At press time this evening there was still an impasse between the PUP Government of Belize and the UDP Opposition-controlled Belize City Council over the payment of over $300,000 from the cruise tourist head tax to the Belize City Council, and all indications are that the Council and the Opposition are mustering national support to pressure Government into paying the Council what it had promised.
Mayor Zenaida Moya would not reveal her plans to the newspaper this evening, but reiterated that the Council has jurisdiction over the City, and both the Council and party organs countrywide are “mobilizing our people,” she said.
The suspense is creating serious tension in the tourism industry and late this evening, 12 prominent stakeholders in the industry issued a joint statement, appealing for cool heads to prevail and for the parties to talk with each other and settle their differences. The BTB appealed in its press release issued last Tuesday against “actions that may potentially destabilize the industry.”
“The undersigned cruise operators and stakeholders of Belize are very cognizant of local needs and believe that it is essential that long-term solutions be found to address these needs,” said the statement from the cruise industry stakeholders: Cruise Solutions Limited, Fort Street Tourism Village, Caribbean Shipping Ltd., Future Vision Inv. Co. Ltd., Bakabush Adventure Tours Ltd., Fabtours, Bel-Cruise, Discovery Divers Ltd., Tour Belize, Belize Dive Connection, Barrister Island Resort Ltd., and Sealand Tours.
In a release issued Friday evening the Council claimed that the Belize Tourism Board owes it $374,328.00 in back payments, and so when the BTB called the Mayor’s office on Friday, telling them to pick up a $100,000 cheque from the BTB, the Mayor flatly turned it down.
Why would a Council that claims to be so badly in need of money turn down a hundred grand? Mayor Zenaida Moya told us today that it is a matter of principle. She said that last Monday, January 15, when the Council agreed to call off protest action it had planned for Tuesday, January 16, to pressure Government and the BTB to pay the BCC, they were promised that the back payments would be made on Tuesday.
The Council claims that to date it has not gotten an explanation why the money had not been paid and so now, it is preparing to reinstitute protest action.
For its part the BTB issued a statement on Thursday, January 18, saying, “…the Belize Tourism Board has agreed to make an additional disbursement to the City Council by the end of this week. This will be followed, as early as possible, with further disbursements to the Council, based on the Belize Tourism Board’s cash flow projections and the implementation of the Craft and Vendors Market.”
But the Council is saying it is rejecting this piecemeal approach—and it wants what is due to the Council under a Memorandum of Understanding that the parties signed last September.
“…the BTB…has made clear that it is only prepared to make an initial payment…the payment of even the balance of the arrears will depend on the whim and fancy of the BTB,” the BCC said in a release it issued on Friday.
“It is amazing that this government still doesn’t get it. There is overwhelming public support for the City of Belize’s entitlement to the U.S. $1.00 out of the head tax. The cruise tour operators, the National Trade Union Congress of Belize, We the People Movement, and multiple other organizations and individuals have signaled that support. But with its usual arrogance, this PUP administration refuses to answer the public call and do the just and honorable thing.” said the Council’s press release.
The Belize Tourism Board said that it “…recognizes that Belize City is currently the only entry point for cruise ship passengers and that there are associated costs in ensuring the visitor experience is safe, pleasant and enjoyable.” It also said that it “recognizes that as the cruise sector continues to develop, there is a need to determine a long-term solution to address the City’s infrastructural and management requirements. The board will work with all relevant parties to that end.”
Mayor Moya said that while last week’s protests would have proceeded if it were left up to her, “everything happens for a reason.”
What has come out of the recent developments, she said, is a demonstration of “continued intransigence and disrespect at the highest level” – because it was the Prime Minister and the Minister of Tourism who promised the Opposition Leader that the Council would have gotten its money six days ago, she said. It shows that they cannot be held at their word, Moya remarked, adding that the Council and the Opposition have been “calm and patient.”
Belize City residents need to understand that the money the Council is requesting will help the Council to provide services and improve the infrastructure of the City, she added.
Meanwhile, the tourism stakeholders mentioned earlier are extremely nervous about the latest impasse and the risk of tourists being turned away by it.
Their statement urged: “Tourism’s economic impact on Belize is vast; however, it is an industry for which all the countries in the region compete very fiercely. It is one, therefore, that must be carefully guarded and managed as it can easily be lost to neighborhood countries.”
The Council said in its statement that “…any repercussions, whether to the cruise sector of the tourism industry or otherwise” will be the direct fault of the ruling party.