Dangerous Precedent Print E-mail
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Written by Jamil Matar   
Thursday, 19 September 2013 00:00

Like several of the other municipalities in our country, Orange Walk is a small town and the majority of its citizens know each other fairly well. Unlike other communities, however, the political climate in OW is always charged, no matter how far away the next elections are. Politics has become an integral part of the culture of the average Orangewalkeno; as much a part as the dozens of taco stands which dot the town at each corner.

Even in such a heated atmosphere of diverse political opinions and sympathies, there is an underlying and tangible respect for each other and a calm acceptance of the outcome of each election once the ballots have been counted. Because of this familiarity between our people, we may rant and rail, but rarely take things to a personal level to bring harm to each other.

But in every good story there will always be a novice, a greenhorn, who will try to stir the pot to see what develops; this Monday, 16 September being that example. This PUP Town Council triggered an incident that day which can have lasting effects here in our little town, since I am sure some UDP supporters will never forgive or forget the malice behind it.

As I told you before, this PUP Council is presently on a frantic mission to generate additional revenues, and is now focused on outstanding taxes. You see, they once floated the idea of a garbage tax, but there was outright opposition to this, even from within their own camp, since their performance has been less than impressive, to be polite. So they went back to the tax ledgers and started to dig up UDP names and businesses to go after.

Now I will never encourage any person or business not to pay taxes since it should be our civic responsibility to do so. But the authorities should not target individuals because of their political inclinations, and permit, as in this case, PUP supporters to enjoy a free ride. Plus it must be pointed out to novice councilors that in all things there is a right way and a wrong way to go about achieving one’s objectives. Being macho is certainly not a step in the right direction when dealing with the public.

In an effort to have its way with a well known UDP supporter, this Council promptly went ahead and shut down the gentleman’s’place of business for a few hundred dollars in arrears. Even if it were thousands of dollars, that was not the proper way to conduct the Town’s business, unless all normal avenues had been exhausted.

I will tell you of our experience at the Town Hall. When the UDP was elected to office in 2006, a prominent PUP family had accrued outstanding taxes of over $52,000 during the previous 9 years of PUP governance at Town Hall. We did not go and shut down their places of business nor did we hurriedly take them to court. We called them in and negotiated with them and in the end settled the issue with a fixed eighteen-month payment plan. We had nothing to prove and we acted professionally.

If they had refused to sit at the table, however, we would have printed their names in the papers. If nothing was forthcoming from that, then we would have sought redress from the courts. But closing the business to embarrass them was the last option; a tactic never yet employed by any past Council, as far as I can recall.

That is why I said in the beginning that a precedent has now been set. The PUP has closed down, even if for only an hour or so, a UDP supporter’s place of business for something petty. I would hate to predict that if the UDP wins the next municipal elections here in OW slated for the fourth day of March 2015, we will see some PUP businesses being closed for insignificant tax arrears, without affording them due process. We don’t have to match the PUP’s arrogance; we have to be bigger than that.