Mayors meet with citizens to discuss proposed liquor changes

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 11, No. 45            November 15, 2001

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The "Green Paper," a list of proposed changes to the Intoxication Liquor Licensing Act, was the subject of much debate Monday in a scheduled forum at the National Assembly Building in Belmopan. Members of the Mayors Association of Belize and the general public were invited as consultants to these amendments. San Pedro Town Mayor Alberto Nuñez, Liquor Licensing Chairman Santiago Acosta as well as several local establishments represented the island's concerns at this meeting.

    Of special concern among the three groups present at the meeting was the Opening and Closing Hours/Days of the Week part of the proposal put forth by the Mayors' Association to amend these laws. In particular, days of the week were listed as Monday through Saturday, thus no liquor establishments would be permitted to open on Sunday. Also night clubs were proposed to close at 1:00 a.m., a large point of contention with all of the San Pedro night club representatives who were present at the meeting. Their objection was based on the fact that the majority of their business occurs after midnight, and the proposed closing time would seriously affect their income.

    Mayor Nuñez told the San Pedro Sun, "There was a good turn out for the meeting. Some that did not attend sent letters or e-mails. It was a friendly, productive meeting." He further informed that the Mayors' Association will meet again next Tuesday to review their proposal based on the information received from Monday's public forum. Mayor Nuñez and Chairman Acosta both agreed that specific types of licenses will most likely be established for certain areas of the country. Mayor Nuñez added, "Every area is different and the same laws cannot apply to everyone, so it is time for these amendments." It was agreed by all attending that one community's needs are not the same as another. It was stated San Pedro is a tourist destination and cannot be expected to operate under the same rules as a small village on the mainland.

    Speaking with Chairman Acosta, he stated he believes that, specifically, night clubs will need a special license with certain conditions. He added that the night clubs agreed with the higher annual license fees but were unhappy with the costs associated with "extension" of their existing hours.      

    The Green Paper stated the major concern of the present government is the detrimental effects the illegal sale of liquor has on society, especially on the younger generation of this country. The general consensus of all the meetings conducted has been that laws are in place, but not enforced. Establishments ignore or openly breach the terms and conditions of licenses issued. It was suggested at the meeting that liquor agents be employed to alleviate more problems for the already overburdened police departments.

    Only six months ago in May, Cabinet discussed the following problems: 1) the number of "restaurant" licenses selling liquor to customers who do not purchase food, 2) saturation or an excessive amount of licenses offering intoxicating liquor for sale in a specific area, 3) the sale of liquor in the vicinity of schools, hospitals and churches, 4) the unlawful consumption of liquor on the premises of shops not licensed as such, 5) sales of liquor to persons under the age of 18, 6) the sale of liquor by minors, 7) public drinking, and 8) soundproofing of premises to prevent noise pollution.

    On June 19th, 2001, Cabinet directed the Attorney General's office to tighten the Intoxicating Liquor Licensing Act by increasing fees for licensing and increasing the penalties for offenses. It also ordered the enforcement of the law, with immediate action in particular cases.

    In July, the Prime Minister met with the combined forces of Mayors and Liquor Licensing Board Chairpersons countrywide to discuss this program of enforcement with emphasis on shops where "persons unlawfully consume liquors on premises authorized to sell liquor for consumption off the premises."

    Following this action, the Mayors' Association presented further recommendations and eventually a paper proposing amendments to the Act. They include: 1) Standardization of fees, i.e., Publican Special, Restaurant License and Night Clubs be charged a rate of $1500 annually. 2) Opening and Closing Hours/Days of the Week as follows: Publican Special, Restaurant and Night Club 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. from Monday - Thursday. Only Night Clubs would be allowed to remain open until 1:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. No extensions to be granted during weekdays of Monday - Thursday. Extensions would only be granted after a careful case-by-case review by the Liquor Licensing Board and if granted, the maximum would be two hours on Friday and Saturday, at the rate of $100 for the first hour and $200 for the second hour. 3) The amendment of Section 37 (1) and (2) to read as follows: -after "Fifty dollars" add "and fifty hours of community work" and -after "One hundred dollars" add "and one hundred hours community work". 4) Public drinking: The consumption of alcoholic beverages on streets, drains, curbs and sidewalks on occasions other than public or community functions shall be considered an offense. Penalties would be: 1st offense - 25 hours community work; 2nd offense - $25.00 plus 25 hours community work; 3rd and subsequent offenses - $50.00 plus 100 hours community work. 5) Enforcement: At the request of the Mayors' Association government agreed to empower local authorities (police officers) to name persons to assist them in enforcing legislation pertaining to liquor license violations (also littering and loitering).       

    Furthermore, the Publican General License was abolished and amendments proposed to put the responsibility of determining the age  of legal patrons (18 years or older), on the proprietor of the premises where liquor is consumed.

     Anyone wishing to send their comments before next Tuesday's meeting may send them in care of the Mayors' Association Secretary, Anthony Chanona.
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