The Year in Review 2012 Print E-mail
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Thursday, 24 January 2013 00:00


The month of October 2012 saw some welcome development for the small village of Sunday Wood in the Toledo District. Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, Hon. Patrick Faber spoke at the opening of a new school.

The project was implemented by the Social Investment Fund, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, at a total cost of $438,000 and was financed by the Government of Belize through a loan from the Caribbean Development Bank. The project included the construction of a one story reinforced-concrete building 25ft wide by 120 ft long including a 6ft verandah. The works included construction of three (25 ft x 30 ft) classrooms with two movable partitions, a male and female bathroom block and a principal’s office. The building is equipped with hurricane storm guard aluminum windows, solid panel doors, security grills, ceiling fans and a solar panel system, with a manual transfer switch, which provides electricity to the building.  Furniture including teachers’ desks and chairs, black boards, cupboards, book shelves and students arm chairs were also provided as part of the project.  The building will be used as a shelter in the event of an emergency. The building was designed for a second storey in anticipation of future expansion.

The Social Investment Fund also completed the renovation of the Golden Stream Government Primary School building.   The project consisted of the rehabilitation of two-ferro concrete school buildings and a small library building.  The project was funded by the Basic Needs Trust Fund (BNTF) 6th Programme at a total cost of $54,000. It has significantly improved the learning environment for the children of Golden Stream Village in the Toledo District. Golden Stream Village is approximately 25 miles north east from Punta Gorda Town.  The village lies along the Southern Highway near the Mayan Site of Nim Li Punit.  The community was established in the late 1970s by Ketchi and Mopan Mayas, who departed from areas like San Antonio, San Jose, Big Falls and Crique Jute in search of more fertile lands for their crops.

Belize hosted the 23rd meeting of International Cooperation Directors for Latin America and the Caribbean on October 1 and 2 on the topic “Regional Cooperation in the Area of Food Security”. The meeting focused on ways in which the region can cooperate to improve food security as well as to take stock of existing agreements to achieve this goal.  Chief Executive Office in the Ministry of Agriculture, Jose Alpuche explained that while Belize does not have problems with food security, we do have challenges to overcome the problem of food affordability. He explained that the Government’s priority is at ensuring that the poorest of the poor can have access to food. For Belize then, the meeting will help in the country focusing on existing programs and to better coordinate responses to improving access to food for the poor.

The two-day meeting had participation from various countries across the region as well a international development agencies such as SICA, UNICEF, and the CDB among others.

The focus on border security became even more real when it was reported that there were more illegal loggers entering Belizean territory. The Friends of Conservation has reported that that illegal logging activity continued in the Chiquibul Forest with one more logger being arrested and charged.

A patrol, based at the Tapir Camp in the Chiquibul Forest, detained a Guatemalan man who was doing illegal logging in Belize.  The man, identified as Edgar Rene Amador Jenis of the village of La Calzada Mopan, Dolores Petén was detained, after he was found cutting mahogany into planks of lumber some 7.5 kilometers in Belizean territory in the Caracol Reserve. 

Jenis was reportedly operating a chainsaw and was accompanied by another Guatemalan man, who managed to escape capture. In a release by the organization it states that “Sounds of several chainsaws were heard in the area at the late hours of the night. Reports and observations had been made earlier of this ongoing activity but it had been difficult to apprehend the illegal loggers.”

Jenis, the one Guatemalan who was detained was found with 6 flitches of mahogany ready for transportation. The lumber along with a chainsaw and two horses were confiscated by law enforcement personnel. Jenis was taken to San Ignacio Town where he was charged with illegal entry, illegal logging, drug possession and entry of an animal without proper documentation.  

The Ministry of Energy, Science & Technology, and Public Utilities launched Belize’s first progressive energy and technology policy in the country’s history. The Ministry’s Strategic Plan 2012-2017 charts the path forward for Belize in terms of its expansion of technological services and contraction of foreign energy sources. The launch took place on the first day of a two-day seminar at the Biltmore held under the theme “Belize Tomorrow: The Catalytic Role of Energy Science and Technology”.

Minister (Senator) Hon. Audrey Joy Grant says that Belize will take full advantage of the opportunities made possible by the CSF, which is the Caribbean Science Foundation. She says that if Belize is to ever maximize on its potential it will be by innovative thinking; therefore, we must invest in developing innovative thinkers. Minister Grant revealed some staggering statistics at the launching of the strategic plan. She said that Belize uses fossil fuels for 65% of its energy needs and “the country imported 88% of its fossil fuel needs at a cost of $339 million dollars in 2011”. It got worse as she continued, “the global competitiveness index report of 2012 ranks Belize as one of the least competitive economies in the world. We are rank 123 of 142 countries. In the region, only Haiti has a lower rank. On further analysis we note that our technological readiness Belize is ranked 101 for internet users for every 100 people in the population and ranks 136 of 142 countries for foreign direct investment and technology transfer.” The Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology and Public Utilities has charted the way forward with simple goals. One is to “improve energy efficiency and conservation by at least 30 percent by 2033.” According to the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology and Public Utilities, CARICOM countries are very inefficient users of energy.

Also in October, the Social Security Board announced it would invest $15 million in Belize Electricity Limited. Chairman of the board’s Investment Committee, Douglas Singh says that the investment committee has made the recommendation to make the investment and the Board has accepted the recommendation. It is now a matter of a legal process where the decision has to be published twice in the Gazette and in two consecutive publications of two newspapers before the disbursement is made.

The 15-million-dollar investment is a solid one and at this time. It is a golden opportunity to secure the SSB’s funds. BEL invited the SSB to purchase debentures, which are being expanded from 17 million dollars to 25 million dollars. As a result of this, there was an offer for the Board to purchase 5 million preferred shares with a guaranteed rate of return of 5% per year for a lifespan of 3 years. According to Singh, the debentures will be purchased for 5 million dollars, while the preferential shares will be purchased at 2 dollars each amounting to 10 million dollars bringing the investment to a total of 15 million dollars.

There is an excess liquidity in the SSB with the most recent figures showing that it has 150 million dollars that is earning very little and over the last two years, the returns are consistently being reduced to below 4 percent. Vasquez noted that currently BEL has some 26 million dollars that is available for investment. These monies, he noted, is earning between 1 and 1/4 percent to 2 percent when 15 million can be invested in BEL to receive 7 percent on debentures and 5 percent on shares.

The $15 million, which will be received through SSB, says Singh, will be used to refinance expensive debts.

Also in October, the Government of Belize reached an agreement with Belize’s trade unions.

The Government of Belize signed a Partial Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Public Service Union (PSU), Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) and the Association of Public Service Senior Managers (APSSM) on Tuesday, October 9th, four years after the process started. Both sides were relieved after the agreement was signed.

Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, signed on behalf of the Government. He chairs the Cabinet sub-committee appointed to negotiate with the Unions.
Minister Faber called it an opportunity to celebrate this partial agreement, which represents a realistic picture of what it is we are able to do as a Government given the economic situation we are facing now.” The agreement, though, excludes a 30% salary adjustment which was one of the union’s main proposals. Minister Faber said the Government could not agree to the salary adjustment at this time because it would be unmanageable.  Minister Faber was asked how the result of the debt restructuring exercise would impact negotiations. He said that Government looked forward to any relief that may come but “we are yet to see what kind of relief that would be so we have to wait and see”. He said that the agreements signed included requests that can be managed regardless of the results of the restructuring exercise. Those include increases in allowances for cashiers, revenue allowance per month, housing and rent allowance, general allowance, hazardous allowance, travelling allowance, motor vehicle allowance, responsibility allowance, commuting allowances, hardship allowances, public sector modernization, a review of regulations, an audit of public sector and the establishment of a teacher training subsidy.

On Wednesday, October 10th, Attorney General, Hon. Wilfred Elrington was at the ITVET building in San Ignacio where he met with residents of the Cayo area to discuss the crime situation in that district. Accompanying the AG was the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of National Security, Col. George Lovell.

Minister Elrington’s visit was as a result of an earlier meeting which was held between the Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow and a newly formed group, the Solidarity Movement for Justice and Peace. In that meeting which lasted an hour, the Prime Minister expressed his great concern over the growing crime problem and decided on asking the Attorney General to attend the meeting since he was the one responsible for the justice system.

The overarching sentiment by the gathering, which packed the room, was that the Director of Public Prosecutions be replaced and that a forensic laboratory be put in place as soon as possible. On the question of the DPP, Elrington explained that she was one of the best prosecutors and legal minds in the country and she can only work with what evidence is given to her. People cannot be convicted unless there is evidence, he noted, and added that the entire community can contribute much for that to take place.

On the question of the forensic laboratory, he said that the Government is limited by the availability of financial resources. To this, one young woman in attendance pointed out that the Cayo community (and the entire nation for that matter) would be willing to contribute to the forensic laboratory through a telethon. Another resident suggested that the bridge that is being proposed to be built in Cayo be put on hold and the finances used for the lab.  This is not possible however, as the finances secured from the international lending agency has earmarked the money, specifically for that project and it cannot be diverted.

And while there was healthy discussion and Minister Elrington was candid about solutions to the crime problem, asked for collective action to be taken to solve it, the suggestion could not go down with a grain of salt. He explained that the judicial system too is one where the right thing needs to be done cost it what it may. He pointed out that the laws are in place but enforcement is what is lacking.
Businesses closed on October 11th. 

Staying in the west, work also began for the new Santa Elena Bridge. Minister of Works, and Area Representative for Cayo Central, Hon. Rene Montero told The Guardian on Wednesday, October 17th that work started two weeks ago.

Readers will remember that the project, which will cost some $58 million dollars, got under way with the signing of a contract between the Ministry of Works and CISCO Construction in April. In the first phase of the project, La Loma Luz Boulevard will be paved leading up to the river. This is one of 4 components of the project. The other component will also see the paving of Joseph Andrews Drive from Sacred Heart College to the intersection with the Benque Viejo Road. Another component is the filling of Joseph Andrews Drive up to the Macal River. And the last component is for the actual construction of the bridge.

Minister Montero says that while the work has commenced on the first lot, the bidding process is still open for the other three components. The contracts will be awarded by the Caribbean Development Bank, the financing agency, along with the Ministry of Works.

As for the supervision of the work, it will be done also by a consultant from the Caribbean Development Bank and engineers from the Ministry of Works. The project is expected to last for two years and at the end of the project, the twin towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena would have a two-lane bridge that connects them.

Currently, there are two bridges that connect the towns: the Hawkesworth Bridge and the Low-lying Bridge. However, these have become inadequate as the Hawkesworth can only allow for single lane traffic, causing congestion in the towns, while the Low-Lying Bridge gets flooded during heavy rains rendering it impassible. That bridge has also only one lane.

Among one of the many killings in 2012, one of the most publicized was that of businessman Alfred Schackron. Schackron was shot three times as he exited Body 2000 gym, located on Coney Drive at around 9:20 on the morning of October 24th. Schackron was shot just as he was about to get into his vehicle that was parked nearby. Police report that shots were fired at Schackron from a vehicle, which was in the area. Those, who were in the area, say that men pulled up in a black Ford Escape and he had an exchange of words with them.  After which, the men in the vehicle attempted to drag him into the vehicle. He resisted and was subsequently shot. He received wounds to the neck and chest. He died shortly thereafter as a result of the injuries he sustained. At the scene, police recovered two expended 9 millimeter shells as well as a .22 millimeter expended shell.

Schackron, who is of  Lebanese descent, was a well-known businessman, being the owner of JEC Pawn Shop in Belize City as well as the owner of the popular lottery game Mega Bingo.

Shackron’s murder comes just a day after another Lebanese businessman was similarly killed. 40-year-old Abdul Aziz Mohamed Dib was at King Kebab Restaurant located in the Farmer’s Market in Belize City along with other men of Lebanese extraction, when a gunman approached them. The masked assailant simply approached Dib and opened fire. He received a gunshot to the head, left hand, the center of the abdomen, the upper chest and the lower back. Dib fell off his chair, breaking it, and died on the spot. Police recovered 7 expended shells on the scene.

It is unclear what connection there is between the two murders, but, that two businessmen of similar backgrounds being killed less than 24 hours apart has investigators looking at the likelihood of a connection existing between the two murders.

Police have stated that the killings were not random acts of violence or gang related. They believe that the Schackron killing had all appearances of being an organized hit having to do with a business deal gone sour.   

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) was in Belize on Tuesday, October 23rd. Jose Miguel Insulza met with the Belizean press after having talks with the Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Wilfred Elrington and Minister of National Security, Hon. John Saldivar. At the press briefing, Insulza explained to the press that the reason for his visit to Belize was to appraise the Prime Minister about talks, which had taken place a day earlier in Guatemala. “It would be proper to come to Belize to report to the Prime Minister and talk to the authorities to ensure that everyone is well informed,” stated Insulza.

At the meeting held in Guatemala, Insulza met with Hon. Wilfred Elrington and his Guatemalan counterpart, Minister Harold Caballeros. During the meetings, the men spoke of the upcoming referendum process, takes place on October 6th, 2013. Key in the talks was the cost that will be associated with the referendum process.

The Guatemalan press is reporting that the education campaign in Guatemala will be in the region of US$33 million or 260 million Quetzales. According to the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Alexis Rosado, Belize’s figure is significantly less at US$4.4 million. The monies will be used in various aspects of the education campaign including setting up an office, equipment and staffing. The campaign will also be a dynamic one where printed material, documentaries, debates and panels will be held as well as website blogs and other forms of electronic media will be used.