Letters — 26 July 2013 — by Chriss Roggema

Dear Editor,

A year or so ago in a discussion on Front Street in Caye Caulker I remember the newly elected mayor Wayne Miller stated his intention to run for office saying: “Like I see it guys, we are standing at the crossroads for Caye Caulker. If you and me do not take charge of this failing political situation, we can’t complain afterwards and say how mucked up the situation on the island has become. And it will go on this way with this political infighting and nothing important gets done. It’s up to us. It’s up to you and me!”

At that time, it gave me a lot to think about, because after 25 years on the island I had decided to move off the island to the mainland into the rainforest to get some more space around me, since my privacy on the island had become very restricted. When I first lived on the island people did not understand why I moved from Front Street to “back a bush.” But it was good living quietly in the bush in what the island people called “the pretty little house in the back.”

Now my Cocoplum sanctuary is tucked away between the old and new village in the island’s nicest neighborhood with big houses in big gardens with lots of trees and flowers. But with only one Belizean neighbor in the whole street who lives there, and the rest foreign tourists who rent from the foreign owners, who only spend a few days or weeks there a year. Not really a neighborhood in my sense. And most of these foreigners are so rude: when you hail them they look at you like you want to rob them.

The reason I am writing this commentary is the question which has bothered me most the last years: that Central Government has not listened to the needs the people of Caye Caulker in the question around the school situation. Always the answer: there is no money for this.

The last 25 years I had four kids in school. 25 years ago there was not this pressure on the school with my oldest son. But after the village expanded so fast the last, let’s say, 15 years, the pressure on the capacity of the school and especially on the teachers has been enormous. In addition, not having a high school for so many years has been a real social strain on the islanders.

The year the high school started I was closely involved, because my Belizean-born wife was part of the team which got the school started and I was looking after our baby boy and took him to her to be breastfed and to feed the mother, because she had time for little else than the high school that year.
At that point I had already problems with the location of the school behind our property in the swamps on a single lot surrounded by mangroves where the water around the school was littered with a lot of garbage, and what I saw what would become an issue in the future concerning public health.

The whole area there is swamp with a couple of feet of sand sprayed on it. With the development of the area and the construction of the houses you have all the run off of the septic tanks coming into the surface water .You probably know that sweet water floats on top of the salt water: that’s how the coconut palm trees get their water because they know how to differentiate between the two.

But the mangrove swamp water is salt water. So in the future with more and more construction you will get more contamination of the environment and worsening of public health around the school. So why would you expose your children to that?

That’s why I do not understand Central Government’s refusal to listen to the proposal by the elders of Caye Caulker to transfer the property next to the airstrip owned by Social Security to the high school of Caye Caulker. Especially since they own already maybe 40% of the value of the property.

With the second in charge of the Village Council, former primary school principal Miss Neldy, this Village Council has a great opportunity and know-how of the present school situation to at last solve this problem.

One of the new proposals by the new Village Council was in the new school at the airstrip that 6th standard primary school would be moved to the high school. That sounds like a great solution to both creating much needed space at the primary school and solving a growing problem with the bigger kids mixing with the smaller ones.

Any parent knows how quickly their kids grow at that stage and from one day to another they suddenly are taller than you. That will solve certain disciplinary problems too. I think this is a great idea that will benefit all kids in both schools. So we will see more solutions to the problems of our dear island by the people for the people. Most islanders feel that the GoB has taken more than their fair share out of Caye Caulker rather than putting it back. All that money from the fishermen’s coop and the hotel tax for all these years.

For me it is the question how much has Central Government gotten out of Caye Caulker and how have they put into Caye Caulker. I say the only time GoB stepped to the plate in those 25 years I lived here was after Hurricane Keith. And the Hicaqueños were very appreciative of that, including me. I remember the helicopter flying over the island with the PM and the representative of the IDB. But what happened to the 200 million dollars loan what IDB gave for the restoration of the islands? How much went to the islands and how much went to Central Government?

The contracts for the reconstruction of the new harbor and the road went to an Ashcroft-owned company. I did not know that until years later, because I had reason to complain because they forgot to fix the swimming pool/road in front of our property. Knowing now who owned the company, you know who got paid and who got well paid.

Same thing with the re-planting project for Caye Caulker and San Pedro , which Cocoplum Nursery designed , for which was projected a 395,000$bz and 650,000$bz budget and then done by a party official not spending more than 15% of that on the project. And I only knew about it because the representative of the IDB came to my home to confront me what I had done with the money he paid for the planting of his trees. This very well-meaning and Harvard-educated man was very upset and did stop loans for a period of time to GOB after he found out the truth. And all these loans added up to what is now known as the Super Bond. Yes, which you inherited and handled better than I expected from you, Mr, Barrow.

The next step for you in relation to this new initiative from CARICOM about compensation after slavery, should be total debt forgiveness for our nation. So Mister Prime Minister, please be fair now, step to the plate and transfer the airstrip/Social Security property to the Caye Caulker High School and the people of Caye Caulker so that our island’s children at last have a good high school in a secure environment. They deserve it. Our island deserves the best investment you can make – the future of our children!

Thank you!
Chriss Roggema,
Cocoplum Gardens, Caye Caulker, [email protected]

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