BELMOPAN, Tues. Sept. 3, 2019– This afternoon, officials from the Ministry of Transport and stakeholders from the tourism industry met with the leaders of the Belize Bus Association (BBA) and the Taxi Association to chart a way forward to regulate foreign buses coming into Belize from neighboring Mexico and Guatemala.
The BBA had threatened a nationwide shutdown of the country’s transportation system if they could not reach an agreement with government.
The BBA and government had already agreed on the position espoused by the BBA, but an important constituent partner was not on board, that is, stakeholders from the tourism industry.
Following a one-and-a-half hour meeting at the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) building, both sides emerged to announce to the waiting media that they had reached an agreement and government could now sign into law a Statutory Instrument to give legal effect to what had been agreed upon.
Following the meeting, Thomas Shaw, the president of the BBA, told Amandala that this has been a long haul since April. “Today wasn’t a meeting; this was to conclude the conclusion of our meetings,” Shaw said.
Shaw said that everything should have been in place on September 1. “And so today, we met with the Attorney General, the Minister of Transport, the hoteliers and the BTB, and the Statutory Instrument (SI) is in place and will be signed tomorrow right here in a ceremony. Finally, we have come to a conclusion and GOB has finally listened to the Belizean people,” he said.
Amandala asked Shaw what was the demand from the BBA.
“The demands were that if they are going to come into the country… with a manifest from point A to point B, if you come in with 20 people from the west and are heading to the northern border … you are not supposed to pick up anybody in our country.
“Secondly, our demands were to have the buses stop at the border, seeing that our local operators cannot enter Guatemala,” he said.
Shaw said that it is a lie to say that Belizean bus operators cannot do the runs, because we have many tour companies that have upgraded tremendously. He said the foreign buses were selling tickets in our country, and their (Belize) association thought that was a disgrace, and they were at the point where they were planning a strike.
Shaw said that his type of leadership believes in diplomacy, and it actually paid off today, and he thanks the government.
We asked Shaw if he will have to report to his members to get their approval of the agreement that was reached today.
“All of our executives were in the meeting, and my members are kept abreast of every move we make, due to the fact that we have a chat group,” Shaw said, “They already know what took place here today.”
Shaw said that the hoteliers and other stakeholders from the tourism industry say that they have a lot of European tourists who book about a year in advance, and that they (the BBA and Taxi Association) would be “meeting with them on Thursday.”
Shaw said the intention of the association was not to “bring down” the government, “but to work with the government and take care of our Belizean people. Belize must come first. We have to put Belize first.”
Shaw told us the foreign bus companies would only be allowed to do one run in Belize. One Mexican bus will come in, and leave at night. “We are doing that because the Mexican buses assist a lot of Belizeans traveling to Cancun and the United States,” he said.
“On the Guatemalan side, we have moved the goal post, because we had said that we didn’t want any Guatemalan bus, because we are not allowed to go there. Actually, we can enter Mexico, providing we have the insurance. So it will be one bus from the north and one from the west,” he explained.
Shaw said he had not seen the Statutory Instrument (SI) as yet, but their legal advisor will be looking at it before it is signed, to make sure that the terms on which they had agreed are in the SI.
We also spoke to Mark Humes, the chairman for Bus Terminal Market Square Taxi, and asked him to comment on the agreement that was reached today.
Humes said that the consultation started five months ago and the 300 members of the Taxi Association had amalgamated and joined forces with the BBA on agreeing to one bus from Guatemala and one bus from Mexico, running from the terminal.
Humes said that they feel positive about the agreement, because that is what they were working towards. He said that it is sad that the hoteliers and BTB are not on board as yet, because they had concerns about cancellations and so on.
We asked Humes if there is any monitoring mechanism in place to ensure that the agreement is adhered to, and he said they have already told government that they will monitor the situation themselves.
“We will get on those buses to make sure that they are of the best quality. We will monitor those Belizeans going to and from the border. We will make sure that if they are not up to standard, they are taken off the road and replaced with other buses,” Humes said.
“We will continue to have meetings with the BTB, BTIA, and the Ministry of Transport to work at transition, if we have to do some kind of transition for the tour packages that were booked a year in advance,” Humes said.
He added that they have concerns that the Guatemalans might impose a boycott because their buses will not be allowed to run.
Humes thanked the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Transport for the hard work that was put into the agreement. “This is not a place that we have arrived, this is just the beginning,” he said.
Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte explained that on August 7 when government met with the BBA, they had agreed on what the new Statutory Instrument would contain.
“We just wanted the Bus Association and the Taxi Association to appreciate that when you solve one problem, or please one sector of the public, other sectors are affected as well. Immediately after the decision we made on August 7, there was starting to be some kickbacks from the Mexicans [and] the Guatemalans; it was already affecting the local tourism industry,” he said.
Peyrefitte added, “We want the Taxi and the Bus Associations to appreciate that when you solve that problem, it created other problems. The Hotel Association and the Ministry of Tourism had that opportunity today to express their concerns about the decisions we have made, and what we have done through the SI for the Bus and taxi Associations.”
Peyrefitte went on to explain that the Bus and Taxi Associations are aware that there will be a test period between now and October 8 to determine the effect of the Statutory Instrument.
Peyrefitte said that they have agreed that if problems arise that cannot be fixed, they will sit down again and reassess the position that they have taken, because whatever affects one aspect of the tourism industry will affect every aspect of it.
Peyrefitte was asked what is contained within the new Statutory Instrument.
“Well, essentially, because we are a part of the Central American corridor, if a Mexican bus wants to go to Guatemala just in transit through Belize, they will present a manifest at the Mexican border, transit through Belize, do not drop off any passengers, not to pick up any passengers, and enter Guatemala with those same passengers,” he said.
Peyrefitte further explained, “One bus will enter Belize from Mexico and go to the terminal in Belize City to bring people from Mexico to Belize. There will be one stop in Orange Walk Town and the next stop will be in Belize City. The only people that will be able to get on that bus are people who have tickets internationally.
“So, for you to get on that bus in Belize City, you must be going to Mexico. If you get on that bus in Orange Walk Town, you must be going to Mexico, and the same thing in the western corridor. You get on that bus in Belize City, you must be going to Guatemala, with one stop in Belmopan for people who want to go to Guatemala from Belmopan.”
“But there will be no stops along the way to pick up people or other stops within Belize, especially. Essentially, that is what the SI will cover,” Peyrefitte said.