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Sep 30, 2009

City Hall protested for non-payment of garbage collection debt

Story PictureThe Belize City Council continues in the eye of the storm in its worst financial and political crisis. Employees of Belize Maintenance Limited staged day two of their most recent demonstration at City Hall. Belize Maintenance Limited is owed two million seven hundred thousand dollars in arrears and the council also owes Belize Waste control one million two hundred thousand dollars a total of three million nine hundred thousand dollars combined in arrears alone. The two companies are trying to collect much less to keep their companies in operation. For the current fiscal year B.M.L. is owed seven hundred and eighty thousand dollars and it is trying to collect three hundred and twenty thousand dollars to keep afloat. Also for this fiscal year Belize Waste Control is owed three hundred and ninety six thousand dollars and it is trying to collect one hundred and eight thousand dollars to keep afloat. But the City is broke. News Five’s Jose Sanchez reports.

Jose Sanchez, Reporting
On Monday and today sanitation workers picketed City Hall on North Front Street because the Belize City Council has not been paying its debt to Belize Maintenance Limited. B.M.L.’s Managing Director, Lawrence Ellis, says he has had no choice but to send home one hundred and fifty workers.

Lawrence Ellis, Managing Director, B.M.L.
“We are facing a serious financial problem. Monies accumulating owing to us, just came to a point where we just can’t afford to operate at the same level.”

Jose Sanchez
“How much money are we talking about?”

Lawrence Ellis
“Total money owing to B.M.L. is two point seven million, but since June nineteenth of this year, we haven’t been paid for some ten weeks, which is seven hundred and seven thousand dollars.”

Jose Sanchez
“So you can’t pay your workers?”

Lawrence Ellis
“No, we can’t afford to keep the full operation going.”

Jose Sanchez
“So are you letting go workers or what are you doing?”

Lawrence Ellis
“We are not officially dismissing. We are just sending home until further notice.”

Jose Sanchez
“Without pay?”

Lawrence Ellis
“Yeah without pay.”

Philip Willoughby, Councillor in Charge of Garbage Collection, says that he is trying his best with the mounting debt.

Jose Sanchez
“This is the second day of the B.M.L. strike, Monday and Wednesday. Does the strike make any difference regarding the city’s ability to pay?”

Philip Willoughby, City Councillor
“At this point in time, yes it does have its effect and it does have its political implications. I’ll never dodge and say morally it doesn’t have an effect; it does. I respect the position of the people. We do owe the sanitation company the money and that is the reality.”

Jose Sanchez
“But how will you pay? They can’t shame the council into paying.”

Philip Willoughby
“Of course if the council doesn’t have the money, it is limited to what the council can do. The protest might continue. It would go for a certain period of time and to no avail if the money isn’t forthcoming, there is always the judicial system and let the court takes its course.”

Lawrence Ellis
“I am discussing with my attorney a way forward and to what length we are willing to take it. It’s a decision we will have to make. I am hopeful the council will be able to get its act together.”

The council invited B.M.L. to a caucus meeting to find a solution, but no commitments were made.

Lawrence Ellis
“We had the meeting of the Caucus yesterday and we presented our position but the councillors could not make any firm commitments on payments or on any of the monies owed.”

Jose Sanchez
“Despite whatever legal implications, do you still expect B.M.L. to do their job, even though they are not collecting funds?”

Philip Willoughby
“Well, yes they should be still working. Maybe they won’t be working at their optimum. As I have been made to understand thus far, that the persons who aren’t working or not gainfully employed with B.M.L. are the ones out there protesting and the ones who are working, they are working a shift system to permit them to take time off and then return to do the work.”

Lawrence Ellis
“I thank the employees for their patience and for their commitment to this company and I want them to know I am trying my best to get this resolved. We will work hard on it and we will push hard until we can get them back to work.”

Philip Willoughby
“Because of what is being promulgated in the media, may deter people from wanting to pay tax. And it would then all have to do with the mayor’s rating, so to speak, because she is at the helm of the council. The confidence of the tax payers, my feel out is here, has been somewhat deterred. Its unfortunately that’s the feeling from what I’ve been gathering and looking at the outstanding arrears for money owed to the council, people seem to be disillusioned… man if I pay mi tax what is to say this no wah happen.”

B.M.L. workers return to the picket line tomorrow. Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

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