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Jun 26, 2007

Lawyers tangle over walls at Tourism Village

Story PictureEarlier in this newscast we looked at how the cruise tourism industry is trying to come to grips with its impact on the environment. Today in Belize City, that industry–more specifically its economic benefits–figured prominently in a case before the Supreme Court. The question was whether the operators of the Fort Street Tourism Village could build a wall to keep customers from visiting competing businesses along the Haulover Creek. News Five’s Janelle Chanona has the story.

Fred Lumor, Claimants Attorney
“The Government has to bear full responsibility that they ought not to be signing agreements which exclude other citizens from access to market which they cannot exclusively give to one person. This has been haunting the government in respect of various agreements that they have signed and we are sending a message to the government that this has to stop.”

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
That is the hard line attorney Fred Lumor is taking in court this week as he defends the interests of the businesses immediately adjacent to the Fort Street Tourism Village.

Edward “Billy” Musa, Martha Williams, and others are alleging that the walls erected to separate their properties from the Village are in violation of their constitutional rights.

Fred Lumor
“The answer is very simple, monopoly. Exclusive access to the multimillion U.S. dollar cruise passengers on that boardwalk, end of the story.”

And to drive home his point, this morning Lumor urged the court to take a field trip to the Village. The Chief Justice agreed and walked to Fort Street to get a first hand perspective on the problem.

The crux of Lumor’s case is the contention that if the Village could have come to an agreement with the owners of the Wet Lizard, which sits squarely between the two properties owned by the FSTV, then it should do the same for his clients.

Fred Lumor
“We are saying that the boardwalk is a public thoroughfare, the market on it is a public market, so that if you have property abutting the shoreline of the northern Haulover Creek, you should have unlimited access to that market. Nobody should try to selfishly claim that market for himself as we have been pointing out in our argument. Wet Lizard is in the same situation or similar position as our clients, they have unlimited access to that market on the boardwalk. Why treat our clients differently?”

Janelle Chanona
“And does the Wet Lizard offer duty free shops and stores like Brown Sugar and the Michael Colin Gallery?”

Fred Lumor
“Yes, there is a duty free shop and a restaurant, which has not yet started selling, but it’s there. Anybody can go there and see it. That is another subject of litigation, which is also going on in the Supreme Court.”

Janelle Chanona
“You’ve become the attorney for the shoreline in all these cases, the basis being that as you are saying, there has to be public access.”

Fred Lumor
“There has to be public access. Anybody who has an investment there is entitled to have access to that international market. That is what I’m fighting for, for everybody.”

Dean Barrow, FSTV Attorney
“Clearly the Wet Lizard said, no, no, no, you can’t build in from of my property without my permission and so some arrangement was worked out whereby there was a quid pro quo. In return for the Wet Lizard agreeing that the Village could build in front of them, the Village agreed to access in a control fashion to the Wet Lizard by their customers, by the customers, the clients of the Village. So again that was a commercial undertaking where the Wet Lizard had something with which to bargain, something on which there was a platform for a trade; it’s not the same with the current claimants.”

According to attorney Dean Barrow, the Fort Street Tourism Village will argue that the walls must stay in place in compliance with the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code because the Village is a port of entry for one-day cruise ship passengers. But Barrow admits that the Brown Sugar Marketplace and the Michael Colin Duty Free Gallery are competitive threats to business in the Village.

Dean Barrow
“We have to be honest, this has to do with competition. The Fort Street Tourism Village is saying, apart from everything else, both the Michael Colin Gallery and the Brown Sugar establishment, you people went and got duty free status when you knew that that we in the Fort Street Tourism Village had an exclusive. And this is where we get into the question of Government being the whole source of all the problem because of government not sticking to its word. But you can understand how perhaps there is some degree of bad blood between the Fort Street Tourism Village and these claimants, Michael Colin and Brown Sugar because Michael Colin and Brown Sugar went to get duty free status to compete in the same area as the Fort Street Tourism Village when they knew that at the same time the Fort Street Tourism Village was in possession of what was supposed to be exclusive duty free status for cruise ship passengers. I don’t blame the Michael Colin Gallery and Brown Sugar, for going and getting an additional duty free status, but then you can’t blame Fort Street either for being upset about that when Fort Street set up the Village on the basis that they would have a duty free monopoly. So it’s all as you said about the commercial considerations and the commercial competitions.”

The two walled out companies have sued the Attorney General of Belize, as the legal representative of the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Port Authority as the regulators of the ISPS code, and the Belize City Council, who they allege have done nothing to enforce the fencing regulations. Elson Kaseke is representing the interest of the Belize Tourism Board. Lumor concluded his arguments this afternoon. Crown Counsels Andrea McSweeney and Priscilla Banner, appearing on behalf of the A.G. and the Port Authority respectively, will make their submissions tomorrow. Reporting for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.

Attorney Samira Musa Pott appeared on behalf of the owners of Brown Sugar Marketplace.

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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