APAMO Attempts to Persuade G.O.B. Not to Tax PACT
The first serious objection to the bundle of tax measures introduced by Prime Minister Dean Barrow and the government at Monday’s budget presentation was raised by the Belize Tourism Industry Association a day later. They and the Association for Protected Areas Management Organizations argue that the Protected Areas Conservation Trust needs the money to urgently fund operational costs for management of protected areas, with a sizable shortfall identified. They also believe that government can locate other areas from which to draw further revenue to fund its own budget shortfall. Prime Minister Dean Barrow had suggested that those statutory boards, not controlled by government, which can prove that their affairs are in order and an urgent need to hold on to their funds, may be exempted, as Social Security, the Development Finance Corporation and the Central Bank of Belize are, from this new bill. Today in Belmopan, APAMO made its case at a meeting of the House of Representatives’ Finance and Economic Development Committee. Aaron Humes reports.
The Finance and Economic Development Committee of the National Assembly this morning met in the legislative chamber to consider the General Revenue and Appropriation Bill and related finance bills. The Statutory Boards (Development Contribution) Bill introduced by Prime Minister Dean Barrow on Monday proposes that ten percent of revenue from boards such as the Belize Tourism Board and Protected Areas Conservation Trust be handed over to the Consolidated Revenue Fund. But there is a caveat which he explained to us after the Budget presentation.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow [File: March 14th, 2017]
“In terms of the B.T.B., we looked at what they had made last year and it was twenty-odd million, we thought a ten percent wouldn’t be too severe a strain. But I will say this: if any of the statutory bodies from whom we are looking to take the ten percent, can show us where they can’t afford it; that they are running their affairs properly – let me limit it for example to the B.T.B. We think that the B.T.B. is running their affairs properly, they come back and say, for marketing we need that ten percent; we’ll give them.”
Co-managers of Belize’s protected areas, however, say too many taxes will hurt one of the few industries making revenue for the Jewel at the moment, as explained by the Belize Tourism Industry Association’s Executive Director, John Burgos.
John Burgos, Executive Director, B.T.I.A. [File: March 15th, 2017]
“With regards to the ten percent requested from the Statutory Boards we have also concerns with the funding at the B.T.B. and also the PACT. You have to remember that if the tax for PACT is increased and then now on top of that you are gonna remove ten percent of what is already collected from Government spending you are defeating the purpose. It is like we are neglecting what is feeding the nation.”
The Committee, chaired by John Saldivar with Edmond Castro and Frank “Pawpa” Mena as members, and joined by Financial Secretary Joseph Waight, informed that they would not be looking at the departure tax at this meeting. But they listened to concerns from the Association of Protected Areas Management Organizations, whose executive director, Jose Perez, told us that in the case of PACT, co-managers depend on the partial funding they provide to pay operation costs.
Jose Perez, Executive Director, APAMO
“Donors are always willing to fund programmatic aspects of what we do: training, educational programs. But when it comes to the overhead costs, donors are reluctant and it is very hard to get donors to finance that. That is where PACT, with the recent amendment in 2015, agreed to fund twenty percent of what we call the core costs – and even that twenty percent, we feel, is small. And so imagine, as is right now, the funds that PACT has to fund the twenty percent is limited; and that is why it is through a grant application and competitive process. Imagine, now, removing a further ten percent – you will have even further eroded the amount of money that could go toward core costs, and so the money available for daily operations would be significantly affected.”
According to Perez, all the stakeholders wanted was consultation, which they got, after a fashion, today. But what they want even more is a serious consideration by Government of cutting waste in light of the country’s problems.
“The consultation happened just now; probably earlier consultations could have happened, but we are glad that at least it happened today. And we basically expressed to Government that we are here; we understand the dire need of the country, we understand the economic crisis, and we are willing to collaborate in whatever way we can. But definitely the ten percent, at least for now, we feel that there’s other avenues, other areas that can be cut – we see wastage all over the place, where we think costs can be streamlined and revenues generated from there. We feel that the statutory bodies – especially PACT, right now, those monies are direly needed by co-managers for protected areas.”
Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.
A further meeting is scheduled for Tuesday next, March twenty-first. The Budget and other bills will be debated at the House on Thursday, March twenty-third and Friday, March twenty-fourth.