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Nov 13, 2018

Belmopan City Council Defends Sale of Hilltop to Chinese Businessman

The Hilltop headquarters of the Public Service Union in Belmopan was sold off a month ago unknown to them. The new owner is a Chinese businessman from the north who paid significantly less to the Belmopan City Council than what the property had been assessed for. The Union is fighting back tooth and nail to regain its headquarters. Today, Belmopan’s Mayor Khalid Belisle offered his version of the sale. Belisle claims that P.S.U. was simply not meeting its commitments and that triggered the sale to Xin Ni. News Five’s Isani Cayetano was in Belmopan today and files the following report.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The sale of Parcel No. 6061, consummated between the Belmopan City Council and businessman Xin Ni on October tenth, is final.  The land transaction saw the principal of the newly formed concern, Simplex Design Company Limited, purchase the landmark property for four hundred thousand dollars.  The deal was closed after City Hall received full payment for that subdivision, despite the headquarters of the Public Service Union being housed on it.


Khalid Belisle

Khalid Belisle, Mayor, Belmopan City Council

“I can’t get into specifics, but I can tell the people of Belmopan is that their intention is to restore what had previously been there before it was a headquarters, in terms of a public recreational facility, and I will stop there for now because I don’t want to rob them of their competitive advantage.”


The property in question has been occupied and managed by the soon-to-be evicted labor organization since 1998.  In 2001 and 2003, respectively, contracts were signed for lease of the land between the city council and P.S.U.  Both agreements were authorized by the former mayor and erstwhile union president.  Sitting Mayor Khalid Belisle asserts that notwithstanding those leases, the PSU has not been paying its monthly rent.


Khalid Belisle

“This lease agreement was for the period of twenty years.  The basics of it was that rent should be paid monthly at the sum of five hundred dollars and at the conclusion of that twenty years, the union would have the option to purchase with the previously paid rental sum being counted towards the final purchase price.  Shortly thereafter, two years later another lease was signed, again between the Belmopan City Council and the Belize Public Service Union, pretty much a mirror image of the previous lease.”


The terms of that renewed agreement, as the mayor puts it, remained virtually the same as the one before.  It wasn’t until last year that the administration, during an assessment process, noticed that P.S.U. hasn’t been honoring the contract.


Khalid Belisle

“In 2017, last year, as our valuation department was conducting an exercise for the council, trying to consolidate all the council’s assets scattered throughout the city, we came to realize that the PSU was indeed occupying, in possession of, if that’s the proper term and use of, certainly, the Hilltop property still.  It has been that way for, their tenancy and their use has uninterrupted since 2001, but it then started to cause us to ask the question, “Well, where’s the agreement?”  So we found the agreement and upon looking at the agreement, we said, “Well okay, we have what would seem like a valid lease here, but where’s the payment?”


Those monthly disbursements, the city council would later discover, were non-existent.


Khalid Belisle

“We could find absolutely no record of any payment from the Public Service Union to the Belmopan City Council for the rent that had been agreed to, that they had signed on to in 2001 and 2003.  So I personally reached out to the P.S.U. so that we could have some sort of dialogue about this, I mean…”



“You reached out when?”


Khalid Belisle

“That was in August of 2017.”


Since then, both parties had been meeting in an attempt to resolve the issue.  Those sessions subsequently included talks of purchasing Hilltop.  Before arriving there, however, the P.S.U. maintained that it had been making its payments.


Doreth Cayetano-Obermayer

Doreth Cayetano-Obermayer, President, Public Service Union

“Yes, we do have our records and while that meeting of October ninth was held, the City Administrator did indicate to us that they have nothing.  I then indicated to him that what I am going to do is copy what it is we have and forward to him, which I did and so when we went and met with the evaluator I had asked her to contact the City Administrator because those records were forwarded to him via email.”


In a series of sit-downs that were held between CitCo and P.S.U., the union made clear that it would not spend a penny over a hundred and eighty-seven thousand dollars, well below the asking price of five hundred thousand dollars that the council was seeking.


Khalid Belisle

“There offer was a hundred and eighty-seven thousand [dollars] best and final offer.  This is after we told that we had had a valuation done in-house, at five hundred and three [thousand dollars.]  But the thing about that in-house valuation was that it represented a severe haircut from the get-go.  Our technical director who was skilled in these matters, former employee of the Ministry of Natural Resources herself, had told us that if she were valuing for a private enterprise, this property would have actually been valued at seven hundred plus thousand dollars.  So that we were at five-oh-three was already a significant reduction on the council’s part in terms of what we thought was reasonable value for the property.  So to come to the close of that meeting between the P.S.U. and the councilors, a hundred and eighty-seven thousand dollars, best and final offer.  I am told that our city administrator intervened and said, “Well, that is unacceptable to the council.”  And he stated to them you have a month, we’ll give you a month to please go back come back to us with something more reasonable.  That month lapsed, we had absolutely no indication from the P.S.U. in terms of coming back to us and so the council decided to move on.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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