Letters — 27 September 2013 — by Charles Leslie Jr.

Dear Editor,

If you take a quick glance at the budgetary allocation for Stann Creek West, it is approximately $6,000 to the duly elected Area Representative to be spread among, approximately 20,000 people, which gives 30 cents for assistance, per month, per person! What can you do with 30 cents? Buy a small pack of soda biscuits?

This is why we must lobby for township status for Placencia Peninsula and potentially combine with Independence Village. Three of the main benefits of township status will be 1). The collection of property taxes, 2). The collection of trade license fees and 3). The submission of estimates of revenue and expenditure to the Minister of Finance.

It is not complex to understand why our villages are barely functional when it comes to self-governance, organic socioeconomic growth and social assistance for villagers – it is directly linked to the easy access or lack thereof, of financial resources. The Village Council Act gives very limited power to village councils. This makes our communities technically unincorporated, and only guarantees returns of the Liquor License monies that are collected, which have proven insufficient to run villages of such size. Fundraiser events such as Lobsterfest and Seine Bight Day should be done for residual income and not a main source of income.

When the National Association of Village Councils (NAVCO) was established, it was a flagship for: “Strengthening Local Level Governance to Enhance National Development”. Our communities are starved of resources and it makes contemporary socioeconomic development lethargic. A perfect example of the limitations of the Village Council Act is the inability to legally form a Local Building Authority (LBA) to collect Building Fees and Trade License Fees, from the existing and in-progress investments that are up and down the Placencia Peninsula. A rough estimate, from the development boom until now, would have translated to millions of dollars in locally generated revenues that should have gone to the Placencia and Seine Village Councils.

Currently, Seine Bight and Placencia Councils are struggling financially, and find it difficult with basic functions such as administrative, and even more so with infrastructural, social and other locally sponsored investments since our Water Boards, which Councils were highly dependent on, have been dissolved and all assets seized, including the money that was sitting in the bank.

Township status for Placencia Peninsula and potentially including Independence Village, with proper stewardship, would alleviate financial dependency on the State, and give the Local Government the resources and autonomy that are needed to fulfill their mandates.

After reviewing the white paper “Towards a Model of Budgetary Allocation and Revenue-sharing in Mexico’s Local Governments” the benefits of the revision of these budgetary allocations are obvious. A quick look at the Riviera Maya will illustrate the significant investment in infrastructure, thus creation of jobs and continued attraction of investment. A big portion of the financial resources to the municipality is generated from the land tax and budgetary allocation and revenue-sharing, especially from the tourism developments.

This paper was prepared in 1997 and what it identified in Mexico parallels what we are currently experiencing in Belize: “…local resources are scarce because local politicians only have a limited capacity to influence transfers from other levels of government.” It goes on to say: “The possibility of modifying the amount of financial resources is also always political because the flexibility to improve revenue collection, or obtain conditional or unconditional transfers from other levels of government, depends on local politics. Whatever the ‘first best’technical solution to a public finance allocation problem, it will always be politically constrained.”

What is needed? We need to call for real revision towards a model of budgetary allocation and revenue-sharing in Belize’s Local Governments, and a first step would be township so that we can take advantage of the Town Council Act. This would give us more autonomy than the Village Council Act. This will allow an immediate increase in locally available financial resources from revenue collection efforts, mainly from property tax, building fees, trade license fees, and potential supplementation with conditional or unconditional transfer coming from the State via the National Budget.

Charles Leslie Jr. (Placencia)

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