Headline — 10 December 2013 — by Kareem Clarke
BWC “almost” on garbage strike

2 trucks out of 9 operating; CITCO struggling to make outstanding payments

The challenges that have arisen in the carrying out of garbage collection in Belize City have been an ongoing dilemma which has been somewhat of an albatross around the necks of successive Belize City Council administrations, and the current City Council is no different.

Up until last Friday, December 6, 2013, the Belize City Council owed the Belize Waste Control (BWC) – one of Belize City’s premier garbage collection agents – over three-quarters of a million dollars in outstanding arrears.

Like the garbage which had piled up alongside the city streets last week, the debt owed to Belize Waste Control has continued to accumulate over the years. This mounting series of outstanding payments has led to a standoff between the City Council and the BWC, and has resulted in the garbage collector claiming that they are now unable to maintain their operations due to financial constraints.

Last Thursday, December 5, the Belize Waste Control apparently could no longer bear the strain of operating at a reported 6-figure deficit, and as a result, only two of the company’s nine garbage trucks were deployed to collect the city’s garbage – which normally increases by as much as 20% at this time of the year.

The company – which is currently operating at approximately only 30% of its entire capacity – is complaining because the managers have asserted that they are not able to meet their operational expenses because of the colossal back payment, which spans a period of around 15 weeks, starting in August.

Hence, the Belize Waste Control has scaled back its operations and initiated what they call a necessary ‘go-slow’; they said that they are unable to pay all their employees due to the circumstances. They have since been rotating both their employees and their garbage trucks in order to keep their staff employed.

The declaration by the sanitation contractor has come at a critical time – when the Christmas holidays are on the horizon – but the management of BWC has said that it can no longer expect its creditors to keep them operational when there is no sign that payment will be made from the Belize City Council on the arrears, which keep escalating.

For his part, Belize City Mayor Darrell Bradley has stated that he cannot dispute the fact that CITCO owes a significant amount of money to Belize Waste Control Limited; however he has maintained that the debt is largely due to exorbitant contracts that were signed by past City Council administrations and that right now the City Council is itself having financial difficulties, and therefore the Council won’t be able to meet its debt to Belize Waste Control until early next year, 2014, when there will be an expected influx in tax revenues.

Bradley has maintained that the lack of sustainability of the sanitation contracts is “structural” and “systemic”, because the Council has been forced to pay 45 cents of every dollar that the Council earns on sanitation services, which he described as being too much. In an interview with 7 News last Friday, Mayor Bradley declared, “The reality is that we just spend too much. At the end of the day, after I pay salaries and after I pay for sanitation services, the City Council is essentially broke.”

In any event, the Mayor also mentioned that he is mindful of the predicament facing the employees of BWC, and subsequently promised to make three weeks’ back payment to assist with the employment status of the BWC personnel because Bradley said, “We did not want people to be dislocated and to be out of work especially around the Christmas season.”

In that effort, the Belize City Council reportedly made a double payment of one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) to BWC last Friday to reduce the seven hundred and fifty thousand dollar debt. Despite the payment that was made, the City Council continues to be three and a half months behind in its arrears to BWC.

In a subsequent interview with Channel 5 News on Friday, the Mayor explained the reason for the payment and also gave a breakdown of the monies that the City Council has to pay to sanitation contractors on a weekly basis. Bradley said, “The reality is we are just trying to do the best we can; we made two payments today; we expect that we will also have to make an additional double payment [at the] ending of the year.”

With respect to the overwhelming garbage collection payments, the Mayor said, “We pay them fifty thousand dollars every week. One sanitation contractor we pay fifty thousand dollars – that is BWC – and the other contractor we pay seventy-eight thousand dollars per week – that is Belize Maintenance Limited. So combine that hundred and thirty odd thousand dollars that we pay every single week. It is difficult for us even to collect that, to be able to turn that over and pay. So when we say we make a double payment we pay them two weeks; we pay them fifty thousand dollars and on top of that we pay them an additional fifty thousand dollars. And in some cases we must make mention — I think it was three weeks ago — we paid them a triple payment which was a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. So, we expect to be paying them double payments and triple payments towards the ending of this year and early next year so we can equalize in terms of the arrears so we can be at a zero balance. But this is going to be the reality next year; next year you are going to be at the same spot and you are going to ask me the same question because on a sustainable basis a city cannot continue to be paying forty-five cents out of every dollar for sanitation.”

According to News 5, the Mayor has also indicated that when the contract that was signed with BML expires in 2015, the Council intends to enact legislation which will hold city residents responsible for the cleaning of areas in front of their property.

With the payment made last Friday, BWC has committed to resume garbage collection, but on a limited schedule.

The management of BWC has lamented that the company cannot continue to operate under the present circumstances. They told the media that Mayor Darrell Bradley has made them (BWC) many promises that he hasn’t kept, and that the Mayor basically expects them to fulfill their duties without receiving payment.

Anthony Griffith, the owner of BWC, told 7 News on Friday that one of those empty promises has been the Mayor’s pledge to formulate a payment plan that was to be implemented in January of this year. Griffith said, “We are still waiting for the payment plan; we are still waiting for the payment up to today. Back in January he was supposed to give us a payment plan for going back to 2012 arrears, but he never did. It’s not normal business that he’s talking that the City Council always owes us.”

Griffith said that it has been quite difficult for his company to sustain payments to both workers and creditors. He stated, “I have to pay salaries, taxes and social security on money that I haven’t received, which is ridiculous, but I still have to pay it. I have to pay maintenance, all these things add up and it’s been going on for months, not for weeks.”

Griffith also discussed the 2.3 million dollar arbitration award that they received when they took the City Council to court earlier this year, and cited that BWC had agreed to write off a whopping one million dollars off the recurring debt to show good faith, which would mean that the arrears were chopped almost in half, cutting it to 1.3 million dollars. To service the amount, the Council had been making weekly payments, and documents from the sanitation company showed that the last payment was made on November 29th; however arrears were as far back as August.

Up until last Friday, the debt stood at exactly $776,139.23. Mayor Bradley has said that his council will catch up with the payments after the tax revenues come in during the first quarter of 2014. When Amandala attempted to get in contact with Bradley, we were told that he is currently out of the country.

Today, we also tried to get comments from BWC’s owner, Anthony Griffith, but we were told that he was in a meeting.

According to 7 News, Griffith said that they will continue to do their job and try to keep the city clean with their dialed back operation. He said that he has an obligation to city residents, and will try to do his duty until his company can no longer operate. We understand, however, that the company was scheduled to resume its full operations today, but we were not able to confirm this with BWC’s General Manager George Lamb, who we were told was also in the meeting with Griffith.

Meanwhile, rumor has it that the sanitation workers who are caught in the middle of the dispute may soon opt to picket in front of City Hall as they had done in the past.

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