He first made news when his name popped up in the San Pedro Town Council’s Auditor General Report, then in a land dispute with Deborah Spain which is still before the court, and today, Minister of Tourism’s driver Joel Chi is back in the news for several issues that have raised concerns in San Pedro Town.
The first issue is in relation to a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) belonging to Mr. Chi which arrived on the island in early April. Vehicles on the island have to receive proper approval of importation from the Ambergris Caye Traffic Control Committee (ACTCC) before making its way to San Pedro Town. An application for an SUV importation permit was submitted by Chi to ACTCC but the application was subsequently denied. However, shortly after a red Liberty SUV was seen being driven on the island. Investigations revealed that the SUV belonged to Chi.
The SUV did not have the proper approval and as such Acting San Pedro Town Transport Manager, Councilor Severo Guererro, gave Chi a verbal warning that the vehicle was on the island illegally and needed to be taken out of Ambergris Caye boundaries. Guerrero further claims that once he realized that the vehicle was still on the island the matter was brought to the attention of Chi’s employer, the Area Representative Honorable Manuel Heredia Jr. Furthermore, “because the vehicle remained on the island, two weeks ago, an order of impoundment was issued to the San Pedro Police Department addressed to Sergeant Leslie Wade,” stated Guererro. The order clearly stated that the Police Department had full authority to impound the vehicle and ensure that it be removed from the island.
Again, the vehicle remained, and according to Guerrero, since the impound notice was delivered to the Police Department the matter was now in their hands. Sergeant Wade commented that an impound notice was not received two weeks ago but had actually been received on Monday, May 11th and that the issue would be dealt with on Wednesday, May 13th. However, according to Chi’s employer Honorable Heredia, the vehicle was removed from the island on May 11th.
The second conflict involving Chi has to deal with the land dispute between himself and Spain. Chi and Spain first became involved in the dispute when it was alleged by Spain that the land in question, located in the San Juan Area belonged to her. However, it is alleged that after checks with the Lands Department, the property had been put in Chi’s name. The dispute ended up in court and according to Spain’s Attorney, Anthony Sylvester, “the application for injunction is still before the court.”
While the injunction has not been finalized, Chi has begun construction on the property. Newly appointed Chairman for the Ambergris Caye Local Building Authority (ACLBA) Fidel Ancona, stated that shortly after Municipal Elections the ACLBA committee was dissolved. As such, building permits were not reviewed or processed at the SPTC offices. Because there was no committee, eight property owners began construction without their proper ACLBA approval; Chi was one of them.
When submitting his plans, Chi presented a copy of his Land Title along with architectural designs on his proposed building. If the land in question is being disputed, Ancona explained that Spain would need to submit official court documentation which states that there is an injunction on the land. However, Chi faces yet another building issue. According to Ancona, “He not only started construction, the committee found out that the building is larger, completely skewed from the original plans.” Because of this a stop order was issued on Friday, May 8th, instructing Chi to cease all construction on the land. Chi’s plans will be reviewed by the committee and a decision will be taken as to what the following steps may be.
While we were unable to contact Chi for comments, Honorable Heredia stated that Chi’s cases have drawn more public attention because of who he works for (Honorable Heredia). He further explained that when it relates to the land dispute, Chi has his title and that it was used as collateral for a bank loan. Should the land be contested the matter would then have to be taken up with the Government of Belize.