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Aug 23, 2017

The Players in Town Council Debate Revealed During Senate Meeting

Mark Lizarraga

There was minimal resistance from the Opposition at last Friday’s meeting of the House of Representatives to the amendment to the Town Councils Act, which allows for greater power of the municipal councils to obtain funds for capital projects. The reason ostensibly given by Prime Minister Dean Barrow for the rush-through of the bill is that the construction company building the San Ignacio/Santa Elena Town Hall needed funds from the council, which had approached the National Bank. But the council, unlike the Belize City and Belmopan city councils, did not have that power. And the Senate was asked to ratify the House’s approval at a special meeting today, but not without a fight. Both senators representing the social partners and Opposition questioned the hidden repercussions of untrammeled borrowing without proper fiscal responsibility. And in the case of Santa Elena and San Ignacio, according to Senators Valerie Woods and Eamon Courtenay, there are questions as to who is behind the deal.

 

Mark Lizarraga, Senator, Business Community

“The amendment also allows for special purpose entities to be created, through which it can use as one option, equity financing to raise funds. This option, while one would think should not be too worrying relative to debt financing options, raises other concerns for us, Mister President, and later on we will discuss this, because what it does is it changes the fundamental role and outlook on how these bodies make investments now from one of service or cost recovery to one for profit. Mister President, while the rates for trade licenses and property taxes are determined in the relevant substantive acts – the trade license act and the towns properties evaluation act – and are not under the direct control of the local authority, any changes to fees under the town councils act is still, in many cases, regulated through the House of Representatives and some caution is warranted. One need only look at the Belize City experience to see how these measures would demand more of local governments’ resources, leading local authorities to either seek ways to cut costs, or advocate for increases in existing fees or to establish new ones. In effect, our concern is more taxes.”

 

Valerie Woods

Valerie Woods, P.U.P. Senator

“Who’s building it? It wasn’t put out to bid. Who’s building it? Johan Construction and Engineering Limited. Should the Senate be concerned about any conflict of interest – why is this thing being rushed? If one were to take a look at the registry for businesses, it’s only owned by the brother of the Minister of Works – eighty percent shares – and twenty percent by the Minister’s sister-in-law. Now, I guess that should not cause any of us to pause; why should it, Mr. President? We accept things like this now, apparently; we’re good with it, because it is what it is and we don’t care anymore.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

Eamon Courtenay, P.U.P. Senator

“The truth of the matter is that it has been done already; the sign tells you it; there is evidence from that side – their own sign, that the National Bank is financing this. It is in that context and against that context, Mr. President, that we look at the bill. There is no need to repeat in any detail that we are talking about a company that has six months of life that is doing this construction – no history, no record, no expertise. Politically connected company that is doing this. And we are now being told ‘Let’s do it quick’ – eyes closed, what is wrong with the people of San Ignacio? Absolutely nothing is wrong with the people of San Ignacio; but it is not being done for the people of San Ignacio; it is being done for the person that is doing the building! That is the truth, and that is why there is a need for transparency and that is why there is a need for accountability.”

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1 Response for “The Players in Town Council Debate Revealed During Senate Meeting”

  1. carlos says:

    All this is because municipal election is coming. GOB has no money to give so that the UDP councilors spend crazily in their campaign. Why GOB didn’t pass this bill long time, from 2008 or 2012 ? No Petro Caribe money available.

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