PM meets with business community

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 17, No. 45            November 22, 2007

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On his nationwide tour, Prime Minister of Belize Honorable Said Musa took some time to visit with members of the San Pedro Business Association (SPBA). The purpose of the meeting was to discuss many of the issues which have arisen and are currently affecting our community. Accompanied by People’s United Party representative for Belize Rural South Merlene Spain, Honorable Musa joined the members at El Divino in the Banana Beach Hotel.

    After a few remarks by Honorable Musa, an open dialogue ensued where those with concerns were able to voice them. Many of the issues which arose have been spoken among residents for days, weeks and even months. As far as infrastructure goes, the fixing of roads and streets, Prime Minister Musa stated that those issues fall under the jurisdiction of the San Pedro Town Council; as such it is their responsibility to maintain. He stressed on the fact that Central Government extended a helping hand with the cobblestone project and that unfortunately, with tackling electricity and water extensions on Ambergris Caye, money was strapped to continue assisting SPTC.

    Chris Berlin, who has continuously worked hand in hand with the San Pedro Police Department, addressed the Prime Minister on the issues facing the island when it comes to the police department and the lack of equipment and resources. He stressed the fact that the business community is interested in helping and a plan has been formulated with businesses on North Ambergris Caye whereas the department will benefit greatly with more Special Constables, a boat and ATV’s, however, “government assistance is needed,” he stressed.

    Gricel Graniel of Mata Chica Resort addressed the Prime Minister and pointed out that in order for San Pedro to remain a large generator of tax income for the rest of the country, our tourists have to be protected. “This is the cow we are milking, we need to protect it. If San Pedro’s tourism dies down, then not only will San Pedro suffer but so will the rest of the country. […] We should be getting assistance,” he exclaimed.

    Chris Alnatt of Pelican Properties Limited, an instrumental force behind the San Pedro Business Association, did the math on the police officers. With 1,200 police officers countrywide for a population of 300,000 citizens, it works out to one police officer for every 250 people. In San Pedro, however, things differ slightly, we have 26 officers for a population of about 18,000 (not including tourists), which works out to one police officer for every 692 people.

    Continuing on the issue about crime, Diane Campbell pointed out that there has been crime on the island before however these crimes keep increasing in the violent meter. “I want protection from those guns,” she stated. Just at that moment, Honorable Rodwell Ferguson, Minister of Defense, came in. Speaking with the gathering, he stated that he has began making arrangements to have Belize Defense Force personnel carry out regular “sweeps” on the island. Honorable Musa expressed his concern and surprise at the serious crime wave crashing on our shores.

    Another primary concern was the fact that in the late 80’s, funding received by the SPTC from Central Government was $60,000. Today, 2007, SPTC receives $69,000. However, Prime Minister Musa stressed that SPTC receives monies from property tax, liquor licenses and the such. Area Representative Manuel Heredia commented that the monies received from that are close to three million dollars instead of the previously thought nine or ten mil. And, according to Honorable Heredia about 2.4 million of that has been collected.

    Another issue that arose was the DFC area, where no property taxes are being paid and the constant fight over who is supposed to maintain that area, whether it is Central or Local Government. The Prime Minster stated that residents of the DFC Subdivision are required to pay property taxes to the SPTC, and promised that GOB would help SPTC help in collecting these taxes. Regarding to the roads in DFC the issue was raised that in a subdivision the developer should take care of the infrastructure, in this case the developer being the GOB. According to the Prime Minister, the roads are the responsibility of the SPTC.

    As for the garbage, the Prime Minister was surprised to learn that San Pedro does not have a true compacting Garbage Truck. Once again the issue of funding and tax dollar allocation arose. The SPTC is working on a plan regarding the garbage issue, so hopefully there will be support for this plan from both the Town Council and the Central Government.

    The last issue was brought up by Steve Schulte who made a direct plea to the Prime Minister for Ambergris Caye to become its own district within the country. Steve mentioned that Ambergris Caye (and San Pedro) has always had the attitude of dealing with their problems on their own. During this meeting it became clear that Belmopan is poorly informed about the status on our island, and he concluded that we would be better able to deal with our problems if we had the status of a district, and our own minister and a budget to go along with that.

    Prime Minister Musa agreed that that was a very valid point, said he would certainly be open to looking at the possibility of making Ambergris Caye it’s own district, however he also mentioned that he didn’t want to make this subject into an election stunt, so he suggested continuing this conversation after the upcoming elections either with himself if re-elected, or with the next government if that does not happen.
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