The hottest concert ticket in town is yet to go on sale and the controversy that has come with an announcement by the B.T.B. that there will be a first-of-its-kind international music and food festival at the end of July already has the local artist community buzzing. It promises to be the biggest lineup of Belizean and international artists to take the stage for a two-day event on La Isla Bonita, but many questions are being asked about the price tag, the fees that performers will collect and accountability for the cost of the event since the monies are being drawn from the public purse. Earlier today, we spoke with Minister of Tourism and Diaspora Relations Anthony Mahler, as well as Opposition Leader Shyne Barrow, Belize's former musical ambassador. They both have opposing views on the upcoming concert and what it means for artist exposure. We begin with Mahler who believes that music is an integral part of Belize's tourism product.

Anthony Mahler, Minister of Tourism & Diaspora Relations

"we have a budget of seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Now we believe that there is going to be revenue generating potential for the concert and so it is going to offset what we have allocated to invest into this. We have to be able to compete internationally and so, I see this as an investment in our musicians. I see this as an investment in the food component of our industry. It is very crucial that we help to create a platform or platforms for these things to be infused into the overall tourism product ona high scale. Listen to me, when Buju Banton came to Belize, and I am going to say this publicly right now. I was going to hold it for the house, the Leader of the Opposition called me to come and greet Buju Banton and I said, "Why would I go?" For the last month or two, we've been negotiating with Buju Banton, trying to have him be the headlining [act] for the festival and every single week he changes his price. And I said, I am not going because he is quoting us two hundred thousand U.S dollars. The Leader of the Opposition said to me, "He is worth more." He said, "I would pay him two hundred and fifty thousand U.S. dollars and more. He is worth it." So if I paid Buju Banton two hundred and fifty thousand U.S. dollars, that's five hundred thousand dollars. That's three quarter of the budget that we have for at least forty of the local and international artists, and that is the real."

Leader of the Opposition on Belize International Music and Food Festival

While Mahler touts the upcoming festival as one that promotes Belizean music and cuisine, the United Democratic Party is calling for transparency and accountability in the handling of the three-quarters of a million dollars that the Belize Tourism Board is investing in the festival. On Tuesday, the opposition issued a release referring to the event as "a desperate rationale put forth´┐Ż for spending seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars of tax payer's money to finance a private money generating venture." The release went on to say that the United Democratic Party condemns the "wasteful spending." They urged the Minister of Tourism to redirect the sums of money towards a true national event. Opposition Leader Moses "Shyne" Barrow stopped by our studio today to tell us why his party is of the view that Minister Mahler is wasting taxpayers' money.

Moses "Shyne" Barrow, Leader of the Opposition

"I think the problem is a problem of mal administration, wastage and a distract divide and conquer tactic gone wrong. The Belizean artist were due to be in Belmopan at the house committee meeting protesting the arbitrary wonton taxation that is being proposed, that would tax them out of existence, tax them out of what they don't have as artists. Artists haven't been working for two years due to COVID19 and so they timed this press junket the same day these artists were suppose to be in Belmopan protesting and so they tried to make this festival about the Belizean artist. And, if you are going to do that don't caress me with your words, help me with your action. Show me what it is based on your action. So, the numbers will tell us how committed this government is to the Belizean artist and the numbers don't reflect that. No one is saying a Belizean artist is to be paid the same as a Grammy award winning musician. Now, if we had a Grammy award winning Belizean artist then yes the rates are comparable. The dispute is we are spending tax payer dollars. This is not a PPP. Usually this type of concerts is collaboration between private sector and the public, but when you have the government of Belize paying tax payer dollars then there need to be a level of transparency and accountability because that is what good governance is all about."

Channel 5