Today, the Orange Walk Town Council finds itself in a bind, after making a public declaration that it will have problems meeting its $14,000 payroll because, it alleges, the Belize Bank froze its account over an old debt the Council inherited.
Orange Walk Mayor Kevin Bernard has turned to the Ministry of Finance for relief; however, Finance Minister Dean Barrow said today in the House that Bernard won’t get a penny until a proper accounting of the Orange Walk Town Council’s accounts is turned in.
“Unless and until Mr. Bernard comes and is able to demonstrate that he is managing the affairs of the council properly, unless he can account for every single penny he is collecting… he has not a penny to get,” Barrow said.
Barrow also criticized the two of the major TV news stations – Channel 5 and 7 News – alleging that they are “guilty either of malice or the greatest possible incompetence” for having reported that the Council’s accounts were frozen because of an overdraft the Council has at the Belize Bank, which is guaranteed by the Government of Belize.
According to Barrow, “that is absolutely not the case!” He said that the Government gave no such guarantee.
This is an overdraft facility that the Council has been operating certainly since March 2011, before the current administration in Orange Walk took office, he added.
He furthermore said that on April 6, 2011, as a result of a letter written to the Ministry of Finance by then mayor, Philip de la Fuente, the Financial Secretary wrote to say that the ministry was granting approval for the Orange Walk Town Council to continue operating a facility of $110,000 with the Belize Bank for one year.
“The facility was not serviced at least with respect to principal payment,” he added.
Barrow said that the Town Council has raised property taxes and they are closing people down when they don’t pay; they have also raised trade licenses fees, he said.
“They must learn to paddle their own canoe… properly manage an account for the monies that you collect,” said Barrow, before adding that, “…because this is a government that is not spiteful or vindictive, if Mister Bernard can show me how he spent the money…” then the Ministry of Finance would assist.
Orange Walk Central area rep Johnny Briceño made an intervention in Parliament for Mayor Bernard, appealing to Barrow in the House Friday to work along with the mayor, who he described as “hardworking” and “honest.”
Reports to the media today are that the Town Council was able to work out a temporary arrangement with the bank to meet payroll.