BELIZE CITY, Thurs. June 25, 2015–Supreme Court Justice Courtney Abel continued to hear arguments this Wednesday and Thursday into the challenge filed by Belizean businessman Michael Feinstein against the Government of Belize and Fort Street Tourism Village (FSTV), in which the business calls into question the legality of the US$7 head tax being collected by the Government, of which US$4 goes to the FSTV.
In response to the ongoing litigation, the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) hopes to introduce a new law in the House of Representatives tomorrow, Friday, to retrospectively validate the head tax, covering the 15-year period starting in the year 2000. The legislation does not name any other cruise port, such as the Stake Bank port which is proposed for construction and for which Parliament approved a bill last year, which has yet to be brought into force.
While he had not yet seen a copy of the proposed bill to regularize the head tax when we spoke with him on Wednesday, Andrew Marshalleck, SC, Feinstein’s attorney, told Amandala that it is “duplicitous” for the Government to be arguing in court that what they had been doing in collecting the head tax and apportioning it in the manner that they have been is fine.
Marshalleck said that they don’t really have a problem with the head tax bill, specifically naming FSTV as the private entity to share in the receipts; however, they do have a problem with arrangements that seek to tie his client’s hands.
The attorney contends that the FSTV still wants to be paid for passengers who enter the Belize District, based on its exclusive contract.
FSTV’s attorney, Rodwell Williams, SC, law partner in Barrow & Williams, had his turn to present arguments before Justice Abel today, and he contended before the court that his client, which is a private company, should not have been sued as a defendant in this public law claim.
He cited a previous case heard by the courts in which FSTV was named as a defendant in a constitutional claim, but the case against FSTV was struck out, said Williams.
He is likewise asking the court for the case to be dismissed against the FSTV. The attorney told us that when the case resumes tomorrow, Friday, he intends to also argue why the case should be dismissed not just against his client, but also against the Government of Belize.
The court is yet to hear another round of arguments in relation to an ancillary claim for damages filed by the FSTV, which Williams told us would probably be argued in July.
As for the legislation which Parliament plans to pass on Friday, Williams said that it may simply regularize the administration of the head tax.
In court, Williams pointed to Act 10 of 2014, which sets out legal provisions for the establishment of the Stake Bank port. That law contains provisions for the Feinstein project to collect a development fee.
Williams told us that under the law, Feinstein, the developer, and the Government of Belize, would share the development fee.
Since hearings began last week, the central issue argued before the court is the head tax – not the exclusivity arrangement to which the FSTV is a party.
In court on Wednesday, Deputy Solicitor General, Nigel Hawke argued that even if the court were to find the head tax to have been unlawfully collected over the years, it could make a decision to preserve the status quo while giving the Government a chance to rectify the matter.
While the court hears further arguments on the matter tomorrow, Friday, Parliament will be moving to pass the new law to retrospectively validate the head tax.