Unions Rally for Government Reform

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 15, No. 5            February 3, 2005

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Since Prime Minister Said Musa gave his budget speech last month there have been country-wide strikes, protests, marches and rallies asking for Government reform. The only signs of unrest on Ambergris Caye were the closing of the San Pedro Roman Catholic School, and some utilities failing at times. However, last Tuesday "La Isla Bonita" witnessed first hand the major affects happening across Belize.

     Teachers for the San Pedro Roman Catholic School held a protest march through the streets of San Pedro, visually demonstrating their support for the Belize National Teachers' Union (BNTU). Singing the union theme songs, they distributed fliers announcing the death of the Belizean dollar. In Belize City, this death took a more symbolic turn when members of the BNTU held a mock funeral for the dollar, and the people they claim are responsible for the country's budget mismanagement. In an interview with Channel 5, Belize District President for the BNTU Elena Smith stated, "It signifies that we are not in agreement with the taxes and we are not in agreement with what the government has been doing to us. And so that is the way that we can show because they are not listening to us. So, we need to find other ways of showing them that we are fed up with what they are doing. So burying the taxes and burying our ministers is our way of showing to them that we are fed up." BNTU members held a mock funeral along with a mock forensic testimony and the body was sent on its way.

     On Tuesday, the new taxes came into effect causing those purchasing sodas, beers and cigarettes to dig deeper into their pockets for more money. In an interview with the San Pedro Branch of Bowen and Bowen, a case of regular beer, which was priced at $38.25, is now $44.25 and a case of soda, which was $18.95, is now $21.35. Cigarette smokers will also feel the effect since the excise on tobacco was increased from $4 to $12 per carton and alcohol was doubled meaning that its retail value should far exceed those of beer. As for the increase on environmental tax on all imports, it will be felt in the coming days. Since the Custom Department is on strike, no retailer can clear goods let alone stock it the store.

     The leaders of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize submitted a proposal to Government negotiators on where taxes should be collected. The Government of Belize responded to many of the union requests (it can be seen in the Government News on page 2) however, as of press time, The San Pedro Sun had not received any information on whether both parties had agreed to the terms.

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