Year in Review 2018 Print E-mail
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Thursday, 11 January 2018 00:00


Too much noise for Senator Woods causes business shutdown on the Strip

The Belize City Council held a meeting with community members at the BTL Park to discuss the playing of music ‘after hours’ in the area know as the Entertainment Strip in Belize City. During the meeting various residents stood up to voice their concerns about various establishments in the area that play music late into the night not allowing for those who live in the area to have a peaceful night’s rest. Among those who raised the most concerns was Senator Valerie Woods.

Speaking during the consultation Woods said that she was fed up of the noise in the area, she pointed out that people park in front of her driveway, urinate on her fence, break bottles on her street and she would take it no more. She added that if it meant that she would have to write a letter every week she would.

The day after the consultation the Mayor of Belize City, Darrell Bradley, wrote a memorandum to the Belize City Councilors and Senior Management with 4 basic points. In effect he said that as the law prescribes there should (1) be no extension of licenses to establishments that are not sound proofed. Pickwick has a nightclub license and so it should be sound proof. (2) No outside music should be played at that establishment. (3) He went on to say that the council itself had discontinued having music in the park but that businesses who play loud music in the area defeat the purpose of having a quieter neigborhood. (4)Finally he stated that no license should be granted to Hour Bar for outside concerts. In effect if night clubs are required to have sound proofing so should Hour Bar.

The decision to basically enforce existing laws has sent shockwaves across the entertainment community as all will agree that the area from Newtown Barracks up to the Hour Bar is Belize City’s entertainment strip. Those affected say that the enforcement of the laws is stifling business.

Northern Regional Hospital has two new operating theaters

In June the Northern Regional Hospital got a fully functioning operating theater following investments made by the Government of Belize through the ministry of health. The Theater had not been functional for the past two years and the government saw it as a priority to have it back to operation and invested approximately 400 thousand dollars in the facility. The theater saw some major work done to repair the walls, ceiling, floor as well as the structure being reinforced. With the investment, the Northern Regional Hospital now has two fully functioning theaters.

There will now be moves to staff the facility with surgeons and anesthesiologists to cover all areas of medicine.

4 helicopter pilots and 13 maintenance personnel for BDF

For the first time in the history of the Belize Defense Force, they have 4 trained pilots and 13 trained technicians who are able to fly the helicopters which were generously donated by the Taiwanese Government. The BDF now has 3 helicopters that they can deploy for air support, and they also have trained Belizean soldiers who are able to operate and maintain these choppers.

The 4 new pilots are Captains Adrian Ramirez, Radford Baizar, Kenroy Smith, and Mark Babalola. The engineer technicians who will keep the helicopters in perfect working condition are Captain Derricia Castillo, Warrant Officer Class 2  Evaristo Cho, Staff Sergeant Emmanuel Cob, Sergeant Moises Tosh, and Corporals David Moh, Kieron Ciego, Kevon Gongora, Yassir Mendez, Miguel Mendez, and Steven Reymundo.

Those 17 soldiers were in a year-long training to learn how a rotorcraft operates, and how to fly them with a high level of proficiency. It was paid for by the Government of Belize at a total cost of just under 3 million dollars. The BDF worked with their long-time partners at Belize Aviation to get American specialists such as John Fullerton, an experienced maintenance instructor, and William Malo, an instructor pilot who has experience with training military units all over the world.

Among the first cohort of trained pilots, the BDF also has its first instructor. That pilot will take on the task for preparing the rest of the soldiers who sign up to be a part of the BDF Airwing. He is Captain Radford Baizar, who only just graduated, and apart from flying the helicopters, he has been schooled on how to train incoming pilots.

The 2 UH-1H Helicopters, which the BDF now owns and is able to operate, were donated by the Taiwanese Government back in April of 2016. The third helicopter in the BDF’s possession is the Bell 407 chopper which was found abandoned in Northern Belize, which the Government has legally confiscated.

Destra buss a Bladder during 2015 concert

Attorney Steve Perera, on behalf of his client, Fernando Oliva, retained the services of Trinidadian attorneys to enforce a Belize Supreme Court judgment against Soca mega star, Destra Garcia. The claim comes after Destra was taken to court for rupturing Oliva’s bladder during a concert in 2015.

On September 9th, 2015, Destra along with Ricardo Drue and Kes the Band performed at the Hour Bar field to a ram jam audience in a high energy up tempo Soca concert. During Destra’s performance she called up an audience member on stage for a treat to dance with her. During the act Oliva was asked to lie on his back on the stage while Destra straddled him. Instead of seductively dancing over Oliva, she instead pulled a wrestling maneuver on him, suddenly leg dropping on his midsection.

A Youtube video shows the action as it played out and shows Oliva getting up and continuing to dance when Destra called to his attention saying, “dah so quick water has come out of you?” Attorney Steve Perera says that Destra’s actions caused Oliva to suffer a ruptured bladder having him have to seek medical attention. She was sued in the Supreme Court in Belize where Supreme Court Justice Courtenay Abel ordered on Wednesday June 28 that Destra pay Oliva the sum of $16,577. The judgment was a default one as Destra did not put up a defence.  Perera says that she was served in her home country and provided evidence from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Trinidad and Tobago where documents were actually served on her on May 4, 2017.

Soft launch for the San Ignacio and Santa Elena By-Pass

There was a soft launch of the San Ignacio and Santa Elena By-pass. The Hon Rene Montero,  U.D.P. Party Chairman Alberto August, Mayor Earl Trapp, Councilors and invited guests took a walk and drive over the New Santa Elena Town Bridge as a soft opening for the new state of the art structure.

Public highway managers temporarily gave access to traffic for one week on the just completed bridge.

American couple charged for death of adopted child

The Director of Public Prosecutions gave a directive that charges be brought against Anke Doehm and David Doehm. They were jointly charged with the crime of “Cruelty to a child”. Anke Doehm has been arrested and charged for that crime while David Doehm will be formally arrested and charged on Thursday July 13 when he is brought from the Belize Central Prison on a removal order.

According to the police the crime is to be tried on indictment and carries a sentence of 10 years in prison. Though charges are now forthcoming the police say that the investigation regarding the death of Faye Lin Cannon continues.

For almost an entire week, the American couple, David and Anke Doehm, had been in police custody while they were being investigated for the very questionable death of their 13 year-old adopted daughter, Faye Lin Cannon. A post-mortem says that this little girl was physically and sexually abused.

Police first learned of the death of the child on Monday, July 3, when the husband and wife first called the police to their condominium, located on Northern Ambergris Caye. They told police that their daughter woke up at around 7 o’clock that morning. She reportedly asked for a drink of water, and shortly after that, she went back to bed. Anke Doehm told police that her husband, David, went to check on her about 15 minutes later, and he noticed that she was unresponsive.

New bridge for Maypen

The community of Maypen saw the official opening of a new bridge that will connect the village to the Philip Goldson highway over the Black Creek. The work came as area representative, Hon. Edmond Castro, consistently lobbied the Ministry of Works to have the works done. It took just under 2 years to construct at a value of 250 thousand dollars; including the approach to the bridge as well as the bridge itself, the new link will open an access route through what Hon. Castro says is one of the most scenic routes in the Belize River Valley area.

Previously there was an old dilapidated wooden bridge that was in dire need of repair most of the time. Seeing this Hon. Castro pledged that a new bridge would be constructed. With existing funds within the Ministry of Works work was done on the bridge with M&M engineering doing the foundation and the carriageway while the ministry assembled the bridge.

With the new bridge travelers can now access Maypen from the Philip Goldson highway and can make their way to Isabella Bank.

John Zabaneh says he’s no kingpin

John Zabaneh, Stann Creek businessman who has been living for 5 years with the US Government treating him as a drug king pin, is making moves to get the US sanction lifted off his shoulders. Since the blacklisting by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, his business interests have had a series of great misfortunes.

Zabaneh’s blacklisting was first announced in August of 2012, when he and 2 other Belizeans, Daniel Moreno, and Dion Zabaneh were named as the Belizean associates of the Mexican Drug Lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, and his Sinaloa Cartel. Under the US King Pin Act, it is prohibited for U.S. persons to conduct “financial or commercial transactions with these individuals and companies, and also freezes any assets they may have under U.S. jurisdiction.”

Zabaneh filed a lawsuit in the US Courts, claiming that the US Treasury Department caused the closure of his farm while it was in pursuit of “El Chapo” Guzman. He believes that the designation was unjust, “arbitrary and capricious”, and in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

He is also asking the Washington DC court to revoke his king pin designation and to consider any forms of, “relief that the court may deem just or proper in the case. There is no indication when US Court will hear the matter.

Bert Vasquez sentenced to 10 Years

Businessman Bert Vasquez, who was accused in 2011 of forcible abduction and aggravated indecent sexual assault against a 16-year-old at the time, was sentence to 13 years in prison for the charges. He was sentenced by Judge Adolph Lucas to 10 years for the abduction and 3 for the sexual assault but will only be serving 10 years since the sentences are set to run concurrently. Vasquez’s sentence has been effective since his court date on July 28, 2017.

The victim said that she was taken into a vehicle that was being driven by Vasquez at the time. He allegedly took her to a location in Vista Del Mar where he hit her with a pistol and caused injuries to her face before indecently assaulting her. The two struggled and she eventually managed to run out of the vehicle and find help from a woman. Vasquez denied the victim’s allegations and said that he was with his mother at the time of the alleged incident. She was called as a witness and she testified the same.


Public Sector Workers Trust ignores Supreme Court orders

The Public Sector Workers Trust which was deemed back in March as being invalid and unenforceable  continued to operate. Its functioning is flying in the face of  a Supreme Court order which stated that the Deed of Trust dated the 29th August, 2013 between the PSU and the BNTU purportedly as “settlors” of the first part and Raymond Davis (PSU), Nadia Caliz (BNTU), Phillip Castillo (NAB) and Enrique Iglesias (BPA & BDF), purportedly as “Trustees” of the second part of the Public Sector Workers’ Trust (“the Trust”), is invalid and unenforceable in that.

The court continued by ordering that the Unions or the present Trustees in consultation with the beneficiaries and the Government of Belize draw up a  proper trust to include the GOB as the settlor. Under that deed public officers who had their salaries frozen are to be the beneficiaries. It continued ordering that there be account for all the funds that they have received from GOB from the BTL shares from 1996 to 2013 and that has been paid to them since 2104. It also ordered that monies that have been invested be recovered.

Part of the operations of the Trust included the issuing of loans and it seems that the order by the Supreme Court is playing no bearing as they have indicated that they will “resume its loan scheme shortly.” This is in direct contravention of the order which has specifically stated that the entire trust was deemed invalid and unenforceable and more so that they must account for the trust’s money as well as set up a trust for the benefit of only those public officers which were affected by the salary freeze of  1995-1997.

New outpost inaugurated in Chiquibul

On Monday July 31st, the Forestry Department, Belize Defence Force and the Friends for Conservation and Developmment (FCD) inaugurated a new outpost in the Chiquibul to curb the various threats facing the forests.

Coming at a value of 115 thousand dollars the new facility will be able to accommodate 14 persons, with one of those accommodations specifically designed for a female. The building and watch tower was constructed in under a month. Additionally a road was cleared to the outpost in order for personnel to be able to access the facility at a faster pace.

Back in 2007, a total of 11 threats to these forests were identified. Those threats are gold mining, logging, hunting, poaching, cattle ranching, marijuana cultivation and slash and burn agriculture.

As a result a joint unit patrol program was developed along with the installation of conservation posts, conducted active research and monitoring and introduced inter-institutional planning.  As a result, xaté harvesting and illegal logging were reduced considerably.

The conservation post, along with joint effort, would help to prevent the further exploitation of the natural and cultural resources of Belize.

Belmopan selects UDP slate

On Sunday August 13th, the United Democratic Party successfully completed its convention to select a team in Belmopan to contest the upcoming municipal elections of March 7, 2018.

A total of 1067 persons cast their ballots and the results are as follows: Angel Pastrana received 786 votes; Jacklyn Burns received 769 votes; Jem Pascacio got 754 votes; Louise Willis got 747 votes; Isidoro ‘Richie’ Galvez got 734 votes; Paul Chun got 702 votes and Anna Banner-Guy received 512 votes.

At the end of the process Mayor Khalid Belisle who was uncontested congratulated the team that was selected and thanked all those who participated in the process.

Shyne resigns from BSCAP saying artists are being chanced

Shyne Barrow, Belize’s Music Ambassador, resigned from the Belize Society of Composers Authors and Publishers (BSCAP). He is accused the board and the former CEO of financial mismanagement,  which he thinks is going to hurt the over 100 artists who became members to collect their earnings for the use of their intellectual property.

In a letter dated Thursday, August 10, Barrow wrote, “Dear BSCAP members, I resigned as CEO… I cannot justify why my predecessor, Heather Cunningham, currently the Chairwoman of the BSCAP Board, is claiming $600,000 in expense and salary from 2010-2013… Yet, at this year’s AGM, the paltry sum of $2,500 is being proposed to distribute to BSCAP members… The only reason I agreed to become CEO of BSCAP was to empower artists!”

Financial statements from within BSCAP ended up in the hands of the press, and they reveal that in 2010, the board agreed to pay Heather Cunningham, an attorney residing in the US, $50,000 for her salary as the CEO. For the year 2011, 2012, and 2013, she got an annual pay increase of $10,000. She’s now claiming $260,000 as compensation for her time as CEO of the organization, but that debt hasn’t been collected as yet.

Shyne questioned the prudence of that in addition to the expenses of $389,061 which is being reported as the organization’s expenses incurred over the 4 years that she was the CEO. According to the financial statements, that’s a total of $649,061 in debt that BSCAP has incurred during her tenure, and at the upcoming annual general meeting, a total of $2,500 is going to be distributed to the over 100 BSCAP members.

That disparity between debt the organization owes and the shares that the artists will get is what Barrow was complaining about. He told the press that he is hoping that the membership of BSCAP will demand answers from the board and specifically from Heather Cunningham, who is serving as the Chairwoman of the BSCAP board.

Corozal sets record number for conventions

The United Democratic Party held its convention in Corozal to select a team to represent the party in the March 2018 Municipal elections. During a spirited election process a total of 10 candidates placed their names on the ballot with the expectation of winning a position as a councilor candidate. Meanwhile 2 persons placed their names for the mayoral position.

Voting started at 10 and after 1,661 persons had cast their ballots the winners were declared.

Shortly after 6pm it was clear that Richard Quan had bested his opponent Rafael Castillo. Quan had received 1,274 votes while Castillo received 375. It would be about a half hour later that the results for the councilors would be know and in the end it was Melhem Williams who received the highest votes with 1,142; Nonita Ramirez received 1,012; Benjamin Acosta got 1,008; Carlos Acosta Sr. received 962; Rodolfo Riveroll got 920 and Juliet Marokin received 833. These are the candidates who will now represent the UDP in the upcoming elections.

Unsuccessful candidates were Guillermo Arana who received 794 votes; Estevan Cruz 767; Tarah Shah 653; and Austin Pate got 469.

At the completion of the result announcement the candidates were sworn in and notably, defeated mayoral candidate Rafael Castillo pledged that he would work tirelessly to secure a victory for the UDP in a united fashion. For his part Quan stated that the UDP is sure to win the upcoming elections as the work of the party in municipal development will continue.

John Zabaneh no longer considered a drug kingpin

After 5 years of suffering, Stann Creek businessman John Zabaneh is no longer considered a drug kingpin by the US State Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The sanction was lifted, and he can resume conducting business relationships as per normal. His family owned businesses have had great misfortunes, however, where millions of dollars have been lost because of the designation.

Back in August 2012, when OFAC first sanctioned him, and his companies with the designation, those business interests took a nose dive. He and his businesses, Mid-South Investments Limited, Mayan King Limited, Crown Paradise Enterprise Limited, and Belize Chemicals Limited, were effectively isolated. No business entities, no service provider, and no financial institutions were willing to conduct business with someone designated a “kingpin”. Zabaneh complained as loudly as he could, insisted that he was not a narco-trafficker, but it was to no avail. He even pointed out that this designation prevented not only US companies from doing business with him, but Belizean companies were giving him a wide berth, rather unfairly.

It was an effective punishment for a crime not yet proven, and as readers are aware, he began fighting to get his reputation restored. Just last month, he filed a lawsuit in the US Court to force OFAC to withdraw the designation.

That withdrawal came on Tuesday, August 22, in a letter that offers no apology for the distress this US Department’s Office caused Zabaneh.

100 million investment in Stake Bank

On Friday August 25 after much delay, the Feinstein Group signed on to an investment agreement to construct a world class cruise ship docking facility at Stake Bank off the coast of Belize City. According to the Michael Fienstein, a principal of the group, the investment is for 50 million U.S. dollars and will commence immediately after the hurricane season is over. Construction will take approximately 18 months and as many as a thousand employees will be hired to execute the project. The facility will feature a resort complete with a theme park. It will accommodate four voyager class cruise ships with a marina and an 80 room luxuy hotel. The theme park will have water rides a roller coaster and aquaria.

PM directs investigation into land fraud

The Office of the Prime Minister announced that he has asked the Police Department to launch a criminal investigation into what appears to be fraud at the Lands Department. A civilian has shown with proof that her name and signature was forged in a document which says that she sold land to Andre Vega, son of the Former Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega.

The land in question is outlined in a Ministers Fiat Grant #175 of 2009. It says that Belmopan resident Amy Forte allegedly bought a lot on Caye Caulker, a piece of land that is 3,826.903 square metres in size. This is private land owned by a real estate company, and so the Government had no business selling title to it. Yet, the Ministry of Natural Resources supposedly sold it and created a paper trail for this purchase on May 18, 2009.

Documents in the hands of the press say that a deed of conveyance, with a signature purported to have been Amy Forte’s, was drafted on February 17, 2010. In this document, it says that Forte allegedly sold the land to Andre Vega, and she was allegedly paid $30,000. The documents were disclosed in the evening news, and Amy Forte learned of the implication against her.

A press release from her attorney, Deshawn Arzu Torres, says, “Ms. Forte applied to purchase national land in Caye Caulker in or around 2007, but never received any title to property from the Government of Belize or any response whatsoever to her application. She was only made aware of the issuance of title in her name during the Channel 7 Newscast on August 22, 2017. Ms. Forte did not pay any purchase price sums to the Government of Belize for the property allegedly acquired by her, nor did she transfer any to Andre Vega. Ms. Forte has never met Andre Vega and did not receive the sum of $30,000 or any sum of money from either Andre Vega, any member of the Vega Family, any other person on their behalf, or any at all.”

That Fraud and forgery triggered compensation protocol at the Ministry of Natural Resources, and Former Minister Gaspar Vega traded his son, Andre, 7 Acres of land on Mosquito Caye for that fraudulently issued conveyance.

Amy Forte has provided the Prime Minister with a handwriting expert’s certificate asserting that her signature was forged on the Conveyance. Provided with actionable evidence, Prime Minister Barrow has acted swiftly, and he has cancelled the Minister’s Fiat, and the land on Mosquito Caye. Andre Vega’s attorney, Estevan Perera, has written to Natural Resources CEO Sharon Ramclam, conceding that there were “issues with the purchase”, and so he’s relinquishing ownership, “so as to prevent any further issues”.

That was not enough for Prime Minister Barrow, and his office asked that the Police Department investigate this transaction “with a view to bringing criminal charges against any person or persons responsible for forgery.”

There was nothing further on the matter as Forte never gave police a statement on the matter and the police could proceed no further.

UDP Belize City slate selected

On Sunday the 27th August, the United Democratic Party held it convention to select the men and women who will represent the party at the municipal level in next year’s City Council elections. The days leading up to the convention saw the candidates in full overdrive campaign mode.

Contesting for the top spot – the mayoral seat, were two veteran councilors with years of City Hall experience. Dion Leslie, the current Deputy Mayor and Phillip Willoughby vied for the opportunity to represent the UDP as the next Belize City Mayor of our fair city.

There were also sixteen entrants to fill ten posts for councilors. All quite competent and hardworking individuals. They were Hyacinth Latchman Cuellar, George Davis, Jason Edwards, Alifa Elrington, Judith Enriquez, Keera Ford, Dr. Alain Gonzalez, Leon Guild, Noreen Martinez, Victor Manuel, Bernard Q. Pitts, Dean Samuels, Kevin Singh, Mark Swift, Michael Theus and Phillip Willoughby.

An impressive 5,594 persons voted, of these 3,073 voted for Dion Leslie making him the people’s choice to represent the UDP in the upcoming Municipal Elections.

When the last ballot was counted at around 2:00 a.m. the announcement and swearing in of the successful candidates took place. Party chairman administered the oath and so concluded one of the most attended convention in recent history. There are two new comers to the slate in the persons of Judith Enriquez and Noreen Martinez. All the current Councilors made it on the slate with the exception of Michael Theus.


Trapp is back and half his slate are women

On Sunday September 3 a total of 2,739 voters from the Twin Towns came out to cast their votes to select a UDP municipal slate. In the race to fill the slot for a Mayoral Candidate, the very popular, Incumbent Mayor Earl Trapp received: 2,102 votes. His challenger, Lupita Ferguson received: 548 votes. Some 89 ballots were spoilt and were therefore rejected .

In the race for Councillor candidates, like the week before, in Belize City, the two top positions were taken by women. This time it was the very popular, hardworking incumbent councilor, Bernadette Fernandez who received: 1,664 votes to top the polls. She was followed by the young, educated, dynamic and hardworking Shary Medina who received 1,443 votes. The remaining members of the team are, George Boiton who received: 1,402 votes .He was followed by another dynamic, educated, hardworking woman in the person of incumbent Vanessa Neal. She was the third female to make it onto the slate, by receiving: 1,387 votes. Mark O’Brien was next by receiving: 1,234 votes. Nick Singh received: 1,080 votes to fill out the final slot on the slate.

Eight other qualified persons contested the convention to fill the slots for Councilor Candidates.

Social Security may fail within 4 years if...

On Wednesday September 6th the Social Security Board hosted members of the media to a mixer with the sole purpose of informing on the proposal to increase coverage via increased contributions.

Established in 1981, the Social Security Board provides a safety net for employed persons who would otherwise not have benefits accrue to them while they work. Since its inception the board has had only one adjustment in its rates and coverage and that was back in 2001. Now a full 16 years later there is an urgent need to revisit the scheme.

Speaking to the media, the SSB’s actuary, Hernando Montas, spoke plainly and explained that under the current demands, the fund will collapse within 4 years. Actually, the fund is currently operating at a deficit if it were solely dependent on contributions in order to make benefit payments. Chief Executive Officer for the SSB told the media that the deficit is for 11.4 million dollars. In 2016 there was 81 million dollars in contributions while benefits paid out amounted to 92.4 million dollars. The supplement came as a result of income from investments which are also taking a hit with banks reducing their interest on deposits.

Since January of this year they have been holding consultations with government, unions and employers and according to the SSB’s Chandra Nisbet Cansino, the reception has been good. And the plan is to increase coverage. Currently the maximum insurable earning is 320 dollars per week with the fund covering persons employed and earning under 70 dollars. The payment for employees at the lowest end is 4 dollars and 40 cents with the employer paying 3 dollars and 57 cents and the employee paying 83 cents. At the highest end the maximum payment is 25 dollars and 5 cents with employers paying 16 dollars and 5 cents and the employee paying 9 dollars and 55 cents.

The new proposal will see these payments remain as they are, the difference will be an increase in the insurable earning to 520 dollars. So 5 more bands are being proposed to be added with the highest payment being 41 dollars and 60 cents per week for anyone earning 520 dollars and more. The proposal at this time is that any increment in payment be shared equally between the employer and employee. For now it is only a proposal and one that is being well received.

FFB spends more on fuel than on grassroots football!

The Football Federation of Belize held an extraordinary meeting where it passed a budget for the upcoming year. According to presentations the FFB admits and without remorse that the administrative expenses is a whopping 63% of the budget. The budget this year is for a total of $1,351,378. Of this a meager$20,239 will be spent on grassroots programs; $45,431 will be spent on school talent; $119,232 on youth football; training is $101,800; and women football is $100,000.

What is most worrying is how the administration expenses are broken down. There are 19 positions in the FFB including the President, General Secretary, Equipment Manager; Cook/Cleaner among others. Those 19 positions take up $593,100 of the budget. That’s over half a million dollar in salaries for 19 people. What is more is that between the President and the General Secretary Fuel/Milage allowance is a whopping $41,200. That is far more than what is allotted for grassroots programs and just a little less than what is allotted for School Talent.

Drama at Queen of the Bay

In perhaps one of the more surreal moments of this year’s September celebrations, the Queen of the Bay coronation took place. After the addresses, it was time for the crowning and in an unprecedented manner, Zenaida Moya, through Dr. Candice Pitts, led a proclamation of her own- declaring the Orange Walk delegate Esmeralda Cal as the Queen of the Bay. Immediately after, there was another declaration read by Neil Hall where Aaliyah Ysaguirre was also declared as the Queen of the Bay.

What followed was even worse: while the reigning queen removed her cape, crown, and scepter and recited the words of transition to pass on the title to the new queen- in the background, Zenaida Moya did the same on Cal. She had a scepter, a crown and a cape of her own which she placed on Cal.

The moments passed with jaw dropping effect, so much so that Moya had to be escorted off the stage by police officers- twice. As the spectacle ensued, the former coordinator for the Queen of the Bay pageant, Miss Emma Boiton having a letter read to Moya where she  unceremoniously fired her, “services were no longer required”. All this took place before dignitaries, such as the Governor General Sir Colville Young and Prime Minister Hon. Dean Oliver Barrow as well as on national television.

All the drama was the culmination of 5 days of uncertainty as to who the actual queen was. According to the judges, Aaliyah Ysaguirre, the Stann Creek delegate, had won at the pageant which was held on September 2, 2017. Five days later, the Orange Walk committee had challenged the win and asked for a re-audit of the scores. The revisiting of the scores entailed, according to Moya the reviewing of the tape of the event after which Esmeralda Cal, the Orange Walk delegate was declared the true and rightful winner. Moya stated that there were points which were not deducted from Ysaguirre which ought to have been taken off and as a result with a new tabulation, Cal emerged the winner.

The entire ordeal left it for a period of uncertainty from Thursday September 7th up to the morning of the coronation as to who would have been the queen. In the interim, on September 9th, the Chairman of the September Celebrations, Hon. Patrick Faber requested a meeting with the Queen of the Bay Committee to reach a solution. There was much back and forth in that meeting where Moya held her position. In the end however the decision was taken that Ysaguirre was the rightful queen and would be so crowned on the 10th. That led to the ensuing spectacle on the 10th morning where two queens were crowned. After it all Aaliyah Ysaguirre prevailed as the 72nd Queen of the Bay.

MOU signed for Port of Magical Cruise Ship Docking Facility

Belmopan. September 8th, 2017. The Government of Belize signed a Memorandum of Understanding Thursday, September 7th, 2017, with Portico Enterprises Limited (the “Developer” doing business as Port of Magical, to construct a world class Cruise Ship Docking Facility on a parcel of land located along the coastline just south of the Sibun River in the Belize District (the “Project”).

The Port of Magical Cruise Ship Docking Facility, being led by David Gegg and Gulab Sharma, proposes to construct a cruise docking facility to accommodate four Oasis class cruise vessels in Phase I, inclusive of a marina, 120,000 square feet of retail space, a water park and pool area, an arts and craft centre, an aquarium and an indigenous cultural centre. Phase II of the project will include two (2) additional berthing docks, a Five (5) Star 300 room hotel and a water theme park. The total estimated investment size for Phase I of the Project is cited to be US $150 million. The Project seeks to employ at least 700 Belizeans, while maintaining employment and striving to achieve full-time status for those currently employed in the cruise industry.

BSI breaks ground on $22M investment

Belize Sugar Industries Limited broke ground on Monday September 18 for the construction of facilities that will see the production of direct consumption sugar in Belize. According to a press release, the company will invest Bze. 22 Million dollars in the facility. The decision comes even before the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association signed on to a cane purchase agreement with the mill. In its release BSI was unapologetic with proceeding with the investment quoting ASR Group VP of International Relations, Mac McLachlan as follows: “In this industry, the convoy cannot sail at the speed of the slowest ship. We need action now. That is why BSI, with the support of all but one of the industry stakeholders, has decided to move ahead with this significant investment for the benefit of the whole industry and nation. We sincerely hope that the divisiveness we have seen in this industry in recent years disappears with the preferential EU pricing that supported this luxury in the past.”

With the investment BSI intends to increase it s capacity to produce direct consumption sugar which attracts a higher price than raw sugar to the markets to which Belize supplies sugar to. In its release BSI states that “Through BSI’s investment, the company strategically hopes to mitigate the shock of falling sugar prices and therefore cane prices by producing more value added products.”

Grenade blasts in San Pedro

On Saturday September 16 a grenade was thrown into the yard of Amancia Martinez, who lives in the San Mateo Area of San Pedro. This particular community is about a mile or so away from Downtown San Pedro, yet, those residents who live closer to the downtown were still able to clearly hear the blast of the explosion.

At around 8:20 p.m., 2 young men were reportedly seen throwing an object into Martinez’s yard, and hastily making a retreat. Moments later, the explosion was heard. The homeowner told police that she was inside her house when she heard the detonation, and then felt her house shake. Those officers immediately realized that it was an explosive device which went off. The BDF explosive expert, General David Jones, was immediately contacted, and he told the media in a police press conference that he immediately dispatched to the scene of the explosion.

From his inspection of the area, General David Jones identified the particular type of device that was used as a US type, M67 fragmentation grenade.

Fortunately, there were no casualties, and though the general says that some of the grenade fragments went into Amancia Martinez’s bathroom, it did not negatively affect her, apart from the hell of a scare she must have experienced when the grenade went off.

Sharon Fraser appointed New Chief Magistrate

The judicial and Legal Services Commission appointed Ms. Sharon Fraser as the new Chief Magistrate for the Magistrate’s Court on September 1, 2017. Magistrate Fraser is now tasked with the administration of the ten Magistrate’s courts country wide.

Also announced was the promotion of a new Clerk of Court, Mrs. Diana Hendy who was appointed by the Public Service on August 11, 2017, when  Ms. Orleen Pitzold went off on pre-retirement leave.

Chief Magistrate Sharon Fraser is a Belizean and veteran public officer who first entered the Public Service in October of 1988 as a Customs Officer.  In 1993, she applied for study leave where she ventured to fulfill her true passion and left the country to enter law school. She later returned in 1998 on the completion of her LLB and CLE and was directed to the Magistracy Department. In 1999, she was sent to the office of the Director of Public Prosecution with special assignment to the Prosecution Branch. Chief Magistrate, Sharon Fraser worked at the DPP’s office until 2004 when she went to work at the Registrar’s Office and acted as Registrar.  Chief Magistrate, Sharon Fraser later that year received her appointment as Senior Magistrate and returned to the Magistracy Department, where she remained until her new appointment as Chief Magistrate.

Mrs. Diana Hendy entered Public Service in 1990 in the Magistracy Department as a secretary. In 2004, she was appointed Assistant Clerk of Court. She has been instrumental in the management of the records department since 1998, where her initiative and dedication showed to present day as she worked tirelessly on the computerization of Court records.

Upgrade to Hopkins Village Main Street and Water System

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on Friday September 22nd for the upgrade of Hopkins Village Main Street and Water System. The upgrade comes under the Banana Accompanying Measures (BAM) 2013.

The upgrade of Hopkins Village Main Street and Water System Phase 1 for a length of 3.2 km (2 miles), worth a total of BZ$ 2,688,885.10, is being financed by the European Union and the Government of Belize through funds from the BAM 2013 programme. The village main street rehabilitation includes the supply, construction, installation and completion of over three (3) kilometers of road with base material and double chip seal to pavement standards; eighty (80) meters of road concrete pavement; three hundred (300) meters of concrete culverts and nearly three (3) kilometers of V drains; over six (6) kilometers of water supply pipeline with assemblies and fittings along the road; two (2) concrete pedestrian crossings; road markings and over hundred (100) traffic signs.

Teenager missing in bushes of Lucky Strike

17 year old Kelvin Usher went missing on Sunday September 24. On that day, police conducted a raid on a farm in Lucky Strike village where they found Cameron Kelvin Usher, the young man’s father, supposedly cultivating marijuana. He was charged with cultivation of 121 plants of marijuana. He was offered bail in the sum of 10 thousand dollars which he met and his case was adjourned until December 29.

Cameron Usher who is a devout Rastafarian had apparently gone to the plantation and taken his son, Kelvin along with him. When the Gang Suppression Unit descended on the field, Cameron was the only one who was detained. Kelvin’s family says he was in the area with his father and did not return home. They mounted a search on Monday which led them to find the young man’s cap as well as the wrapper of a granola bar and some shoe prints but usher was not found.

On Tuesday September 27 police officially joined in the search and enlisted the support of the K-9 unit as well as a drone in the hope of finding the young man alive. Those efforts were bolstered on Wednesday when Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Home Affairs, George Lovell said that “Belize Police and BDF will do all it can to find Kelvin Usher. All assets from the BDF will be used in the search.” He added that an internal investigation will take place in order to determine the circumstances upon which the young man went missing.

There were concerns about the young man after bullet holes were found at the plantation and there was no original mention by the police of shots being fired in the area during Cameron Usher’s arrest. Additionally one of Kelvin’s sister told the media that at least one GSU officer had contacted her expressing concern over her brother’s whereabouts and going to great lengths to assure her that the young man was only lost in the bushes as he ran off when gunshots were fired during Cameron’s arrest.

All the hoopla continued with a group of friends and family members taking to the streets on Wednesday September 27 calling for justice and the safe return of Kelvin. A day later as the search was to have resumed the young man was found in the very area where he had gone missing. He had minor scratches but was in good health. He claimed to have survived for four days drinking only swamp water and receiving some fruits from someone in the area on the morning when he was found.


Banana farm and homes in Cowpen benefit from EU and BEL Electrification Project

According to representatives from the Belize Electricity Limited, the current coverage of BEL in the country is at 92% and is expected to reach 98% by 2020. With a GOB-EU-BEL initiative over 200 communities and a total of 5,000 households in both new and existing communities will be impacted. The project will require approximately $35 million to achieve and as a part of achieving that, residents in Cowpen have received electricity for the first time.

As a part of the European Union’s mission to improve lives, as well as that shared mission with BEL, several banana farms were beneficiaries of the project. Go Bananas farm as well as persons living in the area were connected to BEL’s system vastly improving their lives. With electrification of the banana plantation several parts of the process were automated reducing the cost of fuel needed to operate generators. The electrification project took place in April and there was a 40% reduction in costs.

Apart from the farm benefitting, the residents of Cowpen have also seen positive changes in their lives. The residents would have to wait until daylight to start their days but with electricity in their homes, they can start their day as soon as need to. One woman, Candelaria Ical, was very happy to be a beneficiary of the project especially as it relates to her children. They are now able to complete their homework at night and make it to school on time. She is also very happy that she no longer has to rely on candles and that her family is no longer endangered or vulnerable to the hazards of a candle’s fire. Another man that went by the name Mr. Ayala was also happy to receive electricity and joked that he even has a wife now due to the progress.

ASR to distribute 6 Million dollars in shares to BSI employees

American Sugar Refineries (ASR) the parent company of BSI declared dividends in August of this year. The declaration is the first time that such has taken place since the company bought over Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSIL) which is the sugarcane processor in Tower Hill. That acquisition took place in October of 2012.

Now almost 5 years later the company declared a whopping six million dollars in dividends to the BSI Employee Holdings Limited which holds 21 point 4 percent of the shareholdings.

Punta Gorda selects slate for municipal elections

On Sunday October 1, the United Democratic Party held a convention to select a slate to contest the March 7, 2018 municipal election in Punta Gorda. Being the smallest municipality, there was not much fanfare that was expected from those participating in the election but contrary to that it was quite a lively race.

The polls opened at 10a.m. and closed at 5p.m. after which 984 residents had cast their ballots. Shortly after the polls closed the counting commenced at the end of it all Ashton McKenzie had secured the mayoral candidate seat with 606 votes; Christie Martinez received 351. Also successful was Mckenzie’s slate of councilors with Stephen Polonio garnering 748; Raynell Tate 684; Cindy Martinez Buchub 623; Joicelyn Dawson 614; Winston Chun 585; and Kevin Choc 572

Unsuccessful candidates were Lucia Cayetano with 376 votes; Pastor Reyes 367; Clement Reyes 336 and Pedro Witz with 298 votes.

Faber’s Road upgraded

In October the Government of Belize announced that through the Southside Poverty Alleviation Project Fabers road would be cemented. The first phase will including the cementing from Central American Boulevard to the police station. Thereafter the project will see the cementing all the way to the George Price Highway.

Along with the cementing of the road, the scope of works will include the upgrading of the drains and construction of sidewalks along with signage and placement of access ways for residents in the area. Work is expected to last somewhere between 10 to 12 months being a labor intensive program having young men in the area hired to conduct the works.

Another component of the project will be the upgrading of a number of earthen streets in the area. Among those to be addressed will be Arlington drive which will see the reconstruction of the road as well as the placement of culverts for better drainage. A canal will also be placed in the area to drain the road and its surroundings.

Another Musa as PUP leader

Kareem Musa, called the press to his office to say that he is being asked to run as the leader of the People’s United Party. He in effect called out Briceno saying that he is ready for leadership especially because according to him Johnny pays no attention to anyone and in particular him as a deputy for the PUP in the East. He went on to say, not in as many words that Johnny was ‘hard-ears.’

Musa’s trial balloon would soon blow up as he would later take back the decision saying he would not run. It would not be without repercussions as he was dumped as the Deputy Leader of the PUP in Belize City.

Kendis Gibson in Belize

Through the facilitation of the US Embassy, Kendis Gibson visited Belize. Gibson, a Belizean native and co-anchor on ABC’s World News Now, facilitated a journalism workshop as well as school tour in the country.

On Saturday, October 7, 2017, Gibson met with several media personnel at the House of Culture for a two-hour discussion on media in Belize. The meeting was a well-attended and very interactive conversation in which Gibson learnt some of what the media in Belize does. While he did agree with some of the norms of Belizean media, Gibson offered his advice as to how to approach some situations, especially as it relates to violence and other heinous crimes.

At the workshop, Gibson showed several videos and pictures that were just on the brink of being immoral. While the Belizean media shared some of the same sentiments it defended that the Belizean culture is different from that of the American one. Some of the participants in attendance argued that while we do not highlight crime and glorify the criminal, it is a part of our job to offer the complete story.

UDP selects municipal slate with record turnout

The United Democratic Party held a very successful convention in Dangriga where 1,301 supporters came out to cast their ballots.

There were two candidates running for the position of mayoral candidate and in the end, current mayor, Francis Humphreys received 914 votes while his opponent, Herbert Nicassio received 322 votes. In the race for councilor candidates, there were 12 persons vying for 6 positions. Topping the polls was Cheryl Molina who received 754 votes; Alexander Joseph got 692 votes; Aaron Gongora secured 687 votes; Earth Lopez got 627 votes; Gary Franscisco got 624 votes and Yadira Diego received 603 votes rounding off the 6 candidates. The other candidates who contested were Therese Ariola who received 585 votes; Alden Chavez with 498; Anthony Garbutt 596; Marshall Mejia 489; Patricia Usher 444; and Augustine Sabal 290.

New Haulover Bridge on the way

On Friday October 27th government introduced a bill at the National Assembly for it to borrow 12 million U.S. dollars for the construction of a new bridge to replace the Haulover Bridge. The bill was read three times and the Senate debated it and was passed.

Under the terms of the loan, the Government will borrow U.S. 12 million dollars for the construction of a new bridge to replace the Haulover Bridge from the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID). The loan will be for 20 years with a grace period of 5 years and payment at a semiannual basis will be made of U.S. $400,000 starting on July 15, 2022. Under the terms of the loan it will bear a concessionary interest rate of 2.5% per annum on the principal amount.

The financing will cover 68 percent of the construction of the bridge itself which will be 147 meters long and 20 meters wide with pedestrian sidewalks on each side. Also included in the construction will be road work on the approach, river protection, installation of drainage infrastructure as well as protection and safety features.

Mexican President visits and commits new school in Toledo

A delegation of CARICOM Heads of State along with the President of the United Mexican States, H.E. Enrique Peña Nieto, was hosted at the Best Western Hotel on Wednesday, October 25, 2017 for the 4th Mexico-CARICOM summit.

The purpose of the summit was to consider the relationship between CARICOM and Mexico which includes the CARICOM-Mexico programme of technical cooperation, infrastructural development in the region funded through the Mesoamerica Project, Agriculture, and Trade and Investment. Also on the agenda were the areas of mutual concern such as the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Climate Change, and Non-Communicable Diseases.

The Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow and President Peña Nieto held a bilateral meeting which evaluated their bilateral relations. The discussion focused on the strengthening of cooperation in the areas of education, sports, maritime security, and economic and political cooperation. Mexico is an important south-south development partner for Belize and is amongst our top five development cooperation partners. In the area of maritime security, the Mexican president committed assistance in the construction of two 100 foot patrol boats for the Coast Guard. He also expressed his country’s willingness to continue supporting capacity building programs provided to the Coast Guard by the Mexican Naval Academy.

In the area of education, the Mexican government will assist in the construction of a new technical school modelled after the Escuela Secundaria Technica Mexico in the Toledo district. Additionally announced his government’s support of partial scholarships to 25 low-income students to study at the Escuela Secundaria Mexico in their three year program.

Finally President Nieto committed to complete the partial scope agreement with Belize by 2018.

Pink Eye costs Belize over a million dollars

The Ministry of Health is reporting that since September 10th, up to Monday October 23, 2017, there have been 16,059 cases of Conjunctivitis reported to the Ministry of Health. The breakdown is as follows: Corozal: 2025; Orange Walk: 1326; Belize: 7307; Cayo: 2287; Stann Creek: 2167 and Toledo: 947. That is in stark contrast to last year where the total cases by this time were 2524.

The Ministry states that there is a decline in the number of infections.

But even as the numbers of the eye infection is taking a downward trend, the financial toll is taking an upward one. When persons are infected with Pink Eye, they are advised to stay out of school and out of the work place, that translates into loss of productivity as well as loss of wages. The organization that takes up the slack with wages is the Social Security Board. The Guardian spoke to Chief Executive Officer at the board who reports that as of October 18, SSB has processed 5,174 claims for pink eye for the month of September and a portion of October. These claims resulted in a total of 24,302 sick days, which resulted in Social Security Board paying out over $704,000 in sickness benefits. This figure is however not a full picture as the epidemic is still ongoing and claims keep coming into the board on a daily basis. It is estimated that by the end of it the board would have paid out at least a million dollars in benefits.

The largest number of claims have been received by the Belize City branch office, followed by Orange Walk and then the Belmopan branch. And as the board keeps receiving claims it has issued a Public Service Announcement advising persons affected by pink eye that it would accept sickness benefit claims signed by a doctor for up to 10 days rather than the usual 4 days.

Bill passed to ‘pass the weed’

-10 grams or less of Marijuana decriminalized

On Wednesday October 25 the Senate met and ratified a bill that would decriminalize the possession of 10 grams or less of cannabis. Under the new law persons in possession of 10 grams or less should not be arrested or charged. They can also use the drug at their home or any location where they are permitted by the owner.

The amendment also defines cannabis as any part of the plant of the genus cannabis sativa and resin or product obtained from it but it disqualifies medicinal preparations of marijuana as well as industrial hemp from being part of cannabis.


We have the money to pay for BTL

says PM Barrow

Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow called a press conference on Wednesday November 1 to brief the nation on a judgement handed down by the Caribbean Court of Justice which will see the government of Belize making a final payment to the former owners of Belize Telemedia Limited of US $78,163,806.07; Dunkeld International Investment Ltd. is to be paid $62,849,799.23 and Belize Telemedia Employees Trust $15,314,006.84. There is an additional $245,155.36 to be paid to Dunkeld and $10,300,518.34 to be paid to the Belize Telemedia Employees Trust. The amounts however will be used to fund charitable projects in Belize and will be paid in Belize dollars.

During the conference the PM was clear that the payment is not new money that the Ashcroft Alliance is to be paid. On June 29th of last year the government announced that the final cost for BTL would be in the region of 388 million dollars. At the time government said that it had already paid 40 percent of that amount which was the actual value of the shares. The resulting 60 percent which was what was due Ashcroft as a result of the PUP’s Accommodation Agreement was to have been paid in Belize currency and would have been used for projects to Benefit Belize and Belizeans.

Shortly after that announcement and in frustration that the Government of Belize was resisting payment to the Ashcroft Alliance for other arbitration awards which it had won in the U.S. the Alliance brought forward a claim to government that most of what was due was actually owed them as expenses which they incurred to reach a final settlement. They then demanded that the payment be made in U.S. dollars contrary to what had been agreed to. The Government did not take that decision lying down and took the matter to the Caribbean Court of Justice which handed down the ruling this Wednesday.

For PM Barrow, the ruling is a sore issue as he stated that, “there is a lot in the judgment which we can quarrel about.” He noted that his expectation was that the court would have determined how much liabilities claimed was actually incurred during the nationalization of BTL. That in his view however was never arrived at. Nonetheless he stated that after consultation with the Central Bank, “we will make the entirety of the foreign currency payment by the date given in the order of the court,” that should be the 10th of November of this year.

As it relates to the financial position of the country, PM Barrow noted that “it is a fair deal of foreign exchange that we have to find but we will find it.” He added that in consultations with the Central Bank the current position is that there is in excess of $747M dollars available. With projected receipts and disbursements including the payment to the Ashcroft Alliance that position is expected to go to $583M by the end of the year. Under prudent financial management, the Prime Minister said that the country should maintain at least 3 months worth of import cover in U.S. currency and it will in fact have enough to cover for 15.6 that is almost 4 months of cover.

Paradise Papers, Ashcroft and Belize

A large batch of leaked documents dubbed the Paradise Papers from the law firm Appleby as well as corporate registries in 19 tax jurisdictions hit the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Among the documents were disclosures that Michael Ashcroft, had formed a Trust in 2000 in Bermuda where he placed hundreds of millions of dollars. Named the Punta Gorda Trust, Ashcroft apparently circumvented the rules of the trust and went above the trustees to use money without approval.

This has sent out alarm bells in the UK where Ashcroft has been juggling to avoid taxation for years. Along with the papers came a report by the BBC’s Panorama where Ashcroft was questioned by journalist Richard Bilton. All he’d say was dear, dear, dear. Evasion of tax is something that Ashcroft has also been known for in Belize. In the previous administration he was given huge tax breaks usually prompted by indebtedness which the Musa administration had gotten into with his affiliate companies like the Belize Bank and BTL and finally ending with him getting tax breaks.

And relics of his penchant to form trusts continue in Belize, most recently he did very much the same thing with a portion of the BTL settlement payment for Belize being made to a trust where the country would supposedly have had access to finances to fund projects for the benefit of Belizeans. Prime Minister Barrow had explained that more than likely the country would get very limited benefit from this trust and has resigned himself to this.

And while that is one trust we know of, there is yet another that rings very much like the Punta Gorda Trust, that is the BTL Employees Trust. Under the most recent payment which will be made before Friday of this week, the Trust will receive US $15,314,006.84. What is noteworthy about this trust is that while it bears the name of the employees of BTL, and they are named as beneficiaries, they have not received a single benefit from it. We suspect that this trust was simply made, very much like the Punta Gorda Trust, to avoid taxes.

Punta Gorda gets the Best basketball court in the country

On Friday November 17th, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Sports, Hon. Patrick Faber along with Sports Council representatives and the Mayor of Punta Gorda, Fern Gutierrez, will officially inaugurate the brand new state of the art multipurpose complex in that municipality.

That financing amounted to 3.4 million dollars which saw the doubling in size of the building. The court itself sits on a space of 125 feet by 125 feet with an additional 100 feet extension to accommodate office spaces, lockers and bathrooms as well as reception areas. The building accommodates a Conners certified wooden court along with Gared rims and backboards, shot clock and scoreboards. It also has bleachers to seat 850 persons and an additional 150 on the floor for a total of 1000 seats. It will also have the capacity to withstand a category 3 hurricane.CCJ says GOB to pay $90 Million for UHS…

only if parliament approves!

The Caribbean Court of Justice has issued a judgment for the Government of Belize to pay an Arbitral Award which the Belize Bank had gotten against the Government back in 2013. In a release the CCJ says, “In the case of The Belize Bank Ltd. v The Attorney General of Belize, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) today granted permission for the Belize Bank Limited to enforce a 2013 arbitration award against the Government of Belize. The arbitration award, made by a Tribunal of the London Court of International Arbitration, required the Government to pay the Bank the sum of BZ$36,895,509.46 together with interest at 17% and arbitration costs of £536,817.71. The CCJ’s ruling means that the award now has the same effect as if it had been a judgment given by the Supreme Court of Belize. In addition, the Court also granted the Bank its legal costs in the CCJ and Belize’s Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.”

As of November 22, 2017 the sum total which is owed for the Universal Health Services Debt stood at $90,645,607.20.

While the court stated that there was a debt to be paid it was clear that this could only be settled if there was parliamentary approval.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture survive plane crash

It caused a stir all over Belize on Friday, November 17, when a Tropic Air plane, carrying Acting Prime Minister, Hon. Patrick Faber and Agriculture Minister, Hon. Godwin Hulse, went down. Fortunately, the two Government leaders and the other 7 occupants on the plane survived a crash landing in the sea off the Placencia Peninsula.

Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber told the press that he, Hulse and Christy Mastry, the General Manager of the Belize Infrastructure Limited, were all on the same flight heading to Punta Gorda Town. Their intention was to participate in the official opening ceremony of the new PG multi-purpose sporting complex.

The plane landed in Dangriga without incident, and the passengers were dropped off. They then took off and left for Placencia, where they landed, again without incident. At around 8:45 a.m., while the flight was attempting to leave the Placencia municipal airstrip to fly to PG, is when the very unfortunate accident happened. The plane attempted to take off, as was the routine, but just as it reached the end of the runway, a Subaru SUV drove into its path. That should not have happened as the area has many signs. All these signs warn that incoming and outgoing road traffic to Placencia Town is expected to give way whenever planes are landing and taking off. The main road into the town curves right around the end of the runway. Eyewitnesses tell the press that the 2 barriers, which are to go down whenever planes are using the runway, were malfunctioning. One of the two barriers reportedly went down, and the one which reportedly failed allowed the Subaru SUV to pass.

Supreme Court tells Public Sector Workers Trust to stop spending money

Earlier this month, the beneficiaries of the Public Sector Workers Trust (PSWT) applied to the Supreme Court for enforcement of an order they had received on March 3rd of this year.

On Monday November 27th, Supreme Court Justice, Courtenay Abel heard the request in-camera and at the end of it granted the beneficiaries’ request. In the order, the court told those who control the PSWT at this time, the BNTU and the PSU, to cease all disbursements of monies that the trust is currently engaged in contrary to an order which the court had given in March. The court also ordered that all parties involved need to go into mediation within 45 days.

This is yet another significant victory for the beneficiaries as the PSWT had continued a loan program despite an order from the court in March where the trust had been deemed illegal and unenforceable. The court had also ordered that an accounting of all the monies take place as well as that efforts be made to recover all monies which had been used by the trust.

The PSWT issued a release in which it stated that there was no injunction issued by the court. It states that “the Court ordered (and was agreed to by the Unions and Trustees in the spirit of compromise and accountability) was that the lists and details of loans be provided to the other parties to the case before loans are disbursed.

Benque selects its UDP team for municipals

On Sunday November 26th the United Democratic Party, held its final contested municipal elections convention in Benque Viejo del Carmen. There were a total of 15 candidates who contested the 6 positions in the slate. The mayoral candidate had already been endorsed in the name of Gerardo Maroni Sosa. He is a three term former mayor of Benque an is eminently qualified for the position and as such had no one contesting him for the position.

The councilor candidates who were successful were Dora Leticia Victorin who received 571 votes, Alvaro Enrique Gongora who got 534 votes; Noemi Perez 451; Marcos Moises Kotch 416; Jose Antonio Guerra 409; and Miguel Angel Thompson 368. Other candidates who contested were Errol Joseph Coleman, Manuel Luis Contreras, Simon Wolsey Gongora, Maritza Rosarito Manzanero, Melvin Jeovany Manzanero, David Mauricio Paredes, Charles Anthony Ponce, Angel Benedicto Rodriguez and Sucenita Rogila Villalta.

A total of 1,034 persons cast their votes in this last convention. The UDP has all 9 slates ready for the March 7th Municipal Elections. The final endorsement saw the San Pedro officially sworn in on Saturday November 2 on the Island of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye.


BNTU says GOB must pay UHS debt

The BNTU was one of the primary movers back in 2007 that cause the government at the time, under Said Musa to back down from taking a bill to the National Assembly for the Belizean people to pay for a 33 million dollar guarantee which had been given to the owners of UHS, a private hospital.

Now it is odd, that after two weeks of silence, that Elena Smith in her capacity of president of the BNTU has said that the government must pay the 90 million plus debt. While Smith acknowledges that the matter must be voted on in parliament, she says that the government has a responsibility to pay the debt.

And while Smith has said that GOB should pay, there is no indication as to where the money will come from.

Senate Hearings come to a close

After 13 months and hundreds of thousands of dollars in public spending, the Senate Hearings on Immigration are finally over.

The Senate Select Committee called Auditor General, Dorothy Bradley to testify as their final witness. She was the first witness back in October 2016, and on Wednesday, December 6, 2017 she was the last to be called back.

The majority of the hour and a half long testimony was housekeeping, with the Auditor General taking questions about her audit process which resulted in her 2011-2013 Audit Reports on Immigration. Mark Lizarraga, the Protem Chairman, also questioned her about the written comments that Ruth Meighan, a former Director of Immigration, and Maria Marin, a former Acting Director of Immigration, submitted to the Special Select Committee. Those comments were their views on the extensive recommendations that Bradley had made to address the irregularities she and her team found within the department.

Now, that they’ve gotten the testimonies from the witnesses they wanted to hear from, the Senate Select Committee will take a break and resume their work on the Second Wednesday in January of next year. That’s when they will start to prepare their report, revising as many times as they see fit, until a final draft has been produced.

That final draft, which could take months to produce, will then be tabled in the Senate, and it will become a public document. The final tally is not in as yet, but estimates are that the Senate Select Committee heard well over a hundred hours of testimony, since November 2016, when the hearings started.

Of course, there had been a call for these hearings to have come to an end at least 6 months ago.

GOB collects 77.5 million dollars from IMMARBE and IBC

77 million, 590 thousand and 68 dollars is the combined revenue that the International Business Companies Registry (IBC) and the International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize (IMMARBE), has been able to procure for and on behalf of the Government and people of Belize. The money is the combined total for operations of the two companies since 2015. In that year IBC made USD$7,103,430.00; in 2016 it was USD$7,536,980.00 and this year its up to USD$8,143,235.00. IMMARBE has had as much success with operations in 2015 bringing in US $6,274,207; in 2016 it was US $5,332,145 and this year, 2017 saw US $4,405,037 in revenues.

It is significant that these numbers are brought to the fore as prior to 2013, all revenues collected by these companies were paid to a company controlled by Michael Ashcroft related entities. That company went by the name Belize International Services Limited. Under the arrangement BISL received 64% of revenues while Government received 46%.

On June 11, 2013 the government of Belize under Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow nationalized the two companies. It is of note that both companies are gateways by which those seeking to conduct business in Belize would use. IMMARBE sells the right for persons to sail using the Belize flag while IBC registers offshore companies for them to be able to conduct business in Belize under tax-free status and secrecy of their corporate affairs.

The companies were nationalized after the contract by Belize International Services Limited had come to an end. When GOB informed BISL that the contract had expired they, not surprisingly came up with a secret contract that was signed in 2005 by the Musa administration which extended it to 2020.

Public Sector Workers Trust and Beneficiaries face off over Trust money

The Public Sector Worker’s Trust, which was established in 2013 to figure out a way in which public officers who were affected by a increment freeze between 1995 and 1997 should be compensated; held a press conference where they sought to ‘clear the air’ on a recent ruling given against them.

The matter has become one with protracted problems after a March, 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court. In the ruling of the court it was ordered that there must be accounting of the money which was held by the trust. It additionally ordered that a new trust deed is to be established with input from the Government and beneficiaries with the government to be named as protector of the trust.

According to the beneficiaries who originally took the trust to court the order is not being complied with and they sought and got an injunction against the trust from conducting any further activity. That took place at the end of November and in it they were restrained from issuing any more loans, as well as they were ordered to provide a list of the loans which they have given out. They were additionally ordered to go into mediation with the beneficiaries to come up with a new trust.

Now the orders are quite straight forward but the trust, the trustees and their attorney Anthony Sylvester have a completely different interpretation as to what they were ordered to do. In fact during their press conference held on Thursday, December 7, they say they were not told to discontinue their loan program. They additionally stated that they have already come up with a new trust deed (without consulting with GOB or the beneficiaries), which they claim they have already forwarded to the government and the beneficiaries.

With all the perceived misinformation being given out by the trust and its trustees, the beneficiaries including their attorney, Magali Marin held a press conference of their own on December 11. During that event, they maintained that the trust has been put on pause.

On the fifth of December the court ordered that the formalization of the trust was referred to mediation; that the trustees should provide details of all loans which have been processed or are being processed since the judgment; the parties may agree on disbursement of loan payments after a full list of names and details have been provided to the beneficiaries’ attorney; the trust should also not disburse any money by way of loan or any lending mechanism without permission of the court and costs incurred were to be paid by the trust.

In speaking to the media, Marin explained that the trust deed was void and that the true beneficiaries of it are those public officers affected by the wage freeze. She added that the trustees must also account for the moneys in the trust. She noted that the reason they have reached to this point is because there has been little effort on the part of the trustees to get benefits to those who are entitled. She added that the trustees have been dismissive about the concerns of the beneficiaries. She noted that they are also not truly accountable to the beneficiaries. The unions, she said, continue to disburse moneys by way of loans and that was the reason they had to file an application in November to restrain them from doing so and also to set deadlines to set up a new trust. Marin went further to state that the beneficiaries have concerns related to lending scheme and she pointed to an auditor’s report for 2015 where 430 thousand has been loaned to the unions themselves and associations and the beneficiaries do not know who these associations are and how it is that the unions can be lending money to themselves.

From a legal perspective, Marin said that they are seeking that since the trust deed names the unions as trustees there has to be other named trustees who would look after the interests of the beneficiaries. “Over the years my clients have become very weary about the unions and of the management of this trust,” stated Marin. She added that from they get go the unions were denying benefits to the true beneficiaries. She also questioned how it was that they were giving loans to themselves. The beneficiaries then, would like other persons who are respectable persons in society to also be trustees along with the unions. This she said is so that there are checks and balances in the management of the funds. Additionally the beneficiaries want a protector to oversee the funds and ensure that the trustees are acting in good faith and that the protector not be affiliated with the union and for that person to be a respectable member of society.

The court has ordered mediation in this matter which is to take place 45 days after the 5th of December Supreme Court order.

Unions want a Commission of inquiry into UHS

Reports from the National Trade Union Congress of Belize are that the Government has given an undertaking that a Commission of Inquiry on Universal Health Services will take place. Those public hearings will be held to examine the history of events which has led to the present, where Belize owes an over 90 million US dollar judgment debt from the Caribbean Court of Justice.

The NTUCB released a statement saying that this Commission of inquiry will look “into all the transactions and circumstances of the acquisition of the Universal Health Services (UHS) facility from inception to present, including questions of ownership and payments made to the Belize Bank Ltd will be established.”

The NTUCB says that it received this undertaking for the Commission of Inquiry during a midmorning meeting with Prime Minister Dean Barrow and his CEO, Audrey Wallace, which was held at the Biltmore Plaza Hotel on Wednesday, December 13, 2017. The NTUCB says that the Prime Minister invited them to draft the terms of reference of the Commission of Inquiry. To begin doing that, The General Council of the NTUCB will hold a special meeting this weekend.

Who will manage the New Civic Center?

After 24 months of construction the 32.9 million dollar sporting facility is now complete. And it is a marvel to look at but the question now is, who will manage it.

On Wednesday December 13th, the facility was opened for the public to have a look and for the media to take in the cameras and the question of value for money was never raised. With a seating capacity of 3,500 persons and an additional 2 thousand for standing room, along with a professional basketball court with all amenities like locker rooms, professional audio system, HD lighting system, concession areas, office areas, parking facilities and air conditioning it is worth it. Manager of Belize Infrastructure Limited, Christy Mastry says that the structure was constructed at $225 per square foot with all the equipment and systems in place.

Addressing the issue of management, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, Hon. Patrick Faber stated that the process of selecting a management system for the Civic is still ongoing. On October 6th bids were opened and those closed on the 5th of December during which 4 entities expressed interest. According to Hon. Faber, none fit the technical requirements to manage the facility and now the government is extending the process of bidding up to end of January. After a manager is selected it is expected that there will be 30 to 45 days after signing before the facility becomes opened to the public. According to Minister Faber, it may not be until March of next year before that is the case.

Minister Faber pointed out that the building is state of the art and with such a large investment, the management needs to be done right on the first try. He says that government does not have a very good track record of maintaining facilities. These, he says, are allowed to deteriorate without proper maintenance. Additionally, under private management that company would be able to market the facility for it to not only cover expenses but also to make a profit which would then be invested in other areas like sports.

Christy Mastry added that the operations and maintenance expenses for the building is between 800,000 to a million dollars a year and at this point it is not being looked at to saddle the government with such an expense. A private company however would take this on and manage it and host events to cover expenses and make profit.

Addressing the issue of social use for the facility, Hon. Faber noted that it is crucial that under the new management arrangement at least 1000 hours will be given to community use. There is also a need to offer time for national as well as regional competitions especially in volleyball and basketball.