Year in Review 2014 Print E-mail
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Written by The Guardian   
Monday, 30 December 2013 00:00

pm barrow3.jpg - 53.56 Kb2013 is a year that the nation has seen its fair share of good and of what’s not so good, but through all the adversities Belize can truly say that it is like the phoenix, that great mythical creature that rose from out of ashes. Belize indeed is rebounding and 2013 set a perfect platform for great dividends to exponentially bear fruit. However, before those dividends could be realized, the country had to learn some important lessons.

One of those challenges was the bringing down of the national crime rate. The resolving of this social problem was ever more galvanized when, at the start of the year, four gang leaders were slaughtered in their homes. At the time, there were two going theories and one of those widely-held notions was that the killings of these men were state commissioned. Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow – even in the face of criticism – decided to take the bull by the horns and began the process of explaining how it is important to know the truth.  On January 9, the Prime Minister updated the nation on the probe into the deaths of the four known affiliates of the George Street Gang. The bodies of 40-year-old Keino Quallo, 30-year-old Leonard Myers, 28-year-old Anthony Perez and 19-year-old Albert Fuentes were found at an apartment building at the corner of Plues and Dean Streets on January 8.

Following the deaths of these four, the PM held a meeting with leaders of the George Street Gang in an effort to placate high tensions that had begun to escalate in the neighborhood. Coming out of the meeting was the bad news that the George Street gang was convinced that the killings had been executed by the police, more specifically the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU). This allegation stated the Prime Minister was, “utterly unfounded” and it constituted a serious allegation against the integrity of the GSU, the Security Forces and the Government of Belize.

On the other hand, the gang was convinced that the act was not the doing of any one rival, and as such they would not retaliate against any other gang members. They also gave the assurance that there will not be retaliation against the state. PM Barrow said that he was reasonably confident that this is not going to happen. He explained that key leaders of the gang “left the city under arrangements with the security forces”.  Those murders remain unsolved 11 months later.

Another significant event to happen in January is the beginning of productive negotiations of the Superbond with the Government’s debtors. This is considered perhaps one of the most important, consequential and historical developments in Belize’s post-Independence history. On January 21, Prime Minister Dean Barrow along with Co-chair of the Super Bond Creditor’s Committee, A.J Mediratta held a joint press conference at the Biltmore Plaza Hotel where it was announced that the terms of the renegotiated Superbond was almost complete.

As a result, Belize realized significant savings: in 2012, those savings in cash flow was $11 million U.S. In 2013, the savings were $33 million U.S.; between 2013 and 2017, the government will realize some $118 million U.S.; between 2013 and 2022, cash flow savings would be $247 million U.S. The terms of the new renegotiated Superbond were completed weeks later.

Also in January, Belize saw another historical step – at least that’s what it was made out to be at the time. It was announced that in October 2013, simultaneous referenda would be held in Belize and Guatemala on the almost 150-year-old territorial dispute. On January 23, The Belize Referendum Commission launched its Public Awareness Campaign on the prospect of going to the International Court of Justice.

At the time, Prime Minister Barrow made his position clearly known that had the referenda gone as planned, he would have voted “yes” but said “I will not strong-arm anyone to follow my lead.” He also announced that Cabinet has adopted a position to support a yes vote. While there were divergent opinions on the issue, the Commission launched its public education campaign with presentations from various sectors of society including the religious community, the political parties, the academia, and civil society. Those referendums were later abandoned after Guatemala asked for the referendums to be postponed due to some reservations they had with Belize’s referendum process.
In January, the quest for football superiority began as the Jaguars began their quest for success. Living up to his record as having the most goals in international play, Deon McCauley managed to score a heart-stopping 91st minute goal on Tuesday, January 23 against Nicaragua in Costa Rica in the Copa Centroamericana (Central American Cup). With Belize’s win, the squad placed second in the Group A division of the tournament. It’s a history making position for Belize as it has never won a game in the Central American Cup.

The second month of the year saw the discourse continue for the improvement of working conditions for the public service. On February 1, Prime Minister Dean Barrow met with leaders of the Public Service Union (PSU), Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU), the Association of Public Service Senior Managers (APSSM) and the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) to discuss their request of a 30% salary adjustment. The Unions clamored for the salary increase based on the Prime Minister’s announcement that the Superbond had been successfully renegotiated.

While GDP grew more than Government expected, there is no direct relationship between GDP growth and the public purse. GDP is calculated by adding consumer spending plus investment plus Government spending and net export to import. In a perfect scenario, that $35 million would come from taxable enterprise from which Government revenue would only amount to a few million dollars.
The Government of Belize negotiated with the country’s bondholders because it would have been unable to make the expected payments. Even those who have never stepped foot inside a classroom can understand that it is impossible to save what one did not have in the first place. Furthermore, one cannot spend from savings which does not exist.

When the Prime Minister met with the union leaders, he and his financial officials broke down the economic figures of the country to them so they can better understand Government’s position. Prime Minister Barrow may also pledge salary adjustments based on Government surplus and economic performance. The Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that “any contemplated increase in compensation to Public Sector workers should be tied in with performance improvements and efficiency increases”.

After leaders of the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU), Public Service Union (PSU), Association of Public Service Senior Managers (APSSM) and National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) left the Prime Minister’s office on February 1st, they held their first meeting with membership in Belize City on Wednesday, February 6th, to get an endorsement to move forward with the proposal that Government placed on the table. Government proposed as much as 10% increase being requested annually from 2014 to 2016 depending on growth in revenue. Based on Government projections, the unions believed that revenue will increase at a rate that will allow for acceptable salary adjustments starting in July 2014. According to the unions, the “overwhelming majority” of executive members voted in favor of the proposal.

Speaking of the Superbond, the National Assembly approved the new restructured debt facility on February 12. Prime Minister Barrow introduced the “Government of Belize- External Debt Restructuring Motion, 2013”, which featured new terms to the infamous Superbond.  Prime Minister Barrow explained that not only was the debt restructuring team able to negotiate a deal that include a decrease in interest rates and longer maturity period, but they were also able to get a ten- percent principal haircut, which is equal to approximately BZ$108 million. The size of the new bond is US$529,928,800 with a twenty-five-year maturity period ending in 2038. The original maturity date for the Superbond was 2029. The interest rate for the new bonds from March 20th, 2013 to August 20th, 2017 is 5% to be paid every six months. After August 17th, 2017 the interest rate will be 6.767% until the final maturity date on February 20th, 2038. The original interest rate for the Superbond was 8.5%. Belize will experience debt relief of BZ$236 million from 2013 to 2017. In net present value, the new deal will see Belize pay 56.75 cents per every Superbond dollar. That is an overall reduction of 43.25%.

The bondholders made several requests during the negotiating period. One was that Government includes a provision that would see a share of revenues from future oil discoveries passed on to bondholders. Another was for bondholders to receive a bonus if GDP grows by a significant amount. They also requested that Government pay the expenses of their creditor committee which amounted to US$8 million. In the final deal, no provision for a share of oil revenue or GDP was included and Government agreed to pay only US$1.5 million for the creditor committee’s expenses. The rest will be covered by the bondholders themselves. Additionally, $76 million which had accrued in interest during the negotiation period will be attached to the principal of the bond and will not have to be paid up front by Government.  

On February 17, The United Democratic Party held its National Convention in Corozal Town. The convention is the party’s largest and most important decision making body and was once again called upon to make important decisions for the way forward for the UDP. The highlight of the day was the elections for the post of First Deputy in which Hon. Gaspar Vega and Hon. Patrick Faber contested. Also, the party’s chairman was chosen and the candidates in that race were Alberto August and former Senator Roosevelt Blades. Also up for election were the position of Deputy Party Chairman, which saw Belize City Councilor Roger Espejo and Punta Gorda town Councilor Fern Gutierrez seeking that post.

A total of 567 votes eligible for casting which came from the members of the Central Executive Committee, Cabinet Members, UDP Members of the National Assembly, Constituency Caretakers, the party Chairman, Vice Chairman, Secretary of constituency committees and twelve constituency delegates, all party members who hold elected office at the municipal level, honorary members of the UDP, two delegates from the National Organization of Women and two delegates from the UDP Youth Arm.

Some 8,000 party supporters gathered as the party’s national convention delegates came together to make important decisions for the forward movement of the UDP. At the end of the voting the Deputy Party Leader’s position was taken by Hon. Gaspar Vega, who received 311 votes while Hon. Patrick Faber received 233. Taking the Chairman’s position was Alberto August, who secured 379 votes while Roosevelt Blades got 183 votes.  Holding the position of Deputy Party Chairman is now Fern Gutierrez, who received 378 votes while Roger Espejo, who also contested the position, received 180 votes. 

Also in February, the Ministry of Natural Resource and Agriculture announced an important initiative: its all-important land tax amnesty program. It began on February 4th. Under the program, people who have not been paying their land taxes will be forgiven interest and fees along with a 25 percent discount on moneys owed to the Lands Department.

Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry, Beverly Castillo, explained that the program is designed to encourage persons to come in and update their information with the Lands Department. In doing so those who took advantage of the amnesty received major discounts on amounts they owe.

The Government of Belize also launched a very important project for the country. The Ministry of Economic Development partnered with the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to launch a BZD$12.8 million project on April 11, which will finance a number of poverty alleviation projects throughout Belize. The project will be implemented by the Social Investment Fund (SIF). The funds for the project are the allocation for Belize under the Bank’s Basic Needs Trust Fund (BNTF) which is now into its seventh cycle. The BZD$12.8 million) represents an increase of approximately 74.8% in CDB funding over the programme. It also includes $11.1 million is in the form of grant funds and BZD$1.7 million represents Government of Belize counterpart financing. The increase in funding means more money for projects in the three key areas of focus, which include Education/Human Resource Development, Water and Sanitation, and Access/Drainage. The funds will be targeted toward poor areas of the country, with the poorest areas receiving the most attention.

April also saw the launch of the National Solid Waste Project, which began in the west. The Solid Waste Management Authority within the Ministry of Natural Resources and Agriculture held a public consultation on April 10. Garbage collection is a particular challenge for the Twin Towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena. The Municipality spends some three hundred to four hundred thousand dollars per year picking up garbage. The Town of San Ignacio produces some forty two tons of waste daily while Belize City produces some seventy eight tons per day.

But some respite is on the way for the Twin Towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena Town and the other inhabitants of the Western Corridor, which consists of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize City, Belmopan and Benque Viejo. As part of the Solid Waste Management Project, a sanitary landfill at mile twenty four on the George Price Highway is now under construction. This landfill is now about eighty five percent complete and will serve as a final destination of garbage from transfer stations along the Western Corridor. The project itself comes thanks to a loan of U.S $14.789 Million from both the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) and the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID). Under the Solid Waste Management Project, the intention is to close down the Belize City dumpsite and instead build a transfer station there. The same will be done with the dump sites along the Western Corridor. Some sixty percent of the dump site near San Ignacio Town has been closed and construction of the transfer station has begun.

Infrastructure also played a big part in how the year shaped and one of the major announcements on this front was when Chetumal Boulevard opened on April 16th. According the Mayor Darrell Bradley, it took over three months and 708 thousand dollars for the contractor RJB Construction to complete the plans which were designed by M & M Engineering. Most of the finances, he noted, went to the construction of drains alongside the boulevard. The road also consists of other features which include proper lining with therma-plastic lining and a beautified median which will be adopted by Westrac.  According to the Mayor, the plan is to extend the paving to meet the river and await the construction of the 4th bridge which will link the north side of Belize City to the south side on Chetumal Boulevard. 

Also in April, Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow declared an end to the ban on Voice over Internet Protocol services (VoIP). VoIP is a program that takes analog audio signals, like the kind you hear when you talk on the phone, and turn them into digital data that can be transmitted over the Internet. The program allows the user to bypass the phone company and its fees when making calls. There are three ways in which VoIP is used. One is with an analog telephone adaptor (ATA). The ATA allows you to connect a standard phone to your computer or your Internet connection for use with VoIP. The ATA is an analog-to-digital converter. It takes the analog signal from your traditional phone and converts it into digital data for transmission over the Internet. The second way is by using a specialized phone called an IP Phone. The IP Phone is similar to regular phones but it comes with an Ethernet connector instead of a phone connector. It can be connected to any router to be used to make calls. The third and easiest way to use VoIP is from computer to computer. The most common form is video chatting. There are several sites that allow video chatting for free or at very cheap monthly rates.

May saw us continue one of the most important discussions of our time. The case of Caleb Orozco and interested parties versus the Attorney General and interested parties began on May 6th in the chambers of Chief Justice, Kenneth Benjamin. Orozco is taking the Attorney General to court challenging the constitutionality of Section 53 of the Criminal Code, which reads “every person who has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal shall be liable to imprisonment for ten years.” Orozco, an openly gay man, says that the law violates his right to privacy, dignity and equality. He has retained the services of Senior Counsel Christopher Hamel Smith, Senior Counsel Simeon Sampson, Lisa Shoman and Westmin James, a lecturer at the Faculty of Law, at UWI’s Cave Hill campus. But Orozco is not alone in his bid; he is joined by the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, the Human Dignity Trust and the International Commission of Jurists, who also have representation by Queen’s Counsel Lord Peter Goldsmith and Godfrey Smith.

Defending the law are attorneys in the Attorney General’s Ministry, Nigel Hawke, Herbert Panton, Ileana Swift and Magali Perdomo. Also seeking to have the law remain in place are the churches, who have also been added to the case as interested parties. They too have legal representation with Senior Counsel Rodwell Williams, Eamon Courtenay, Michel Chebat, Jacqueline Marshalleck and Christopher Coye representing them.

The first two days were afforded to lead attorneys Christopher Hamel Smith and Lord Peter Goldsmith. Both argued that Orozco’s constitutional rights were violated by section 53 of the Criminal Code. Both had much to say; each putting forth their positions both speaking in excess of four hours each.

In his arguments, Smith put forth that Section 53 violates the constitutional rights of his client, Caleb Orozco. He pointed out that while it is facially neutral with no reference to gender being made, in practice, every time his client, who is a homosexual man and who is predisposed to engage in sexual act with another man does the act, he is in effect committing a crime albeit that he is not caught. He in fact is an un-detained felon because he has committed a criminal act, even if it is the privacy of his home. This, he said, has caused his client great trauma and has gone against many of his constitutional rights including his right to privacy and freedom of expression. He concluded by asking the court to strike down Section 53 to the extent that it infringes on his clients rights and no more.

For his part, Goldsmith went one step further and suggested that we need to look at international norms when interpreting section 53. He cited authorities from various jurisdictions including India, South Africa and the United States among other jurisdictions to show that these countries have all used the generally accepted international principles in interpreting their domestic legislation so as to give as wide a scope in interpreting their domestic legislation. Most pertinent was his argument where a Texas State law which prohibits homosexuality was stuck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Before conclusion of hearings, attorney for the AG’s Ministry rose and made preliminary objections to Smith’s submission and including his references three constitutional provisions 11, 12 and 16, which did not form part of his original pleadings in his claim before the Supreme Court. The CJ asked that that matter be addressed later on after which Hawke made his defense and thereafter the attorney for the churches had their input. A ruling has not been issued.

May also saw some significant political victories for The United Democratic Party following the first round of village council elections held on Sunday, May 12. In those elections, the party secured an overwhelming majority of village councils. 44 villages in total held elections and the UDP secured victories in 31 of these villages. In the Belize Rural North Constituency, Hon. Edmund Castro delivered all 8 villages on the Old Northern Highway including Maskall, Bomba, Boston, Corozalito, Lucky Strike, Rockstone Pond, Santana and St. Ann’s. In Orange Walk, Deputy Party Leader, Hon. Gaspar Vega delivered Trial Farm Village while Orange Walk South caretaker, Juan de Dios Moguel secured victories in San Lazaro and Trinidad. Orange Walk East caretaker, Landy Burns, delivered Chan Pine Ridge for the UDP from a formerly PUP held council.

In the Corozal District, Hon. Hugo Patt secured victories in Yo Chen, Cristo Rey and San Pedro. Meanwhile, caretaker Raul Rosado brought in Carolina and 4 councilors in Calcutta getting a majority hold in that village. There were unsuccessful bids in Ranchito and San Joaquin.

Out west, it was pretty much the same scenario with Hon. Rene Montero taking Esperanza village and Cristo Rey. Caretaker Miley Garcia secured Blackman Eddy Village and with great work from UDP Chairman Mike Juan, for a third consecutive time, he maintained his position in Unitedville Village. The bid was unsuccessful in Valley of Peace.

In the Stann Creek District, the UDP secured a full-slate victory in Red Bank. In San Roman the party garnered 4 councilors and the Chairman seats while in Maya Mopan and Independence it secured a majority of 4 councilor seats.  In the Toledo District, the UDP secured full-slate victories in Big Falls, Elridgeville, Forest Home, Santa Ana. In Aguacate, the UDP got 3 councilors and the Chairman. In Mabil Ha the UDP got 4 councilors and the Chairman. Santa Teresa and Jordan saw the UDP getting 2 councilor candidates each. The UDP was unsuccessful in San Benito Poite, Mafredi, Blue Creek, Cattle Landing and Boom Creek. At the end of the process, the UDP won 822 out of 1,198 or 69% of the seats up for grabs.

On May 14th, 22-year-old Felicia Chen, the young mother, who is accused of killing three of her four children on April 27th, Belizean was back before the Belize City Magistrate’s Court for a third appearance in her triple homicide case. Following her being ferried to at least three courtrooms, it was revealed that she needed to spend 8 more days in a psychiatric facility.

DPP Cheryl Lynn Vidal told us that at this time she cannot release any other information on Chen since the matter is still before the court. Chen is being represented by attorney, Antoinette Moore, a well known human rights activist. When asked to comment, Moore also refrained only confirming that she is Chen’s attorney at this time. Her case is yet to reach a conclusion.

May also recorded tragedy in Belize City. More than a dozen babies died at the KHMH after an outbreak of a bacterium that affected the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit. According to a release from the hospital, the 12 babies were delivered at the KHMH and referred to the NICU. One of the children died within two days of birth while the 11 others within 7-27 days of birth.

Since the report, the KHMH launched an investigation into the deaths on Monday, May 20th, by a team comprised of the Ministry of Health, Quality Assurance and the Medical Directorate of the hospital.  Chief of Medical Staff, Dr. Adrian Coye , explained that the investigation has so far determined that 7 of the 12 deaths have been positively identified as having been caused by an organism called Enterobacter Cloacae. This is a bacterium which causes infections in the lower respiratory tract, skin and soft tissues. The other deaths, said Coye were as a result of the babies having been born prematurely. According to Coye, when the deaths began to occur, the hospital put in place procedural changes and treatment for the children; however, this was not enough to save the lives. The bacterium, according to Coye, is not a superbug and is sensitive to antibiotics, which are available at the hospital. He added that it is unclear how the bug made its way to the NICU but it is transmissible through both direct and indirect contact and it is readily transmissible.  He also noted that it is a fastidious bug. Coye added that the bacterium is not unique to Belize and is present in intensive care units all over the world and the Pan American Health Organization in Washington sent assistance to deal with the outbreak. Since the incidence, the NICU unit was closed until the necessary upgrades were completed later in the year.

The Belize City Council also announced that the second tranche for the Belize City Municipal Development Bond has been launched. The second tranche is for 5 million dollars and will see the continuation of street paving and other infrastructural work in Belize City.

The bond was structured in three tranches. The first had three portions for 2 million dollars at an interest rate of 3.5% for two years. Another portion was for $3 million dollars bearing interest at 5.5% and a maturity of 5 years, and a third portion for $5 million with an interest rate of 8% for 10 years. The second tranche also has three portions. The first is for 1 million dollars at an interest rate of 3.5% per annum for two years. The second is for 2 million dollars at an interest rate of 5.5% per annum for 5 years, and the third is for 2 million dollars at an interest rate of 8% for 10 years.

The third tranche has two portions, the first being for 2 million dollars and carrying interest rate of 5.5% for 5 years, and the second portion is for 3 million dollars and carries an interest rate of 8% for 10 years.
By May, the City Council had completed the investment of the first 10 million dollars and was moving to invest the second tranche of 5 million dollars. According to the City Council prospectus, interest on the bonds will be calculated on a semi-annual basis and will be payable on June 1 and November 1 each year starting this year.

Some of the major headlines for the month of June centered on environmental issues. Oceana and the Government of Belize were back in court on June 5th, as GOB tried to have a stay of execution on an injunction which was granted to Oceana on May 16. The injunction was given by Justice Oswell Legall along with a declaration that contracts signed in 2004 and 2007 were unlawful and void. He also ruled that before entering into agreements or contracts which authorize oil exploration and seismic surveys that environmental impact assessments are required. An injunction was then granted restraining the Minister of Natural Resources from executing the PSA’s.   The only companies which will be affected by the ruling are Princess Petroleum Limited and Providence Energy Belize Limited, which have contracts that extend to October 2015.
Senior Counsel Denys Barrow, who represented the Government, explained that at the beginning of the case, Oceana had applied to have evidence of an expert on petroleum admitted into the court proceedings. The Chief Justice, Kenneth Benjamin ruled against that, however, since there was no need for any expert’s opinion at this juncture since the substantive case had already been heard and a ruling done on it. At the end of that first phase, Oceana was ordered to pay costs of the legal proceedings to the Government.

After that was dispensed with, Barrow presented Government’s arguments. He explained to The Guardian that it was Government’s view that Justice Legall had given Oceana an injunction that “he did not think out since he did not have the benefit of listening to submissions from either myself or Mr. Godfrey Smith (Oceana’s attorney)”. He added that Justice Legall had given Oceana two declarations out of 9, which they had sought and, for good measure, he, “threw in an injunction that Oceana did not ask for.” As for the arguments presented, he said that what was presented was that the Chief Justice has jurisdiction to order a stay on the injunction and that Government has a good case when an appeal is heard. He added that the second basis upon which the stay of execution should be ordered is where irreparable damage and injury could be caused by not allowing the oil companies to continue to drill for oil. He said that, in effect, if the injunction remains oil exploration, discovery and production are delayed and the prospect of the Government and people of Belize’s prospects of getting income and revenue from these oil explorations is also delayed.  If the potential of oil finds are delayed for a year that, which could have been spent now or in a year’s time, will be delayed for a further two years. Development, he said, like the construction of a new wing at the KHMH for example would be delayed; scholarships for children, infrastructure and other areas of development would be stunted.

Cabinet also announced that it would make amendments to the Revised National Gender Policy 2013 in response to concerns raised by church leaders. One of the guiding principles of the document reads: “Men and Women in Belize are not a homogenous group. Rather, the population is comprised of persons of all ages who come from diverse races, cultures, ethnicities, faiths, sexual orientations, socio-economic situations and behavioral lifestyles. All policies and programmes must therefore reflect this reality of diversity among the Belizean populace and customary, religious and cultural practices must be subject to the right of equality.”

Cabinet decided to order the removal of the last part of the statement which says, “…and programmes must therefore reflect this reality of diversity among the Belizean populace and customary, religious and cultural practices must be subject to the right of equality.” When asked about the decision to omit that part of the statement, Prime Minister Barrow said, “Those few last words could have well been interpreted as Government trying to oblige the religious community to in fact act in a certain way.” He says that is not Government’s intention.

While PM Barrow understood how that part of the statement could have been interpreted as Government trying to dictate the actions of the religious community, he found it incredible that “people see the policy as the thinning of the wedge - when they get from there to the suggestion that this open the door to some kind of legislation that would sanction same sex marriages.” He totally dismissed that notion. He explained, “the policy is principally about equality between the sexes, trying to ensure that the traditional restrictions that have attached to the role of a woman will be no more; trying to ensure that there will be no discrimination, and trying to empower women.”

Prime Minister Barrow went on to reiterate Government’s position of respect for diversity. He said, “This is government’s policy and this is what ought to inform Government’s actions and we certainly are prepared to maintain very strongly that paragraph, absent those words, which then, results mainly in the statement that Government policy is going to be informed and should be informed by a respect for diversity of all types, including diversity of sexual orientation.”

It would appear that the misdeeds of the past PUP administration will continue to haunt the Belizean people for an undetermined amount of time. This became evident as Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow once again exposed the past PUP leader and Prime Minister Said Musa and the current PUP Leader Francis Fonseca for having signed yet another secret agreement with Ashcroft-related interests. That wasn’t more galvanized when PM Barrow called a press conference on June 12 following the Government of Belize’s taking over the International Business Companies Registry and the International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize (IMMARBE) on June 10. The Companies Registry, through various agents sets up offshore companies in Belize. IMMARBE for its part registers foreign sea vessels in Belize so they are able to fly the Belizean flag.

 The Government moved to take control of the companies on Monday, June 10th after the expiration of an existing contract, which allowed the two companies to be under control of Belize International Services Limited (BISL), an Ashcroft-related company. The Government wrote to BISL informing them of this, only to be told that there was a contract between the Government and them that extended into 2020. Prime Minister Barrow stated during the press conference that, despite best efforts to locate the contract, it was unsuccessful and only came upon a copy after it was furnished by BISL.

The Prime Minister explained that the relationship between the Government of Belize and BISL, which is a joint venture between a group of attorneys from Panama: Morgan and Morgan and originally Belize Holdings Inc., later on BCB holdings began in 1990. At the time, the Government had signed on to an agreement for Belize Holdings to manage both IMMARBE and the International Business Companies Registry for a period of 10 years. Three years later, on the eve of general elections in 1993, that contract was extended for a period of 10 years. By June 9th, 2003 the legal advisor in the Ministry of Finance, Gian Ghandi had written to BISL that because of fundamental changes in circumstances since the agreement was signed in 1993, they could no longer renew their contract to manage the companies for 10 years. Despite the legal opinion to the contrary, the then Prime Minister, Said Musa gave BISL the option to renew for 10 more years taking them to 2013.   

But in 2005, a secret agreement was signed with BISL, Said Musa as Prime Minister and Francis Fonseca as Attorney General, which validated the option to extend the agreement into 2013 and further added 7 more years to the contract taking it up to 2020 for a consideration of $1.5 million U.S. P.M. Barrow said that the money was received but the contract was nowhere to be found. That then made it a Secret Agreement and would have never made it out in the public had the Government not chosen to take over IMMARBE and the Offshore Companies Registry. The P.M. added that he has made checks with persons, who were in Cabinet at the time of the signing of the agreement and all agree that it was never brought to Cabinet.

Government’s position now is that the Secret Agreement is invalid as it goes contrary to the Financial and Audit Act, the Financial Orders, the Stores Orders and the Expenditure Act. And it must be, since the agreement is almost of a carbon copy of the type of agreements which Ashcroft was accustomed to getting under the PUP. According to the Prime Minister, the 1993 Master Agreement exempts BISL from paying taxes which up to the present date has accrued around $30 million. It further has it that IMMARBE would not be subject to any measure of performance and it could not be held liable for any failure to provide all or any of the services of the agreement. Then those representing the company would be given consular status in the parts of the world where they operated and exclusivity was also guaranteed to them. Then, there was the issue of inspection of records which was subject to constraints.

The extraordinary concessions given to the companies aside, there have always been problems with the distribution of income from the registering of boats and companies. According to the Prime Minister, BISL received 64 percent of every dollar in revenue while the Government received a token 36%. It definitely seemed out of proportion but now that is coming to an end with Government assuming full control of both companies. With Government in control, Marion Palacio has been named as the Interim Registrar and the transition has gone without incident.

The results of the Primary School Examinations (P.S.E.) were released on June 7th, and Siyun Ye from the Bernice Yorke Institute of Learning is the top performer in the class of 2013. More students sat this year’s P.S.E. than ever before with 7,359 candidates taking the exam on Monday, March 18th and May 6. Siyun Ye recorded a score of 391 out of a possible 400 points. Ye said the exam was easy but she did not expect to be the top performer. Her only challenge was to finish the essay section of the English paper in the time allotted. Students tied for the second best performance are Vincent Hulse and Nelson Esteban of St. Andrew’s Anglican School in the Cayo District and Jennessa Sierra of San Pedro R.C. School. The three of them received 386 points. Agatha Petkau of United Evergreen School in Cayo; Iani Adolphus of Hummingbird Elementary in Belize City; Sherry Tan and Alana Rosado of Belize Elementary School received 385 total points. The Ministry of Education said, “The performances on English and mathematics are cause for concern and call for concerted action on the part of all stakeholders in education to address these areas.”

The Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH) presented the Pan American Health Organization’s investigation into the death of 8 neonatal babies between May 5th and 17th. Chief Executive Officer at the hospital, Dr. Gary Longsworth, highlighted the findings of the report. The hospital has in place various infection prevention control measures and guidelines but much needs to be done to strengthen these measures. The report seconds that sentiment highlighting various deficiencies that exist in the KHMH. Among these is the Infection Control Committee and program, which were not working on a regular basis. Although there are trained personnel, the methods of surveillance have not been specific and are not targeted to any types of illnesses. The investigative team also found that the Central Medical Laboratory has deficiencies regarding space and training for those working there. There also needs to be quality control measures to be implemented urgently to improve the functions of the microbiology laboratory. It also found that there should be standard precautions put in place to control and prevent outbreaks. While there were prevention guidelines, monitoring and lack of a supportive environment for standard precautions were affecting compliance. To each of the deficient areas, PAHO made specific recommendations for improvement. These include the development of infection prevention and control plan with annual goal to monitor activities. It also called for better communication strategies between the hospital and the laboratory. Some of these, said Dr. Longsworth, are already in place with the Infection Control Committee having already drafted an infection prevention plan in line with the recommendations made. It also has the Central Medical Laboratory involved in this exercise. There has also been the development of a draft antibiotic policy to manage invasive procedures in the hospital intensive care since this involves a lot of invasive work which could lead to infection. Another recommendation asks that there be better reporting throughout the system vertically to the Chief Executive Officer, and Dr. Longsworth indicated that is already being done with him now being a part of the Infection Control Committee. As for the neonatal area, Government has already disbursed one hundred and fifty thousand dollars which will be used within the next two weeks to improve the neonatal facility of the hospital. This will include the remodeling and expanding of the unit to double its space.
(Read Part II in the next issue)

The third month of the year saw the beginning of something very important: the overhaul of the passport, nationality and immigration system in Belize. Beginning on March 1st, the Immigration Department added requirements for persons to apply for passports. Among the new requirements is the addition of a second recommender for the persons making passport applications. Persons who are making applications from foreign missions will also be asked to fill out an additional form. For those persons who have lost or have their passports damaged, a form is also being introduced that needs to be filled out as well. In the past, the application process only required an applicant to have one recommender, who would have been a Justice of the Peace, Minister of Religion, Medical Practitioner, Notary Public or an Attorney at Law. Now, there is a second recommender, who should be a Member of the House of Representatives, a Chief Executive Officer in any Ministry of Government, a Head of Department or a Licensed Teacher. In addition to filling out the form, those making recommendations will be asked to certify by way of a picture that the person is who he or she says they are. Other changes in the application process include the addition of expedited services where passports can be delivered in 24 hours for a fee of $200, 48 hours for a fee of $100 and 3 to 5 day service for a fee of $50. All other fees for passports remain the same as before.

Also in March, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Hon. Dean Barrow, presented the 2013-14 budget to the House of Representatives. The highlights of the presentation underscored the growth of the Belizean economy. Considered an economic marvel, Belize’s economy grew by 5.6%.

Public sector spending was expected to play a significant role in Belize’s economic activity for the next twelve months.  Prime Minister Barrow announced Government will spend $60 million on a package of infrastructural projects that will be implemented by a national construction company named Belize Infrastructure Limited. PM Barrow said this is the special-purpose vehicle that will create jobs, stimulate demand, purchase private sector material and supplies and “generally raise that tide that will float all Belizean boats.” There will be continued investment in the country’s primary and secondary road network as well as the infrastructure of the major towns and cities.

The Government also expanded support to the indigent and the working poor through the Food Pantry Program, giving this basic nutritional and survival assistance to more citizens, including now in some rural areas.” The Conditional Cash Transfer Programme, also known as Building Opportunities for Our Social Transformation initiative (BOOST) will also continued to be implemented in more communities. The Food Pantry Program allows low income families to purchase basic food items at less than half the price. BOOST sees the government enter into contracts with parents where cash is given to them in exchange for participation in developmental activities such as school attendance, vaccination, etc. In 2008, the total investment in social assistance programs was a half of a million dollars. It is now way over $5 million.

March also saw significant developments in the sugar industry. The Belize Sugar Industry Limited held an annual general meeting on March 5th during which the company declared dividends for the year 2012. During the meeting, it was announced that a 3 million dollar dividend payment will be made to entities who had shareholding in the company previous to the October 2nd, 2012 equity transaction to ASR, which took over majority shareholding in the company by virtue of over U.S. 100 million dollar investment in the company. In that transaction, ASR bought out BSI’s liabilities at international and local banks as well as the Government of Belize. It also paid out outstanding dividends to the BSI’s Employee Holdings, and committed to have at least 30 million U.S. dollars invested in the company.

With the declaration of dividends, which is approximately $0.068 per each of the 44 million issued shares before ASR’s investment, the BSI’s Employee Holdings will receive approximately 81.29% of the 3 million dollars or $2,438,627. The money was disbursed to the Employee’s Trust, who then disbursed to its membership on March 21st.

The Pallotine Sisters of Belize also marked their centennial anniversary of their work in education and national development to this country. In addition to commemorative stamps marking the milestone – a collection commissioned by the Philatelic Bureau of the Belize Postal Service – there were other events surrounding this important development.

It was in 1913, that a group of sisters from Germany began their process of adapting to a new culture and climate and in the ensuing century, their followers went on to contribute greatly to Social Welfare and Education. In the 1920’s, the Pallotine Mission built a convent in San Ignacio, where the sisters were stationed and from there labored selflessly. A similar pattern of mission was established in Benque Viejo, where the Pallotine Convent still stands.

The Police Department also used the month of March to add to its contingent of servicemen and women. 130 joined the ranks of the department to contribute to the fight against crime.

Baton of Honor went to RPC 1528 Andy Rodriguez; In the Written Exam, First Place went to RPC 1450 Rodrigo Castillo, and Second Place to RPC 1528 Andy Rodriguez; the award for Most Consistent Recruit went also to RPC 1528 Andy Rodriguez; the Best Physical Condition Award was taken by RPC 1480 Daniel Jimenez; the 1st Shooting Qualification Award went to RPC 1467 David Gongora; the Commandant’s Prize was received by WRPC 1544 Lourdes Torres; and the 1st in First Aid Award went to RPC 1579 Zair Pott.

During the ceremony, awards of recognition were also given out to a number of retired Police Officers. They are: Mr. Paul Wade, former Assistant Commissioner; Justo Augustine, former Superintendent; Claudio Mai, former Acting Assistant Superintendent; James Morriera, former Acting Assistant Superintendent; Moses Aranda, former Inspector; Hubert Augustine, former Sergeant; Michael Ciego, former Corporal; and Michael Muslar, former Police Constable.     The 130 new recruits were placed on active duty starting March 25, 2013, over 100 of them being deployed in Belize City, which is the area with the greatest need for an increase in the number of Police Officers. In addition to these 130 young men and women, the force also saw a reorganization exercise. The country was zoned off into 4 major areas. Those are: the Northern, Eastern, Western and the Southern Regions, each having a senior officer in command and responsible. The Northern region is being commanded by Sr. Superintendent Joseph Myvette; Assistant Commissioner of Police Miguel Segura is in charge of the Eastern Region; Superintendent Aaron Guzman has the Western Region and Sr. Superintendent Robert Mariano is in charge of the Southern Region. Within each of the regions, there are sub-divisions also with senior officers in charge to decentralize authority and hold particular individuals responsible.

The region of greatest concern is the Eastern Region where Belize City lies. In Belize City, the concept of precincts was introduced; four were formed. Precinct one is located at the corner of Kut and Euphrates Avenues and is commanded by Superintendent Alden Dawson. Precinct two is located at the lower flat of Raccoon Street Police Station and is commanded by Superintendent Alford Grinage. Precinct 3 is located at the Queen Street Police Station and the commander is Superintendent Gualberto Garcia. The fourth precinct is located at the Belama Police Station and is commanded by Assistant Superintendent David Chi. According to Commissioner of Police Whylie, the move was to decentralize authority and hold particular officers responsible for particular areas.

Belize Telemedia Limited also rolled out its Digicell 4G service to other parts of the country in March 2013. With Digicell’s 4G cell sites having been activated between Belmopan to the Benque Viejo Border in February, a similar pattern of activity is now taking place between Belmopan and Punta Gorda. Five more cell sites are being readied for full operation between these two areas and when this takes place by mid-April of this year, it will mark a full Digicell 4G Coverage for Belize. Digicell 4G is a new service being offered by Belize Telemedia Limited and have thus far proved to be convenient for customers who are on the constant move. The improved broadband speeds that 4G brings, use HSPA plus Technology (a technical standard for wireless), which operates on the 850 MHz Frequency. It allows the uploading of pictures and applications in an environment of greater bandwidth. The 4G network also allows for downloads of multi-media at faster speeds.  Information can now be swapped at breathtaking speeds by Belize Telemedia customers in the North, Central and Western portions of Belize. Those who look forward to the opportunity of Wireless communications now also have a wide choice of mobile devices that can now satisfy Digicell 4G’s data specifications.

Sports also played an important role in instilling national pride in Belize as Darnell Barrow captured the Cross Country Cycle Classic. The 85th annual bike race took place on March 30.
The 139.6-mile event attracted 87 riders which included 6 from the USA, 10 Mexicans and 2 Guatemalans. At the end of the race, some 44 riders did not finish the course, while 41 riders crossed the finish line. The record of 5:40:12 which was set by Ryan Baumann in 2009 was not broken, but this year’s race was the fastest ever rode by any cyclists that have participated in the Annual Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycling Classic.

In the last leg, some 15 riders, which included Darnell Barrow of Team Santino’s, were heading for the finish line on the Princess Margaret Drive.  In a dramatic sprint to the finish line, Belizean Darnell Barrow was able to outsprint two foreigners to capture the 85th Annual Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycling Classic in a time of 5:46:49. The second rider to cross the finish line was Mexican rider Juan Pablo Magallanes of Team Benny’s Megabytes and he was followed by American John Delong of Veloshine Cycling Team. Delong was followed by Justin Williams of BZN Linkup Cycling Team and Belizean, Gregory Lovell of Telemedia Cycling Team rounding out the top five. 

Although it was Easter weekend, testing was conducted on an oil well dug in Gallon Jug to determine if it has potential to produce oil commercially.

The Ministry of Energy, Science & Technology and the PUC issued a release which states that on March 30th, Maranco Energy Belize Limited “discovered an encouraging oil show at the South Canal Bank #1 exploration well in their concession area in the Orange Walk District.” The Well is located in the Gallon Jug area in property belonging to a company called Laguna Seca.

According to the release issued in early April, more testing needed to be done to determine whether or not the well has commercial potential. Personnel from the Geology and Petroleum Department began to monitor the situation.

Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Energy, Dr. Colin Young, says the company has up to 18 months to do their appraisal on the well to determine its commercial viability. Maranco received its Production Sharing Agreement on May 3, 2011 on a 378,000-acre swath of private land in the Gallon Jug area of the Orange Walk District. Drilling at the South Canal Bank started on March 8.

On April 10, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) announced that water rates will be left unchanged for the period April 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014. On December 31, 2012 the Belize Water Services Limited (BWSL) submitted a proposal to the PUC that there be no Annual Tariff Review Proceeding (ARP). The PUC concluded that there was no exceptional circumstances to warrant that an ARP be initiated on the PUC’s own volition and accepted BWS’ proposal. Therefore, the current tariffs, fees and charges remained in effect. However, the Public Utilities Commission will hold an ARP for the Belize Electricity Limited (BEL). On April 2, 2013 BEL submitted an application to the PUC requesting a reduction in the Mean Electricity Rate (MER) of approximately 1 cent per kilowatt hour. That would mean that residential customers would pay around 48 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity. BEL stated that the reduction is necessary in order to reflect the actual Cost of Power since January 2013 compared to the projected cost submitted to PUC in December of 2012”.

Last Updated on Monday, 30 December 2013 14:23