receiving claims it has issued a Public Service Announcement advising persons affected by pink eye that it would accept sickness benefit claims signed by a doctor for up to 10 days rather than the usual 4 days.

Bill passed to 'pass the weed'

-10 grams or less of Marijuana decriminalized

On Wednesday October 25 the Senate met and ratified a bill that would decriminalize the possession of 10 grams or less of cannabis. Under the new law persons in possession of 10 grams or less should not be arrested or charged. They can also use the drug at their home or any location where they are permitted by the owner.

The amendment also defines cannabis as any part of the plant of the genus cannabis sativa and resin or product obtained from it but it disqualifies medicinal preparations of marijuana as well as industrial hemp from being part of cannabis.

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We have the money to pay for BTL

says PM Barrow

Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow called a press conference on Wednesday November 1 to brief the nation on a judgement handed down by the Caribbean Court of Justice which will see the government of Belize making a final payment to the former owners of Belize Telemedia Limited of US $78,163,806.07; Dunkeld International Investment Ltd. is to be paid $62,849,799.23 and Belize Telemedia Employees Trust $15,314,006.84. There is an additional $245,155.36 to be paid to Dunkeld and $10,300,518.34 to be paid to the Belize Telemedia Employees Trust. The amounts however will be used to fund charitable projects in Belize and will be paid in Belize dollars.

During the conference the PM was clear that the payment is not new money that the Ashcroft Alliance is to be paid. On June 29th of last year the government announced that the final cost for BTL would be in the region of 388 million dollars. At the time government said that it had already paid 40 percent of that amount which was the actual value of the shares. The resulting 60 percent which was what was due Ashcroft as a result of the PUP's Accommodation Agreement was to have been paid in Belize currency and would have been used for projects to Benefit Belize and Belizeans.

Shortly after that announcement and in frustration that the Government of Belize was resisting payment to the Ashcroft Alliance for other arbitration awards which it had won in the U.S. the Alliance brought forward a claim to government that most of what was due was actually owed them as expenses which they incurred to reach a final settlement. They then demanded that the payment be made in U.S. dollars contrary to what had been agreed to. The Government did not take that decision lying down and took the matter to the Caribbean Court of Justice which handed down the ruling this Wednesday.

For PM Barrow, the ruling is a sore issue as he stated that, "there is a lot in the judgment which we can quarrel about." He noted that his expectation was that the court would have determined how much liabilities claimed was actually incurred during the nationalization of BTL. That in his view however was never arrived at. Nonetheless he stated that after consultation with the Central Bank, "we will make the entirety of the foreign currency payment by the date given in the order of the court," that should be the 10th of November of this year.

As it relates to the financial position of the country, PM Barrow noted that "it is a fair deal of foreign exchange that we have to find but we will find it." He added that in consultations with the Central Bank the current position is that there is in excess of $747M dollars available. With projected receipts and disbursements including the payment to the Ashcroft Alliance that position is expected to go to $583M by the end of the year. Under prudent financial management, the Prime Minister said that the country should maintain at least 3 months worth of import cover in U.S. currency and it will in fact have enough to cover for 15.6 that is almost 4 months of cover.

Paradise Papers, Ashcroft and Belize

A large batch of leaked documents dubbed the Paradise Papers from the law firm Appleby as well as corporate registries in 19 tax jurisdictions hit the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Among the documents were disclosures that Michael Ashcroft, had formed a Trust in 2000 in Bermuda where he placed hundreds of millions of dollars. Named the Punta Gorda Trust, Ashcroft apparently circumvented the rules of the trust and went above the trustees to use money without approval.

This has sent out alarm bells in the UK where Ashcroft has been juggling to avoid taxation for years. Along with the papers came a report by the BBC's Panorama where Ashcroft was questioned by journalist Richard Bilton. All he'd say was dear, dear, dear. Evasion of tax is something that Ashcroft has also been known for in Belize. In the previous administration he was given huge tax breaks usually prompted by indebtedness which the Musa administration had gotten into with his affiliate companies like the Belize Bank and BTL and finally ending with him getting tax breaks.

And relics of his penchant to form trusts continue in Belize, most recently he did very much the same thing with a portion of the BTL settlement payment for Belize being made to a trust where the country would supposedly have had access to finances to fund projects for the benefit of Belizeans. Prime Minister Barrow had explained that more than likely the country would get very limited benefit from this trust and has resigned himself to this.

And while that is one trust we know of, there is yet another that rings very much like the Punta Gorda Trust, that is the BTL Employees Trust. Under the most recent payment which will be made before Friday of this week, the Trust will receive US $15,314,006.84. What is noteworthy about this trust is that while it bears the name of the employees of BTL, and they are named as beneficiaries, they have not received a single benefit from it. We suspect that this trust was simply made, very much like the Punta Gorda Trust, to avoid taxes.

Punta Gorda gets the Best basketball court in the country

On Friday November 17th, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Sports, Hon. Patrick Faber along with Sports Council representatives and the Mayor of Punta Gorda, Fern Gutierrez, will officially inaugurate the brand new state of the art multipurpose complex in that municipality.

That financing amounted to 3.4 million dollars which saw the doubling in size of the building. The court itself sits on a space of 125 feet by 125 feet with an additional 100 feet extension to accommodate office spaces, lockers and bathrooms as well as reception areas. The building accommodates a Conners certified wooden court along with Gared rims and backboards, shot clock and scoreboards. It also has bleachers to seat 850 persons and an additional 150 on the floor for a total of 1000 seats. It will also have the capacity to withstand a category 3 hurricane.CCJ says GOB to pay $90 Million for UHS�

only if parliament approves!

The Caribbean Court of Justice has issued a judgment for the Government of Belize to pay an Arbitral Award which the Belize Bank had gotten against the Government back in 2013. In a release the CCJ says, "In the case of The Belize Bank Ltd. v The Attorney General of Belize, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) today granted permission for the Belize Bank Limited to enforce a 2013 arbitration award against the Government of Belize. The arbitration award, made by a Tribunal of the London Court of International Arbitration, required the Government to pay the Bank the sum of BZ$36,895,509.46 together with interest at 17% and arbitration costs of �536,817.71. The CCJ's ruling means that the award now has the same effect as if it had been a judgment given by the Supreme Court of Belize. In addition, the Court also granted the Bank its legal costs in the CCJ and Belize's Court of Appeal and Supreme Court."

As of November 22, 2017 the sum total which is owed for the Universal Health Services Debt stood at $90,645,607.20.

While the court stated that there was a debt to be paid it was clear that this could only be settled if there was parliamentary approval.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture survive plane crash

It caused a stir all over Belize on Friday, November 17, when a Tropic Air plane, carrying Acting Prime Minister, Hon. Patrick Faber and Agriculture Minister, Hon. Godwin Hulse, went down. Fortunately, the two Government leaders and the other 7 occupants on the plane survived a crash landing in the sea off the Placencia Peninsula.

Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber told the press that he, Hulse and Christy Mastry, the General Manager of the Belize Infrastructure Limited, were all on the same flight heading to Punta Gorda Town. Their intention was to participate in the official opening ceremony of the new PG multi-purpose sporting complex.

The plane landed in Dangriga without incident, and the passengers were dropped off. They then took off and left for Placencia, where they landed, again without incident. At around 8:45 a.m., while the flight was attempting to leave the Placencia municipal airstrip to fly to PG, is when the very unfortunate accident happened. The plane attempted to take off, as was the routine, but just as it reached the end of the runway, a Subaru SUV drove into its path. That should not have happened as the area has many signs. All these signs warn that incoming and outgoing road traffic to Placencia Town is expected to give way whenever planes are landing and taking off. The main road into the town curves right around the end of the runway. Eyewitnesses tell the press that the 2 barriers, which are to go down whenever planes are using the runway, were malfunctioning. One of the two barriers reportedly went down, and the one which reportedly failed allowed the Subaru SUV to pass.

Supreme Court tells Public Sector Workers Trust to stop spending money

Earlier this month, the beneficiaries of the Public Sector Workers Trust (PSWT) applied to the Supreme Court for enforcement of an order they had received on March 3rd of this year.

On Monday November 27th, Supreme Court Justice, Courtenay Abel heard the request in-camera and at the end of it granted the beneficiaries' request. In the order, the court told those who control the PSWT at this time, the BNTU and the PSU, to cease all disbursements of monies that the trust is currently engaged in contrary to an order which the court had given in March. The court also ordered that all parties involved need to go into mediation within 45 days.

This is yet another significant victory for the beneficiaries as the PSWT had continued a loan program despite an order from the court in March where the trust had been deemed illegal and unenforceable. The court had also ordered that an accounting of all the monies take place as well as that efforts be made to recover all monies which had been used by the trust.

The PSWT issued a release in which it stated that there was no injunction issued by the court. It states that "the Court ordered (and was agreed to by the Unions and Trustees in the spirit of compromise and accountability) was that the lists and details of loans be provided to the other parties to the case before loans are disbursed.

Benque selects its UDP team for municipals

On Sunday November 26th the United Democratic Party, held its final contested municipal elections convention in Benque Viejo del Carmen. There were a total of 15 candidates who contested the 6 positions in the slate. The mayoral candidate had already been endorsed in the name of Gerardo Maroni Sosa. He is a three term former mayor of Benque an is eminently qualified for the position and as such had no one contesting him for the position.

The councilor candidates who were successful were Dora Leticia Victorin who received 571 votes, Alvaro Enrique Gongora who got 534 votes; Noemi Perez 451; Marcos Moises Kotch 416; Jose Antonio Guerra 409; and Miguel Angel Thompson 368. Other candidates who contested were Errol Joseph Coleman, Manuel Luis Contreras, Simon Wolsey Gongora, Maritza Rosarito Manzanero, Melvin Jeovany Manzanero, David Mauricio Paredes, Charles Anthony Ponce, Angel Benedicto Rodriguez and Sucenita Rogila Villalta.

A total of 1,034 persons cast their votes in this last convention. The UDP has all 9 slates ready for the March 7th Municipal Elections. The final endorsement saw the San Pedro officially sworn in on Saturday November 2 on the Island of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye.


BNTU says GOB must pay UHS debt

The BNTU was one of the primary movers back in 2007 that cause the government at the time, under Said Musa to back down from taking a bill to the National Assembly for the Belizean people to pay for a 33 million dollar guarantee which had been given to the owners of UHS, a private hospital.

Now it is odd, that after two weeks of silence, that Elena Smith in her capacity of president of the BNTU has said that the government must pay the 90 million plus debt. While Smith acknowledges that the matter must be voted on in parliament, she says that the government has a responsibility to pay the debt.

And while Smith has said that GOB should pay, there is no indication as to where the money will come from.

Senate Hearings come to a close

After 13 months and hundreds of thousands of dollars in public spending, the Senate Hearings on Immigration are finally over.

The Senate Select Committee called Auditor General, Dorothy Bradley to testify as their final witness. She was the first witness back in October 2016, and on Wednesday, December 6, 2017 she was the last to be called back.

The majority of the hour and a half long testimony was housekeeping, with the Auditor General taking questions about her audit process which resulted in her 2011-2013 Audit Reports on Immigration. Mark Lizarraga, the Protem Chairman, also questioned her about the written comments that Ruth Meighan, a former Director of Immigration, and Maria Marin, a former Acting Director of Immigration, submitted to the Special Select Committee. Those comments were their views on the extensive recommendations that Bradley had made to address the irregularities she and her team found within the department.

Now, that they've gotten the testimonies from the witnesses they wanted to hear from, the Senate Select Committee will take a break and resume their work on the Second Wednesday in January of next year. That's when they will start to prepare their report, revising as many times as they see fit, until a final draft has been produced.

That final draft, which could take months to produce, will then be tabled in the Senate, and it will become a public document. The final tally is not in as yet, but estimates are that the Senate Select Committee heard well over a hundred hours of testimony, since November 2016, when the hearings started.

Of course, there had been a call for these hearings to have come to an end at least 6 months ago.

GOB collects 77.5 million dollars from IMMARBE and IBC

77 million, 590 thousand and 68 dollars is the combined revenue that the International Business Companies Registry (IBC) and the International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize (IMMARBE), has been able to procure for and on behalf of the Government and people of Belize. The money is the combined total for operations of the two companies since 2015. In that year IBC made USD$7,103,430.00; in 2016 it was USD$7,536,980.00 and this year its up to USD$8,143,235.00. IMMARBE has had as much success with operations in 2015 bringing in US $6,274,207; in 2016 it was US $5,332,145 and this year, 2017 saw US $4,405,037 in revenues.

It is significant that these numbers are brought to the fore as prior to 2013, all revenues collected by these companies were paid to a company controlled by Michael Ashcroft related entities. That company went by the name Belize International Services Limited. Under the arrangement BISL received 64% of revenues while Government received 46%.

On June 11, 2013 the government of Belize under Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow nationalized the two companies. It is of note that both companies are gateways by which those seeking to conduct business in Belize would use. IMMARBE sells the right for persons to sail using the Belize flag while IBC registers offshore companies for them to be able to conduct business in Belize under tax-free status and secrecy of their corporate affairs.

The companies were nationalized after the contract by Belize International Services Limited had come to an end. When GOB informed BISL that the contract had expired they, not surprisingly came up with a secret contract that was signed in 2005 by the Musa administration which extended it to 2020.

Public Sector Workers Trust and Beneficiaries face off over Trust money

The Public Sector Worker's Trust, which was established in 2013 to figure out a way in which public officers who were affected by a increment freeze between 1995 and 1997 should be compensated; held a press conference where they sought to 'clear the air' on a recent ruling given against them.

The matter has become one with protracted problems after a March, 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court. In the ruling of the court it was ordered that there must be accounting of the money which was held by the trust. It additionally ordered that a new trust deed is to be established with input from the Government and beneficiaries with the government to be named as protector of the trust.

According to the beneficiaries who originally took the trust to court the order is not being complied with and they sought and got an injunction against the trust from conducting any further activity. That took place at the end of November and in it they were restrained from issuing any more loans, as well as they were ordered to provide a list of the loans which they have given out. They were additionally ordered to go into mediation with the beneficiaries to come up with a new trust.

Now the orders are quite straight forward but the trust, the trustees and their attorney Anthony Sylvester have a completely different interpretation as to what they were ordered to do. In fact during their press conference held on Thursday, December 7, they say they were not told to discontinue their loan program. They additionally stated that they have already come up with a new trust deed (without consulting with GOB or the beneficiaries), which they claim they have already forwarded to the government and the beneficiaries.

With all the perceived misinformation being given out by the trust and its trustees, the beneficiaries including their attorney, Magali Marin held a press conference of their own on December 11. During that event, they maintained that the trust has been put on pause.

On the fifth of December the court ordered that the formalization of the trust was referred to mediation; that the trustees should provide details of all loans which have been processed or are being processed since the judgment; the parties may agree on disbursement of loan payments after a full list of names and details have been provided to the beneficiaries' attorney; the trust should also not disburse any money by way of loan or any lending mechanism without permission of the court and costs incurred were to be paid by the trust.

In speaking to the media, Marin explained that the trust deed was void and that the true beneficiaries of it are those public officers affected by the wage freeze. She added that the trustees must also account for the moneys in the trust. She noted that the reason they have reached to this point is because there has been little effort on the part of the trustees to get benefits to those who are entitled. She added that the trustees have been dismissive about the concerns of the beneficiaries. She noted that they are also not truly accountable to the beneficiaries. The unions, she said, continue to disburse moneys by way of loans and that was the reason they had to file an application in November to restrain them from doing so and also to set deadlines to set up a new trust. Marin went further to state that the beneficiaries have concerns related to lending scheme and she pointed to an auditor's report for 2015 where 430 thousand has been loaned to the unions themselves and associations and the beneficiaries do not know who these associations are and how it is that the unions can be lending money to themselves.

From a legal perspective, Marin said that they are seeking that since the trust deed names the unions as trustees there has to be other named trustees who would look after the interests of the beneficiaries. "Over the years my clients have become very weary about the unions and of the management of this trust," stated Marin. She added that from they get go the unions were denying benefits to the true beneficiaries. She also questioned how it was that they were giving loans to themselves. The beneficiaries then, would like other persons who are respectable persons in society to also be trustees along with the unions. This she said is so that there are checks and balances in the management of the funds. Additionally the beneficiaries want a protector to oversee the funds and ensure that the trustees are acting in good faith and that the protector not be affiliated with the union and for that person to be a respectable member of society.

The court has ordered mediation in this matter which is to take place 45 days after the 5th of December Supreme Court order.

Unions want a Commission of inquiry into UHS

Reports from the National Trade Union Congress of Belize are that the Government has given an undertaking that a Commission of Inquiry on Universal Health Services will take place. Those public hearings will be held to examine the history of events which has led to the present, where Belize owes an over 90 million US dollar judgment debt from the Caribbean Court of Justice.

The NTUCB released a statement saying that this Commission of inquiry will look "into all the transactions and circumstances of the acquisition of the Universal Health Services (UHS) facility from inception to present, including questions of ownership and payments made to the Belize Bank Ltd will be established."

The NTUCB says that it received this undertaking for the Commission of Inquiry during a midmorning meeting with Prime Minister Dean Barrow and his CEO, Audrey Wallace, which was held at the Biltmore Plaza Hotel on Wednesday, December 13, 2017. The NTUCB says that the Prime Minister invited them to draft the terms of reference of the Commission of Inquiry. To begin doing that, The General Council of the NTUCB will hold a special meeting this weekend.

Who will manage the New Civic Center?

After 24 months of construction the 32.9 million dollar sporting facility is now complete. And it is a marvel to look at but the question now is, who will manage it.

On Wednesday December 13th, the facility was opened for the public to have a look and for the media to take in the cameras and the question of value for money was never raised. With a seating capacity of 3,500 persons and an additional 2 thousand for standing room, along with a professional basketball court with all amenities like locker rooms, professional audio system, HD lighting system, concession areas, office areas, parking facilities and air conditioning it is worth it. Manager of Belize Infrastructure Limited, Christy Mastry says that the structure was constructed at $225 per square foot with all the equipment and systems in place.

Addressing the issue of management, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, Hon. Patrick Faber stated that the process of selecting a management system for the Civic is still ongoing. On October 6th bids were opened and those closed on the 5th of December during which 4 entities expressed interest. According to Hon. Faber, none fit the technical requirements to manage the facility and now the government is extending the process of bidding up to end of January. After a manager is selected it is expected that there will be 30 to 45 days after signing before the facility becomes opened to the public. According to Minister Faber, it may not be until March of next year before that is the case.

Minister Faber pointed out that the building is state of the art and with such a large investment, the management needs to be done right on the first try. He says that government does not have a very good track record of maintaining facilities. These, he says, are allowed to deteriorate without proper maintenance. Additionally, under private management that company would be able to market the facility for it to not only cover expenses but also to make a profit which would then be invested in other areas like sports.

Christy Mastry added that the operations and maintenance expenses for the building is between 800,000 to a million dollars a year and at this point it is not being looked at to saddle the government with such an expense. A private company however would take this on and manage it and host events to cover expenses and make profit.

Addressing the issue of social use for the facility, Hon. Faber noted that it is crucial that under the new management arrangement at least 1000 hours will be given to community use. There is also a need to offer time for national as well as regional competitions especially in volleyball and basketball.

The Guardian

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