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Year in review 2012 Print E-mail
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Written by Administrator   
Monday, 31 December 2012 00:00

SupremeIntroduction

There’s not just one word to summarize the year 2012. It was a historic year in the world of Belizean politics and in the nation’s fight against crime. 2012 has also seen development of exponential proportions – particularly in regards to infrastructure -- in all the major municipalities across the country, but it hasn’t been short of some controversy. All that aside, it has also seen the testament of the human spirit and how far one person’s vision can inspire an entire country to become juxtaposed and moved together for a singular cause. 2012 could be considered a year that truly has left some impact on us all. Let’s take a look back at the year that has gone by.

January
The year started off with perhaps one of the loudest bangs heard countrywide. The Government of Belize announced that by the start of 2012, as many as 10,000 Belizean families would own their homes. Readers will remember that in September 2011, Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow announced that Government would be writing off $62.6 million worth of mortgages to homeowners, who had mortgages with the Housing and Planning Department; an initiative that affected 9,200 mortgage holders. That news was extended to almost 800 others when it was announced that the write-offs would affect those with mortgages with the Social Security Board.

The year also started off with some tragedy, incidents like these, it seems, we have become all too familiar with. The sound of gunshots was heard at the Palm Island Night Club on January 1st. At around 4 that morning, 32-year-old Renan Briceno, Jr. fired a nine-millimeter pistol during an altercation and 19-year-old Dale Tillett was shot to the head. He died four days later and Briceno was charged with murder. In that same incident, 25-year-old Brandon Tillett was grazed to the foot. Thirty minutes later, Michelle Myvett’s house on George Street was bombarded by armed assailants, who started fired shots indiscriminately and 9-year-old Aaron Myvett Pope was killed; his 17-year-old sister was grazed to the elbow. Shortly after the incident, it was determined that the shooting was a retaliatory shooting to the one at Palm Island, but it wasn’t any of the players that were part of the gang truce.

The second week of January saw Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow begin his national tour into the run up of the elections which would be called later in the year. The tour began in the far North of the country. On January 8th, the Prime Minister visited the villages of Chunnox and Caledonia, which are in the geographic area of the Corozal Southeast constituency. The Prime Minister would end up touring all six districts by the time the elections were held roughly eight weeks later.

January also saw the story of alleged insider trading at the Social Security Board come to light. The Board’s CEO, Merlene Bailey-Martinez and the Internal Auditor of the Social Security Board, Denise Mahler were placed on administrative leave for two weeks pending an investigation at the institution. The move came following a meeting of the Board of Directors of the SSB, which was prompted as a result of allegations that there was insider trading taking place at the institution relating to Government’s write-off program of loans. That program saw loans, which the Social Security Board holds for under $50,000, written off. According to reports, there were staff members of the SSB, who held loans with the board but which were over the write-off amount. In order to fit into the category, they secured loans elsewhere to bring down their principal to be able to benefit from the program.

On Thursday, January 12th, Mrs. Kim Simplis-Barrow, Special Envoy for Women and Children and Global Ambassador to Special Olympics, presented wheelchairs to physically challenged Belizeans from across the country. The donation came as a result of a visit to the Republic of China-Taiwan by Mrs. Barrow in which she met with several NGOs to chart means of collaboration. The Pusian Foundation committed to donate 250 chairs to Belize.

At the handing over ceremony, chairs were delivered to various organizations. The Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital received 25 and individuals from Stella Maris School, CARE Belize and VOICE received chairs. One chair costs approximately $500.

Also in January, the new legal year started under Chief Justice, Kenneth Benjamin. In his address to members of Belize’s legal fraternity, the Chief Justice discussed a number of issues, the first of which was the limited funding that the Judiciary receives. He said that a request for more funds is the only logical solution because there are sections of this branch of Government that face resource problems. Another challenge is that criminal cases have spiked and the accused people don’t have access to many attorneys. As such, the state has had to cover the expenses, but many of the attorneys believe that they have not been adequately compensated for their services. Therefore, the legal aid assistance to accused persons becomes lacking, which forced trials to be delayed. He explained that solutions are being explored, such as the possibility of the Attorney General’s Ministry being able to increase the compensation to private lawyers.

As for the system itself, legislation allowing for trials without jury became effective in this legal year for murder and murder-related charges. This lessens incidents of witness tampering and jury intimidation. Another significant endeavor is the fostering of a mediation program as an alternative to going to a long and expensive trial for civil matters. The Judicial Administrators are also consulting on the formation of a Judicial Education Body as a means of providing regular training to the judicial officers, in an effort to continuously improve the capacity of those officers.

The first month of 2012 also saw another great announcement by Government: water rates would go down. On January 24th, Public Utilities Commission announced a 7.2% reduction in water rates. The announcement came a couple of weeks after the PUC also announced that electricity rates would be going down by 6.14%. Chairman of the PUC, John Avery, explained that the reduction would translate to savings of $0.62 for those consuming water only in the mainland, which will go from $8.62 for a thousand gallons or less in consumption to $8.00. Similar changes will take place in Belmopan and Belize City where there are Water and Sewage connections with the price going from $10.34 to $9.60. The reduction will also take place on San Pedro with the prices going from $25.27 to $23.45. The only location where the rates will not be changed is in Caye Caulker where the water system has not been performing as expected as residents on the island continue to use well water sources.

The year’s biggest announcement came at the end of January: the General and Municipal Elections would be held on the same day! Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow delivered a national address on Tuesday, January 31st, where he announced that the elections, both the Municipal and the General will be held on March 7th and that the day would be a national holiday.  These elections would prove to be a test of the electorate’s confidence in the United Democratic Party’s policies and this election would crucial for the party because up to this point, it had not won consecutive general elections ever in its history. It was an opportunity for the public to either seek a change in how they are governed or to endorse the UDP’s pro-poor policies, which included the ongoing food pantry program, the BOOST program, housing loan write-offs, a policy to give Belizeans the opportunity to own land, scholarships and other educational assistance.

February
February saw yet another piece of good news come true for the Belizean public: electricity rates would go down. Readers will also recall that in June 2011, Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow, at one of his quarterly press conferences, announced that Government would nationalize the nation’s electricity provider, Belize Electricity Limited. Almost two weeks after, the legislation was passed.

Seven months after that bold and historic acquisition, the rates went down. In December 2011, BEL had applied to the PUC for a Full Tariff Review Proceeding (FTRP) for the period July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2016 and proposed a 3.4% rate decrease. In January, the PUC recommended a 6.14% rate decrease, which came into effect on February 1, five months earlier than they normally would. Now instead of paying 44 cents per kilowatt hour, consumers are paying 41.3 cents per kilowatt hour. The threshold for social rate increased, which means that consumers, who currently use less than 50 kilowatt hours per month, pay a social rate at 26 cents per kilowatt hour. Consumers using less than 60 kilowatt hours per month are now paying only 24 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity. That change has the number of consumers paying the social rate increase from 7,000 to over 8,000.

With three weeks to the national and municipal elections, two very consequential announcements were made by two senior politicians. Hon. Mark Espat and Hon. Cordel Hyde announced their resignations from the People’ United Party, the fact they would not be offering themselves up for March’s elections and their retirement from politics. Hyde resigned on February 3rd; Espat resigned three days later. Considered two of the PUP’s outcasts, Espat and Hyde were deemed unbeatable in the Albert and Lake Independence constituencies; up until they retired from politics, neither Espat nor Hyde had lost an election since 1998. The last time Lake I and Albert were not held by the PUP was under the national hero, Philip Goldson (in Albert) and former Minister of Housing, Hubert Elrington (in Lake-I), when there was the UDP-NABR coalition government of 1993. In announcing Espat’s resignation, his committee cited that “What Party members like us seek and what Belizeans deserve is a Party where donors matter less and merit matters more; where results match rhetoric; and where policies live up to the Party’s creed of service to the people, social justice and a mixed economy.” Espat would later become Belize’s first economic ambassador and lead negotiator in talks in reaching a definitive solution to the burdening billion-dollar Superbond. As for Hyde, the reasons for his departure were based on some family difficulties; Hyde’s son was diagnosed with a serious medical condition called Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which required his undivided attention. He was also offered a diplomatic post in New York later on. Sadly, Hyde’s son, Khalil, would die from the condition later in the year.

Political changes in 2012 didn’t end there because after the departures of Espat and Hyde, the PUP was left to scramble to find candidates; one of the interesting scrambles was in Lake Independence. Fast-forward to Nomination Day on February 17th when the nomination of Yolanda Schackron was rejected. The rationale behind her rejection was that it was discovered that she was the holder of U.S. passport, which made her ineligible to stand for elections. Ironically, the PUP attorneys who rallied against the proposed change in the Constitution to allow Belizeans with dual citizenship to run for elected office at the national level wanted the rules to be bent for Schackron to run. It was also revealed in the exposé by 7 News that Schackron (born Edmée Yolanda Galvez in 1965) was that in fact, she was born in Guatemala. In the end, her brother, Martin Galvez ended up becoming the party’s standard bearer two weeks later. For Albert, Mark Espat’s replacement was David Craig.

Readers will recall that one of the judicial advances made in 2012 was trial without a jury. As the Chief Justice pointed out in January when the Legal Year began, the idea of trial without a jury was to reduce witness tampering and intimidation. The first murder case to be tried under the new legislation was the trial of Ricky Valencia and Akeem Thurton. They were the duo that was charged in connection with the murder attempt on attorney-at-law Rodwell Williams, the Prime Minister’s law partner. It was scheduled for a February 6th start, but was postponed until February 27th. The incident happened in June 2010 when Williams was leaving his Albert Street office to go to his vehicle when he was attacked by two men who then shot him. Williams’ injuries were life threatening and he had to be taken out of the country for treatment. Thurton was later found guilty of the charges and was sentenced to prison. Valencia didn’t live long enough to go to trial. He was killed in one of the more 140 murders in 2012.

Also in February, the Belize Sugar Industry and the Belize Workers Union brokered an agreement for increased wages for workers in the industry. The three-year collective agreement was signed on February 6. It is effective July 1st, 2011 to June 30th, 2014.
The Agreement covers employees at Tower Hill Factory, Transport and Field Engineering (both these are ancillaries in Orange Walk) and Slipway in the Corozal District. The agreement calls for a wage increase of 4% from July 1st, 2011 to June 30th, 2012 and a 5% increase effective July 1st, 2012 to June 30th, 2013. Additionally, a one-off supplemental bonus of 3% will be payable for the first year of the Agreement, retroactive from July 1st, 2011. Any movement in wage rates for the third year will be discussed at that time. The signing was witnessed by officials of the BWU, BSIL and the Labor Department.

Also in February, tragedy struck the music and disc jockey fraternities. Stephen Hall, known as DJ Scorpio, lost his life in a fatal road accident one weekend in the month of love. On Saturday, February 11th, Hall, who was also an avid cycling enthusiast, was in a road mishap involving a motorbike near the Bacab Eco Park on the Boom Circuit Road. It was reported that Hall was speeding to the end of a bicycle race with three other motor cycle riders, Marlon Smith, Andrew Ordonez and Alwyn Gonzalez. One of the men lost control of his cycle when attempting to make a turn around a deep curve. That caused a chaotic chain reaction in which all four riders were trapped. Smith ran off the left side of the road. Gonzalez rode into a nearby ditch. Ordonez and Hall suffered most from the mishap because their cycles took them into some rocks and palm trees. Ordonez broke his right foot and left hand. Hall suffered severe head injuries. They were rushed to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital and Hall was pronounced dead on arrival. Eyewitnesses report that only two of the four motorcycle riders were wearing helmets.

In terms of physical development, February also saw the start of the massive programs under the Southside Alleviation Project come to fruition. The then Minister of Works, Hon. Anthony Martinez signed three contracts on January 20th and the work began on February 13th, 2012. They were for the dredging and proper lining of canals and the paving of Jane Usher Boulevard and Neal’s Pen Road. Cisco Construction received a $9.8 million contract for the concrete lining of Collet Canal from Conch Shell Bay to Yarborough Bridge and the entire stretch of the North Creek Canal. The project commenced with the rock piling of the edges of the canal. The adjacent streets will be paved and widened; piles of rock are being dumped to narrow the canal. Cisco will be working with at least two sub-contractors and dozens of youths from Southside Belize City have already been employed under the project. As the project continues, more job opportunities will be made available to residents of the area.

The second phase of the Belize City Southside Alleviation Project is funded jointly by the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) and the Government of Belize. 

The last week in February saw the launch of the United Democratic Party’s manifestos at both the municipal and national levels. Led by Mayoral candidate, Darrell Bradley, the team in Belize City launched an action plan that addressed fiscal responsibility and accountability, how to improve the streets and drains in Belize City, and how to deal with beautification and the lingering garbage problem, which are being addressed well into 2013. The national government manifesto works in tandem with the municipal ones, especially in areas of crime and violence, infrastructure, economic development and education. In addition to providing quality education for Belize’s children, continuing the pro-poor programs, which include the conditional cash transfer program (BOOST), the school subsidy, Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced even more write-offs. This meant that the amount of people who have mortgages with the Development Finance Cooperation (DFC) will also be getting relief, which then would bring the total of families expected to benefit well over 10,300. Those who had student loans would also be given relief.

Welcome news also came to the tourism industry, which would then translate to more development for the nation’s largest city. On February 22nd, the Belize Tourism Board broke ground on the Fort Point Pedestrian Walk project.

The project is the third of four that will be executed under the Sustainable Tourism Project, which is financed by the Government of Belize through an IDB loan. Minister of Tourism, Hon. Manuel Heredia, Jr. said that the project will cost $5.47 million and will take approximately 16 months to complete. The project will include the rehabilitation of Memorial Park and infrastructural development of the tourism zone.

Christy Mastry, Manager of the project said, “Memorial Park will be transformed into a multi-functional public space for special events, recreation and leisure activities.” It will include the renovation of the war memorial and inclusion of plaques of honor and ceremonial features. The landscape will be improved with 1 acre of green space. The bandstand will be renovated and a shaded walkway will be constructed around the park. 15 day-vending structures will be constructed along with 30 permanent vending structures. Public restrooms will be implemented for male, female and handicapped users. An amphitheater will be constructed with a stage and seating for 200 people plus a spectators’ lawn. The facility will have space for tour operators and residential parking. The Memorial Park will also house the largest Belize flag in the country.

Ideas for the project came following a series of public consultations which zeroed in on six priorities areas: poor traffic control, which caused congestion and conflicts; disorganized street vending, lack of standardized structures, blocked walkways and poor pedestrian flow; poor quality and limited pedestrian access because of potholes, lack of sidewalks and vehicular traffic; lack of security; the disturbing images of unkempt drains and the poor drainage in the area; and the lack of public amenities.

At the end of February, Oceana conducted its ambitious people’s referendum on offshore drilling and it saw thousands of signatures being presented to the Elections and Boundaries Department. The Guardian proved that the process itself was skewed after we received photographic evidence that many people voted more than once in the referendum. It would turn out also that the work of the Department would also reveal irregularities and more than 8,000 signatures would be rejected.

March
March also saw more indicators that the sugar industry was continuing its production smoothly. On March 4th, the miller, Belize Sugar Industries, which is one of the signatories to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) along with Government and Farmers, reported that it is performing quite efficiently and is milling well above the 6,000 tons of cane per day that it had committed to in the MOU. The crop has surpassed its 40% mark without any major difficulty and is projected to be completed earlier than expected. Farmers are also delivering fresh, mature, and clean cane to the Factory, which should make for a profitable year for all stakeholders.

March also saw the historic double elections. Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow made the announcement of the double elections in a national address on January 31st and those elections proved to be the most hotly contested. For the United Democratic Party, it was to break the historical mold of one-term governments and continuing with the policies it founded its agenda on for the last four years. The United Democratic Party won 17 seats out of 31 in the General Elections, capturing 10 of the seats in the Belize District. The UDP won the majority of the town councils, repeating victories in Belize City and Corozal.  At the national level, Hon. Dean Barrow, Hon. Michael Finnegan, Hon. Patrick Faber, Hon. Gaspar Vega, Hon. John Saldivar, Hon. Elvin Penner, Hon. Rene Montero, Hon. Anthony Martinez, Hon. Manuel Heredia, Jr., Hon. Pablo Marin, Hon. Edmund Castro, Hon. Erwin Contreras, and Hon. Wilfred Elrington were the representatives that formed the Government for a second time. They were joined by Hon. Santiago Castillo, Jr., Hon. Mark King, Hon. Herman Longsworth, and Hon. Hugo Patt to make the final tally of 17.

The returning mayors were Simeon Lopez of Belmopan, Hilberto Campos of Corozal and John August of San Ignacio & Santa Elena. The UDP won the majority of the city councils with the closely watched municipal race being in Belize City, where the team led by attorney-at-law Darrell Bradley was elected by more than 2,000 over the PUP slate led by now Senator, Hon. Karen Bodden.

The youngest son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, Prince Harry came to Belize for the very first time as part of his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee.

As part of the Diamond Jubilee tour, Prince Harry embarked on a ten-day trip to Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas. His first stop was in Belize and the people of the jewel were happy to grant him a royal welcome.

Prince Harry arrived in Belize on Friday, March 2nd. He was greeted at the Phillip Goldson International Airport (PGIA) by Belize’s Chief of Protocol, Diane Locke. Locke then introduced the Prince to the Queen’s representative in Belize, Governor General Sir Colville Young. Sir Colville then introduced him to the Prime Minister of Belize, Hon. Dean Oliver Barrow, and then the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Francis Fonseca.

Before Prince Harry left for Belmopan City, he spent some time with Prime Minister Barrow and Mrs. Kim Simplis-Barrow inside the VIP Lounge of the PGIA. While in Belmopan, he took part in the unveiling of the newly named Queen Elizabeth II Boulevard. Then it was time for the free spirited war-fighting Prince to relax, enjoy and participate in some cultural activities at a street festival held in his honor. Prince Harry dressed casually and tasted some Belizean rum and beer. He also showed that he is quite a talented dancer as he danced to a couple cultural pieces. He even persuaded the Governor General to dance, something most locals thought they would have never seen.

His trip involved a visit to the Organization of American States’ monitoring Belize/Guatemala Adjacency Zone. The Adjacency Zone was implemented as part of the road to a solution in the Belize/Guatemala dispute. After the political stop, the Prince took some time to visit a more historic site. He toured the ancient Mayan city of Xunantunich on Saturday, March 3rd. Twenty-two children with special needs were invited to tour the site along with him. Fifteen of those children were among the forty people invited to have lunch with the Prince.

The Organization of American States (OAS) also sent an observer mission to Belize to monitor the double elections. The mission team comprised of 23 observers who were dispatched to roughly 85% of the nation’s polling stations. In their report on the March 7th election, the mission commended the Elections and Boundaries Department for “the incorporation of new procedures to have large polling areas serve as counting stations and to simultaneously count multiple boxes.” Team lead, Frank Almaguer said that this was “a more efficient counting process that prevented excessive delays.” They were concerned that the Elections and Boundaries Department took long to deliver the official results to the public. The mission also raised concerns about what they call electioneering. They want to discourage the practice of wearing party shirts and campaigning outside of the polling stations. According to Almaguer, this practice “produced less than a conducive environment for the voting process”. One observer even witnessed a party activist distributing money to a group of people that had just voted. This only confirms what many have already mentioned: the People’s United Party was trying to buy their way to Belmopan.  In light of those few concerns, the mission concluded that “democracy has its complications”. Overall, the elections were free and fair to the satisfaction of the mission. Almaguer said, “There is a chance for people to vote; there is a chance for those votes to be counted; and there is a chance for the various political groups to make sure that those votes are counted in a way that meets the test of fairness and objectivity.” 


For tourism, in addition to improved tourist arrival numbers and being part of the list of the best hotels in the world, Belize was one of the countries whose beaches made an esteemed list of being the best on the planet. Trip Advisor announced in March that San Pedro, Placencia and Caye Caulker were ranked 7th, 8th and 9th best on the Central American isthmus. The BTB said that this  was “…indeed quite an honor and will definitely help to create more awareness of Belize as a ‘choice’ tourist destination.”

In sports, it was a test of endurance to complete the days-long trek down the Belize River for the La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge, which was held during the Heroes and Benefactors Day weekend. The Belize Bank Bulldogs were victorious overall.  They were awarded medals, a wooden carved trophy and the title of the 2012 La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge Champions.

The 2012 champions also broke last year’s record of 18 hours and 4 seconds by a time of 16 hours, 36 minutes and 3 seconds.  Since the inaugural run of this race in 1998, there has been a steady growth in number of participating teams, both locally and internationally.

In 1998, there were only 22 competing teams; in this 2012 competition, which marks the 15th annual race, there were a total of 72 teams participating in the different levels, within the competition. The race’s route is 170 miles long.

Shortly after being elected to a second term, the UDP Administration led by Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow put together a team to start the process of negotiation with the holders of Belize’s Superbond. The gifted team includes Financial Secretary, Joseph Waight; Central Bank Governor, Glenford Ysaguirre; Deputy Governor, Christine Vellos; Special Advisor in the Ministry of Finance Alan Slusher, and Hon. Godwin Hulse. The team lead appointed was former Minister Mark Espat, who was part of the team that negotiated the original Super bond.

The debt review team prepared comprehensive fiscal and macro projections and identifying debt management alternatives.

Also in March, work continued on the Belize Municipal Development Project (BMDP). The $30 million, which aims to bring much needed infrastructure development to seven municipalities in Belize, took a major leap with the official launching and contract signing of the rehabilitation of the Punta Gorda Town Hall and Administration Building. The project saw the rehabilitation the Punta Gorda Town Administration Offices and adjacent Town Hall at a cost of $425,150, including counterpart funding from the Punta Gorda Town Council.

Under Phase 1 of the BMDP for Punta Gorda, Pampano and Robert O. Pennil Streets were rehabilitated.  There is a second phase, which should start in 2013, where residents of Punta Gorda will again have the opportunity to prioritize important projects to be funded under the second phase.

The BMDP is a project financed by the Government of Belize through a loan from the World Bank.  The project aims to improve access to basic municipal infrastructure and to enhance municipal management in selected Town and City Councils of Belize.  These include Belmopan, Benque Viejo del Carmen, San Ignacio and Santa Elena, Dangriga, Punta Gorda, Corozal and Orange Walk.

Baldmiration! That was a new term that entered the English vernacular in 2012 not because some intellectuals with free time on their hands wanted to extend the list of portmanteaus but it came to being because of one person and her fight against cancer. Mrs. Kim Simplis-Barrow, wife of Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow and the Special Envoy for Women and Children, has had a public battle with breast cancer and in March 2012, a number of UB students and Belizean men and women stood behind Mrs. Barrow and all those who suffer from the condition by shaving off all their heads. Students of the University of Belize launched the campaign in an effort to raise awareness on the prevalence of cancer in Belize. The purpose of the movement is also to emphasize the importance of regular screening. Many of the students joined Mrs. Barrow, UB lecturer, Silvaana Udz; the University’s spokesman, Selwyn King; and long time educator, Sister Caritas Lawrence, who are all survivors.

Speaking of Mrs. Barrow, her public fight against cancer has even drawn international attention. In the latter part of March, she was featured in the British publication ComplexD as a woman of strength. The feature on Mrs. Barrow outlines the challenges, the fight to survive and how inspirational that fight has been. She said that her hope is to show other women than you can beat anything with a positive attitude. Since the publication, there have been other features on Mrs. Barrow on the magazine’s blog. She spoke about her feeling of relief after taking the 6th and final chemotherapy session earlier this year. She said, “While it was a great milestone to achieve, my last chemotherapy infusion didn’t mark the end of my journey with breast cancer. I am now about to embark on another leg filled with surgeries, radiation and more surgeries.” She continued, “My body has been through an enormous assault and the recovery is no small feat.” She has no regrets about making her battle public because it has already inspired so many and countless more will be blessed by her courage. Mrs. Barrow understands that she has to make changes in her daily life to live a quality “new normal life”. Such changes include a more monitored diet and finding ways to cope with fatigue.

Also in March, Prime Minister Barrow inked agreement the Belize Municipal Development Project (BMDP). Readers will remember that the Project has seen a number of towns and cities in Belize benefiting in some way or another. The project has seen improvements in Punta Gorda, Belmopan, Benque Viejo del Carmen, San Ignacio and Santa Elena, Dangriga, Corozal and Orange Walk.

According to the World Bank, the objective of the BMDP is to improve access to basic municipal infrastructure and to enhance municipal management in selected town and city councils of Belize. The project is divided into three working areas including infrastructure development and two sub-projects for improvement of management capacity. The second area of focus will be technical assistance and capacity building for the city and town councils. The third and final component will entail the strengthening of the operational capacity of the Social Investment Fund for implementation and management of the project, to ensure compliance with fiduciary controls, supervision, monitoring and reporting, and compliance with social and environmental safeguards, through the provision of technical advisory services, training, operating costs, and acquisition of goods including vehicles.

On the afternoon of March 24th, an amphibious aircraft crashed in the Port of Honduras area off the Abalone Caye, near Punta Gorda Town. The aircraft is privately owned and registered in the United States of America.

James Glen Wagner, a US national of Lakeland, Florida, was on board at the time of the crash.  The plane flipped during a routine water landing.

Wagner was submerged underwater inside the plane; he managed to escape the plane without any injuries.  The eight -seat aircraft, we learnt from a source, has been in Belize for almost two weeks.  The aircraft had been returning from dropping off 7 tourists in the Placencia area and was landing in the sea, allegedly, to pick up another set of tourists who were fishing on a boat, when it crashed.

On March 26th, the Social Investment Fund signed agreements with eight local educational institutions as part of the Academic and Social Skills Training Program and the Vocational Training Program Phase I.  Thirty-eight youths were to be identified and assisted financially to further their education in academic, social and vocational skills training. The Social Investment Fund signed agreements with the Youth Enhancement Services, Young Women’s Christian Association, Living Hope Preparatory School, Belize Friends School, 4H Youth Development Centre, the Orange Walk and Stann Creek ITVETs and the Cayo Centre for Employment Training (CET).

Under the Academic and Social Skills Training Program, 16 youths between the ages of 14 and 17 are receiving financial assistance to complete second chance schools in the Belize District. They are going sit the Primary School Examination and enroll in high school. Under the Vocational Training Program, 22 youths will pursue vocational training opportunities at institutions across the country to obtain the technical skills needed to secure gainful employment. The cost of tuition, school fees and transportation will be covered for all students under these programs.

The estimated cost of the project is approximate $21,500. 

There was also the number of election petitions being filed. One of the ones closely watched was the one in Freetown. On March 29th, the UDP filed an election petition after it received proof that two agents working in the Freetown division for the PUP were caught bribing voters.

Election petitions were also filed in Lake Independence, Albert, Cayo Central and Cayo Northeast. In the case of Lake Independence, the PUP filed an application to the Supreme Court for leave to grant them an election petition. According to the PUP, Yolanda Schackron, who was disqualified from running in the Lake Independence constituency because she held dual nationality, should have been allowed to run. Section 58 of the Constitution clearly states that persons with dual nationality are not allowed to run as area representatives, but the PUP still accepted Schackron’s application. 

Also in March, we learned of the miraculous story of 11-year-old Katarina Ishim, who had a life threatening cancer that consumed much of her face since October 2010.  Since her plight became public, Katarina has gone abroad, had the tumor removed, and had undergone reconstructive surgery to her face.

It started as a mosquito bite in 2010 on the nose and then from there it started getting bigger from the size of a marble to the size of an egg.

April
On March 30th, Yolanda Schackron and the PUP’s attempts to nullify the election results in Lake Independence failed. Readers will remember that they had applied for leave for an election petition against Hon. Mark King, Lake Independence Area Representative and it failed in the Supreme Court before Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin. Four days later, on April 3rd, they made another attempt. Her brother and standard bearer, Martin Galvez, filed the application for leave for an election petition. According to Galvez’s attorney, Lisa Shoman, and three affidavits she filed in court, King holds a contract with the Government, which should disqualify him from holding office because he did not declare it by way of publishing such in a newspaper before running for office.

Senior Counsel Denys Barrow quickly punched gaping holes in the affidavits presented. For the Galvez affidavit, he pointed out that it was riddled with hearsay.  This, said Barrow, was contrary to the Evidence Act which states that affidavits should not contain hearsay. He then moved on to an affidavit by Marlon Clarke, who signed a document on the 27th of March and did searches at the Companies’ Registry on the 28th, which was presented in the affidavit a day earlier. He called these “egregious violations of the Evidence Act” and they were “manifestly incapable of being accepted”.

Barrow then moved on to, at great lengths, to prove through case law that the Constitutional Section 58 1(h) should be construed as persons being disqualified are those who hold contracts of employment or are consultants or permanent workers with the Government for and on behalf of the public service. He then went on to determine what the public service is and how it applied to this case.

On April 11th, Mayor Darrell Bradley launched the Belize City Council’s 100-Day Action Plan. According to Mayor Bradley, the plan was to set the tone for the administration of 2012-15. The plan sough to address six areas: improving governance and accountability within the council, city infrastructure, the council’s responsiveness to concerns of residents, finance and revenue reform, sanitation and beautification and law and order. In order to improve governance and accountability, the council will develop a code of conduct for City Councilors, which contains a clear description of duties. Among the many plans implemented were external auditors were to begin independent financial audit of the council. An institutional and human resource audit will also be carried out. An audit committee will then be appointed with representatives that are qualified and independent of the council to maintain a system of continuous audits.

In order to improve the city’s infrastructure the council will procure a roller, grader, back-hoe and other equipment. Proposals for a fifteen million-dollar infrastructure and a one million-dollar street improvement project will be drafted. Corporate citizens will be encouraged to partner with the council in order to fix nearby streets. Legislation will be drafted to ensure that 30 cents of every dollar the council collects will be spent on infrastructure. A weekly infrastructure work program will be developed and all drains will be inspected and fixed. These were precursors to the Municipal Bond that would be launched later in the year.

In sports, Belize had received an Easter gift: Belizeans dominated the top ten positions in the 67th Annual Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycle Classic.

The race started in front of Leslie’s Imports at 6 a.m. with 80 elite riders; 7 foreigners and 73 Belizeans.

After the dust settled, Giovanni Choto won the race, being the first Belizean to cross the line! He finished the race two minutes and twelve seconds before the next finisher. His final time was six hours sixteen minutes and forty-five seconds. He rode bravely and lifted the spirit of an entire nation.

Four other Belizeans completed the top five. Brandon Cattouse finished second, Darnell Barrow finished third, Byron Pope finished fourth and Gregory Lovell finished 5th. Choto, in addition to the various prizes, won cash including $5,000 from the National Sports Council.

In April, there was the scramble by cell phone users to get their numbers registered. On April 12th, that six-month window closed for phones to be registered and the Government ordered the companies to terminate all unregistered accounts but not before a three month extension period passes.  The “deadline” was extended to Friday, July 13th. 

The benefits of being able to link a number with a name are numerous but the most immediate need for phone registration is to deter or delay criminal activity. It is a known fact that many criminals use cell phones to set up hits and orchestrate other crimes. When there is evidence that a cell phone was used in the committal of a crime, investigators can use the number of the cell phone and trace it to a name.  Other benefits include consumer protection. Cell phone theft is common and once your phone is stolen, you can now get back the same number and receive your credit at the time it was stolen.

On April 26th, the Ministry of Works signed a contract for the upgrading of the Loma Luz Boulevard in Santa Elena. The contract is part of a larger loan agreement between the Caribbean Development Bank and the Government of Belize, which will also see the construction of a new bridge that will link Santa Elena and San Ignacio.

In total, the CDB lent Belize US$24.7 million dollars with grant funding of US$249,000. The project is being executed the Ministry of Works, and involves the construction of a bypass road around Santa Elena and San Ignacio, upgrading 3.2 kilometers of existing road and the construction of 1 kilometer of new road as well as a bridge that will span 154 meters across the Macal River. The project is hailed as one, which will decongest downtown San Ignacio and Santa Elena, diverting traffic from the narrow streets of the twin towns.

April saw the demise of two very prominent and notorious underworld figures and they died days apart. The killings of Sheldon “Pinky” Tillett, leader of the George Street Gang, and his Taylor’s Alley arch-nemesis, Arthur Young had many people wondering if there would be an escalation of violence. Police responded to the scene of a shooting at the Esso Gas Station located at miles 2½ on the Northern Highway at about 11:20 p.m. on Friday, April 20th. There, they saw the lifeless body of Tillett, also known as Pinky, and 23-year-old Kamille Andrews inside a white Ford Ranger pickup truck. Tillett and Andrews arrived at the gas station at 11 p.m. and Tillett exited the vehicle and went inside the store. As soon as Tillett returned to his truck, a man with a dread hat and a mask over his face exited a grey Pathfinder SUV and approached the vehicle. The man fired several shots at Tillett and Andrews. Tillett was shot to the center of the chest, left side of the chest, right arm and neck.  Andrews was shot to the right side of her chest, right rib cage, left arm and left arm pit. Both died on the scene. Arthur Young was considered a person of interest in police’s investigations of the double murder of Tillett and Andrews.

On April 22nd, Young was at a house in the Vista Del Mar of Ladyville. He was discovered inside one of the rooms trying to escape capture; however, he was apprehended. The police report said that “whilst being escorted to the Eastern Police Division in Belize City, a struggle ensued between Young and officers inside the pan of the Police vehicle as he attempted to disarm one of the officers.  The firearm discharged and resulted in Young sustaining injuries.” Young was rushed to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

May
The month of May produced some very important and again, very historic news on a very historic issue that has affected Belize for decades. It was announced that Belize and Guatemala would hold simultaneous referendums on October 6th, 2013 on whether the territorial claim would be settled at the Hague-based International Court of Justice. Readers will remember that the idea first came about when the Special Agreement was signed in Washington, DC in December 2008.  What lies ahead in the coming 10 months or so, is that both countries’ Governments must undertake the task of educating everyone on both sides of the border on what the claim is and what it means to go to the ICJ. It’s agreed that the task is going to be a challenging one. From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ perspective, the date agreed upon for the simultaneous referenda gives a timeframe during which the education process must take place and admittedly, there is a need for the awareness to be done. The Ministry has underscored the seriousness with which both the Governments of Belize and Guatemala are taking the issue to ensure that the public knows just about everything there is to know about the subject before voting one whether we should or should not go to the ICJ.

One of the most controversial deaths in 2012 was that of Kevin “Boco T” Kelly in April 2012.

He reportedly died in an escape attempt from San Pedro Police on April 26th and to this day, the family doesn’t buy the police’s version of events. The 38-year-old Kelly was detained for robbery earlier that night. According to reports, he robbed 24-year-old Philippa Lamb of a gold chain and her purse. Police in the area responded quickly to the incident and arrested Kelly. He was taken to the San Pedro Police Station. As he was in the process of being locked in a cell, Kelly escaped and was immediately pursued by police. According to police reports, Kelly jumped a fence while being pursued by police and landed on his head. The impact of the fall was severe and he struggled to remain conscious. Kelly was handcuffed and taken back to the police station where he was detained in a holding cell. While in the cell, he fainted and officers noticed he was struggling to breathe. They called in Dr. Javier Zuniga for assistance but Kelly never regained consciousness. He was pronounced dead at 11:48 p.m.

Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) announced that it had signed the agreement with Ericsson to provide 4G service to the people and country of Belize. This would not have been possible without the $8 million US loan from the Government of Belize.  Fourth generation (4G) also called Long Term Evolution (LTE) offers one platform for different wireless networks. These networks are connected through one IP core and integrate wireless technologies, avoiding the need for new uniformed standards for different wireless systems like World Wide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX), Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS), wireless local area network (WLAN) and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). The 4G network will increase the data rates incredibly, by providing 100 Mbps to 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) in stationary and mobile environments respectively. The 4G can be considered a global network where users can find voice, data, and video streaming at anytime and anywhere around the globe. In the 4G integration of network, its applications are seamless therefore, there is no risk of delay. With the increase in the data rates, the mobile phones are made to perform higher performance applications. In 4G, the mobile phone is not only calling, but it is an extraordinary device that can be used for a variety of purposes. On average, 4G wireless is supposed to be anywhere from four to ten times faster than today’s 3G networks.

Staying with big economic earners in Belize, the sugar industry also received some welcome news: American Sugar Refineries expressed interest in investing and injecting serious capital in Belizean sugar. Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI) heard a proposal by the company interested in purchasing the majority interest in BSI through the purchase of equity in the company.

American Sugar Refining (ASR), the parent company of Tate and Lyle, presented to BSI a proposal in which it intended to spend $40 million BZ in capital expenditure over the next 3 years. The infusion of capital will see the improvement and expansion of the Tower Hill Mill. Being that Tate & Lyle is a subsidiary to American Sugar Refining, the proposal includes the increase in price for the purchase of raw sugar by Tate and Lyle from BSI from 335 Euros to 425 Euros per tonne of sugar cane. This will be based on the yearly purchase of 70,000 of sugar. According to the proposal, this will yield BZ $16.6 million dollars, which will see the cane farmers receiving 10.8 million dollars more and the factory receiving $5.8 million more.

ASR’s investment would see the supply agreements with Tate and Lyle past 2015 for raw sugar, and premium special grade sugars. Also included in the proposal is the offering of technical services between BSI and ASR as well as the financing of extension services to cane farmers. There are also components for the funding of the planting and cultivation of sugarcane by cane farmers. An agronomist assisted by 4 staff members are also expected to be added to improve production of sugarcane as well as harvesting practices.  They would close this deal later on in the year.

The Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Hon. Kamla Persad-Bissessar also embarked on two-day visit to Belize. She arrived on Wednesday, May 16th, to take part in two Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) events. Upon arrival, her first stop was to pay a courtesy visit to Prime Minister of Belize, Hon. Dean Barrow. 

That same evening, the Prime Ministers participated in a ceremony at the Princess Hotel and Casino to launch the Caribbean Local Economic Development (CARILED) Programme. The CARILED programme is a six-year $23.2 million project in which local governments will utilize assets and human capital to stimulate economic growth, create jobs and develop the business sector. CARILED is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and being implemented by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), in partnership with the Caribbean Forum of Local Government Ministers (CFLGM), the Caribbean Association of Local Government Authorities (CALGA) and the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLFG).

Even with all the steps made in governance, the economy, trade, diplomacy and the advancements of the United Democratic Party’s pro-poor programs, the seeming uncontrollable crime situation could not be abated or ignored. As a result of the continued violence, the Police Department had to draft and implement a new crime-fighting strategy. The Belize Police Department, on Tuesday, May 22nd, detailed their early results of their investigation into the killing of eleven-year-old Daniel Matura, Jr. Matura was also one of the children who died in gun violence in 2012, five months after Aaron Myvett Pope’s life ended tragically.

The Belize Police Department divided Belize City into six police zones. A patrol would cover the entire stretch of one of those six zones. In an effort to improve efficiency, the department will further divide those zones. Ending up with eleven police zones. With the expanding arsenal of equipment, the Department would also receive a sizable donation from the Government of the United States. There will be one patrol vehicle per each zone, making it easier to cover the areas. In addition, two task forces have been established to focus specifically on individuals that are being the most disruptive and destructive. Such individuals will be under the police microscope. The department will also increase its stop-and-search operations and revisit patrol routines. 

11-year-old Daniel Matura, Jr. lost his life in one of the many murders in May 2012. He died on May 21st, five days 29-year-old Kaylon Matura lost his life in more violence.

Kaylon Matura was killed on the Central American Boulevard on Wednesday, May 16th. He was standing in front of his home getting ready to head to work, when a gun man pulled up and opened fire on him. He was shot twice to the chest and once to the face – executed in the early hours of the day in front of his family home before his young daughter’s very eyes. According to reports, the family pointed at Brandon Taylor as the triggerman in the murder and in street justice, there is only one way to use such information.

Police said at the time that individuals at the Matura residence spotted Brandon Taylor and Roy Bennett riding on Central American Boulevard from the direction of Faber’s Road heading towards Pen Road. Upon passing #3 Central American Boulevard, 31-year-old Andrew Willoughby ran out and opened fire at them. Willoughby is Kaylon Matura’s brother-in-law. Residents said many as fifteen shots rang out. Taylor and Bennett escaped unharmed. Unfortunately, 11-year-old Daniel Matura, who was returning from the shop at the same time, was walking on the sidewalk from the opposite direction of where Taylor and Bennett were riding. Three of the bullets fired by Willoughby hit him: once to the left side of the chest, once to the right side of the back and once to the left ring finger. Matura was rushed to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital but died as a result of his injuries.

Quick police response led to the apprehension of Willoughby on Arlington Drive, a few yards away from the shooting. Willoughby is Daniel Matura’s cousin-in-law and he gave a caution statement to police. He is expected to be charged for the killing of the eleven- year-old. Brandon Taylor was also arrested in relation to the investigation of Kaylon Matura’s murder.

The month of May also saw the murder of businessman, Jerminie McNab. The 48-year-old was inside his business, Mobile Hardware Store, when he was approached by two men. According to reports, the men had a brief conversation with McNab before one of them pulled out a nine-millimeter pistol and fired three shots into his chest. McNab fell to the ground grasping for air. Police said that no money was stolen nor items taken. Speculations were rife that there was a hit on McNab. The men took McNab’s licensed firearm; two people of interest were questioned. That murder remains unsolved.

June
Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI) finally brokered the deal with American Sugar Refineries, an agreement that has brought much dividend to both sides. Readers will also remember that just two months prior, it was announced that the talks had begun. American Sugar Refining (ASR), the parent company of Tate and Lyle, presented to BSI a proposal in which it intended to spend $40 million BZ in capital expenditure over the next 3 years. The infusion of capital will see the improvement and expansion of the Tower Hill Mill. Being that Tate & Lyle is a subsidiary to American Sugar Refining, the proposal includes the increase in price for the purchase of raw sugar by Tate and Lyle from BSI from 335 Euros to 425 Euros per tonne of sugar cane. This will be based on the yearly purchase of 70,000 of sugar. According to the proposal, this will yield BZ $16.6 million dollars, which will see the cane farmers receiving 10.8 million dollars more and the factory receiving $5.8 million more.

Cancer and its awareness became one of the many talked about topics after Special Envoy, Kim Simplis-Barrow’s battle grew difficult in June 2012. At the time, many people were worried about Mrs. Barrow because of how debilitating the condition became. Prime Minister Dean Barrow had to take an emergency trip to Miami to give support to his wife, who experienced complications as a result of radiation treatment she was receiving for breast cancer.  Mrs. Barrow began experiencing complications on Sunday, June 3rd and had to be rushed to the emergency room.  She had developed fluid in her lungs and had an irregular heartbeat.  Tests revealed that her heart was functioning at only a 15-20% output level and so she was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit.b She would later recover.

Also in June, the Government of Belize announced that the minimum wage would be increased. The minimum wage has been increased for people working in the citrus industry as well as for those working as domestics, labourers and shop assistants.

On May 8th, Minister of Labor, Local Government, Rural Development and National Emergency Management, Hon. Godwin Hulse signed Statutory Instruments No. 55 and No. 56 to increase the minimum wage. Statutory Instrument Number 55 allows for un-skilled workers employed in the citrus industry in cleaning, picking, transporting, processing and handling of citrus for a minimum wage of $3.30 per hour, that’s up from $2.50. Domestic Workers employed full-time or part-time will also see an increase from $3.10 to $3.30. Shop assistants employed full-time or part-time (excluding students who may be employed outside of school hours or during school vacation in premises covered by the Shops Act) will see an increase from $3.10 to $3.30.

Statutory Instrument Number 56 allows for manual workers, who are not engaged in the agricultural field to receive also receive an increase in minimum wage from $3.10 to $3.30. Manual workers engaged in agriculture, agro-industry or export oriented industries will receive an increase from $2.50-$3.30. Students employed outside of school hours or during school vacation in premises covered by the Shops Act remains at $3.00 an hour.

More good news came in June. Readers will remember that at the start of the year, the Prime Minister announced that more write-offs were to come. On June 13th, he announced that the people who have mortgages with the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) would receive a write-off.

Among the eligibility requirements include people with loans with approved amounts of up to $20,000 (this value is representative of low income beneficiaries); people who have repaid their loans by up to 20%; clients who have more than one loan will see the only one loan written off - the one with the highest outstanding balance - and in instances where houses have been sold and the value of the foreclosure did not settle the debt, the balance will be written off provided that the original amount was 20 thousand dollars. All Mahogany Heights loans will be written off regardless of the amount. This is the case since the government has been unable to transfer the title to the properties to DFC and from DFC on to the homeowners. The DFC spent $78 million on this project and it is non-performing.

For the education loans, the requirements include that it will apply for student loans of amounts up to $6,000 and these will be liquidated regardless of repayment performance of the student. All educational loans with approved amounts of up to $10,000 will be eligible for payout by the Government to avoid court proceedings.

Other factors in the program will be limited to clients who have balances at February 29th of this year. DFC staff will not be eligible.

All told, the government will be writing off a total of $8,438,366.18 in mortgages, education loans and Mahogany Heights.

In the transaction, 164 residential mortgages will be written off, 254 additional ones, which have been sold but have outstanding balances, will be affected. 346 education loans will be written off and an additional 70, which have not been settled through court action will also be written off. 190 mortgages from Mahogany Heights will be written off.

June, of course, was not short of public outcries. That came in the case of 13-year-old Jasmine Lowe who was brutally killed, and authorities roped in the man they believe was responsible. 27- year-old Bert Vasquez Haylock was the man at the center of the investigations. 

Vasquez was arrested on Monday, June 19th after he was found in the company of a young girl no more than 13 years old. The girl was selling doughnuts in downtown San Ignacio near the market, when she was picked up and taken to an isolated area in the Branch Mouth area of town. Police were quickly alerted and found the suspect inside the vehicle with the little girl. She was reportedly nude and when she saw the police she ran out screaming for help.

On Monday, June 4th, 13-year-old Jasmine Lowe went missing as she was going to her mother’s beauty salon located on the Bullet Tree Road. Her body was found on Wednesday, June 6th, at around 12:30p.m., a mile and a half on the Cristo Rey Road in the Cayo District.

When police took Vasquez into custody, scenes of crimes technicians processed the vehicle and came up with what could be a break in the murder of 13-year-old Jasmine. Police found a ring and hair inside the vehicle. Marisol Lowe, Jasmine’s mother, was called in to the San Ignacio Police Station and she positively identified the ring as one that she had given her daughter for her birthday in April. and the other a fake diamond. Other items in the vehicle included a bag containing doughnuts in it as well as a number of vehicle license plates.