|(L-R) Hon. Dean Barrow, Hon. Manuel Heredia and Andre Perez.
Leader of the Opposition Dean Barrow met with the community’s private and business sector - the San Pedro Business Association (SPBA) - last Thursday afternoon at Banana Beach’s El Divino Restaurant. Present at the head table were Honorable Barrow, Mayor of San Pedro Town Elsa Paz, Area Representative Manuel Heredia Jr., President of the San Pedro Business Association Elito Arceo and Board member of the San Pedro Business Association Andre Perez.
After brief introductions, Honorable Barrow began his opening remarks. Within his remarks he outlined briefly the changes that the opposition party plans on partaking if elected into Central Government. “Corruption is economic and it retards development,” he expressed. He continued in explaining that there are two policy areas where he would like to effect change. 1) Tax – Taxation, according to Honorable Barrow, has to be reviewed; the entire tax structure has to be taken a closer look at. In reviewing the tax structure, Honorable Barrow plans on broadening the range of goods that can be exempt from General Sales Tax. 2) With oil being discovered in the country of Belize, Honorable Barrow’s future plans includes finding a way in which this new industry can benefit the Belizean populace. “A refinery will be set up. This will allow for the production of lead gasoline as well as fuel,” he explained.
However, Honorable Barrow had other items on the agenda, items that drastically affect the livelihood of San Pedro residents. Law and order, crime and violence, these need to be eliminated from Belize’s premier destination, that, he said, “is a no brainer.” With San Pedro having big investors who have invested a lot to have their own piece of paradise, Honorable Barrow plans on having faster convictions for some offenses. For those instances when the victim is a visitor to the country or island, and the person is unable to attend court for trial purpose, then a court disposition will be admissible during the trail. “If the victim accuses the culprit prior to leaving or makes a statement prior to departing, we want to have something in place that will allow those statements the validity they deserve in court,” he explained. Thirdly, offenses such as, robbery, assault, or any crime of a violent nature, will be made into non-bailable offenses. Other areas within the law that will be remedied also include, border patrols between Belize and Mexico in the area of Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve, increasing the years when a convict may be eligible for parole, stricter sentences and developing a more focused and targeted Youth Development Program.
Honorable Barrow insists, however, that in order to keep law and order within our community, preventative measures need to be taken, too. “Additional resources need to be provided,” he stated. He explained that the local charter should be allowed more autonomy which will allow the San Pedro Town Council to fund its own town security force. Until that can happen, Honorable Barrow vouched that the United Democratic Party will assist local government in any way possible to minimize the crime incidences in the community. Allowing local government more autonomy will also mean a closer look at the revenue coming through the San Pedro Town Council’s office. Secretary of the San Pedro Business Association Rebecca Arceo, commented on the Association’s hope that a percentage of business taxes paid by San Pedro residents remain on the island for the town’s use. Honorable Barrow explained that San Pedro Town is currently receiving $69,000 a year as subvention. Mayor Paz commented that other towns receive more; one as much as $600,000 a year. However, according to Paz the reason San Pedro receives that minimal amount is because Property Taxes collected remain on the island and San Pedro is the highest earner of these taxes. Along with liquor and trade licenses San Pedro should be receiving approximately $3.2 million a year, however, close to 60% of property taxes remain in arrears, while 22.5% of trade license have not been paid. Honorable Barrow’s solution would be to hand over government revenue generated agencies, such as the transport department, to local authority.
Comments from the floor included the call for more money returning to San Pedro. Karen Canul, owner of Ambergris Divers, commented, “San Pedro is the cow that the entire country is milking to dehydration. If the cow does not continue being feed it can no longer produce milk. We are in dire need. San Pedro can be considered to be in an emergency situation,” she clamored. Other areas of concern included traffic, dredging and development. Honorable Barrow ended by expressing his sincere interest in continuing to work with the San Pedro Business Association to find ways to remedy some of the island’s biggest concerns.