Yesterday it was the PSU which launched a withering attack on the government; today it was the BNTU who went after companies they say are tax dodgers, mainly BTL and SMART.
The teachers picketed those phone companies and the government generally with the message: collect taxes from these folks before you cut our salary.
They did this in all municipalities and here's the overview and the message:
Agitation by the Teachers Union against the government kicked off countrywide this morning when we saw protesters picketing across Belizean municipalities, chanting against the government generally and against telecoms companies Digi and SMART - which they say haven't paid their taxes.
And here in the City, district President Tanya Gillett echoed the sentiments expressed by the P.S.U yesterday calling for the wealthy to pay their taxes.
Tanya Gillett, BNTU District Pres.
"Collect the taxes from these people the Bible clearly states Render onto Cesar what is Cesar's so if we follow biblical principles trust me we wouldn't be in this situation, why is it that we have to be punished for these people that owe these huge amount of monies out here."
"We're very discontented today if you notice we are sending a message to these companies that owe huge taxes to the government, we know their about to cut our salaries, and if they had collected some of these taxes trust me it we wouldn't have been in this situation, these companies owe millions so we're sending a message today."
"We have to follow the protocols and we were informed it's 10 and we do the six feet apart hence our small number so we're working on a rotation and we do the six feet apart."
And while those numbers are contained for the purposes of safety this group could never be called dispassionate. Back on Albert street we heard from one long time Pallotti educator who told us that the government has been asking teachers to sacrifice for years.
Loretta Tillett, Union Member & Teacher Pallotti High
"Many of us are using our own money to pay internet bills, pay electricity and when we're at school if we want to put up anything in the classroom just like primary school teachers we have to pay that out of our pockets and we don't get allowances not like well public servants get a bit and it's not much either, but we get nothing, expect at primary school they may depending on where they live get a transportation allowance, very small, but like high school teachers get nothing and so all of that, and some of us are supporting other relatives at home some of us have elderly siblings, elderly family members we are taking care. How in the world will we be able to sustain. Many of our teachers at this point in time are living hand to mouth, just like many Belizeans, so by cutting us, they are taking us from lower middle class to being paupers in this country after many of us sacrificed to get an appropriate education to get our license to teach alright and sacrifice our money, many of us did not get scholarships like some of the privileged people, we had to actually work our way through provided for ourselves and here they come and want to cut our salaries, it's just outrageous and we will not accept it, we will not be moved."
They weren't moved in Belmopan either, that's where Corlan Galvez called today's initiative just the beginning of what the joint unions have planned.
Corlan Galvez, Union Member
"We don't need to have salary cuts because if you are a government, if you are fighting to get out of opposition, from before you get into that position you should have already have a plan, so that when you come in then you put in your plan. So all the while you get in, now your party is in the first you will do is kick the poor, that's the first thing you do. And teachers always get the bigger stick of the bukut."
"If we can pay our tax, our tax automatically is deducted out of our pay and if they can do that for us why can't they do it for the big businesses you know, and so that is why we are here today because if we are thinking about equality then it's supposed to be across the board."
"These are the people they are still comfortable with because they are spending my hard earn tax money, you know you have time to be buying Victoria Secret meanwhile teachers are buying our Melchor ones, you have time to be taking big trips meanwhile as teachers from Sunday to Sunday, police men, long hours, hitchhiked on the highway to try to reach home to their families, meanwhile you are there living lavishly with somebody else belongings. Those things doesn't boil the blood, it crawls it and it makes you get very very upset."
"The people who work hard in this country are the people who are going to suffer and the people who work in the office are the parents of our children and we are the onee, the parents are the ones who support the school, so if the parents do not have then the school does not have, then the education system falls apart because at the end of the day some people say we used $300 preparing for our class, somebody like me it's a thousand dollars every summer, because I paint my class every year, I have sofa in my class, I have microwave, because we have all kinds of children who comes to us and there is no teacher who will not pull out of their pockets to provide for a child."
Now what we don't know for sure is what the teachers plan to do next. We could not speak with the president today - though we know they did have a meeting at the Central Bank this afternoon with the government team of negotiators that they have been meeting with throughout. But what - oil anything - came out of it? Well, we don't know - because no comments were given after - and all the union leaders have gone incommunicado. We do know that some kind of motorcade and, possibly a blockade on the highways is planned for Monday.
As for the PSU - they could also not be reached for comment today - but their members continue with sickouts - and we are told today that absences due to illness had an effect on at least one key revenue - collecting government office.
BTL Rejects Union Narrative
But, BTL rejected that narrative today - the phone company says it doesn't owe any taxes. In a hurriedly put together press conference this afternoon, the Chairman said they have tried to engage the unions to show and prove definitively that the companies does not owe any taxes:
Mark Lizzaraga, Chairman, BTL
"It is the position of BTL that it does not owe any taxes in arrears. When we heard the recent narrative in the media, and on social media, we reached out to the Unions, to share our position and to see if we could understand their position on the matter. It is most unfortunate that all our attempts to communicate with, and our outreach to, the teachers union, remains unanswered. We also wrote to the Tax department requesting clarity on the matter because BTL's records, and BTL's Audited financials, do not indicate any outstanding tax arrears for the company. The last mention of tax arrears on this matter is in our Financial Statements for Fiscal Year ended March 31, 2011 which stated that there was a tax assessment reversal for previous years and I quote, "During 2011, the Group was advised by the Government of Belize that these taxes would be collected from the consideration payable for the shares acquired by the Government of Belize."
"Subsequent to our inquiry of the tax department, which again was only triggered by the tax arrears rumors, we received a letter yesterday dated April 15, 2021 that there were outstanding arrears for the periods 2002 - March 2010. Prior to this reply which we prompted from the tax department, BTL had not received, nor can it find any communications in its records, after June 2010 from the Tax Department concerning these arrears. After the acquisition of BTL in 2009, the then Board of Directors were provided information by management that the previous owners, the Ashcroft group, were not paying business tax on international settlements i.e. revenue that is due from foreign telephone operators. The company then called in the Income Tax Department to look into the matter. The Income Tax Dept audit commenced in early 2010 for the period commencing April 2002 after BTL providing the requisite information."
Those taxes owing by the previous owners - the Ashcroft Alliance were settled when the Barrow administration wrote to BTL saying that it would be recovered by the Government of Belize and quote, "factored in to the value of the shares acquired for which compensation is payable by the Government of Belize. In this manner the Government will recover the value of the taxes assessed."
After that, BTL says the matter of any taxes outstanding was settled with finality.
SMART Says It Owes Nothing
And while BTL had a press conference to clear their name, the other object of the teachers ire was SMART.
As we have been reporting, the Prime Minister's sister Vanessa Briceno is said to owe 11 million dollars in taxes and penalties for business she conducted in concert with Speednet, which is the parent company for SMART.
Today, SMART issued a release saying, Speednet Communications, quote, "has no outstanding GST taxes due to the government of Belize. As a responsible corporate citizen, we have always ensured that we are compliant in the payment of our General Sales Tax obligations." End quote.