BELIZE CITY, Mon. Nov. 15, 2021 — Last Tuesday, Cabinet met to discuss a number of action items to be carried out by various government ministries. One such ministry is the Ministry of Infrastructure Development and Housing, which had been granted approval to work in conjunction with the Attorney General’s Ministry to make amendments to the Belize Building Act and to Statutory Instrument 96. Those amendments are to result in changes to “fees and guidelines that govern payment to the Central Building Authority and on its Municipal Building Units,” according to a Cabinet brief shared by the GOB press office.
Following the publication of the brief, the United Democratic Party issued a statement warning the current PUP administration not to tamper with the regulations and fee structure in place. The release pointed out that there had been “no provision for consultation with all stakeholders in the construction sector, the municipal authorities and the public in general”, unlike the process that had preceded the formulation of the fee structure and laws that are currently in place. The UDP also stated that altering the law which has “worked well is also ill-advised and seems to indicate yet another scheme in the making to squeeze revenue out of an industry just recovering from the negative impacts of the COVID pandemic”. In addition, the party expressed concerns that additional fees would be a burden on industry stakeholders who are already being faced with mounting costs of building material and fuel and warned that GoB’s amendments could further stunt growth in the industry.
The Minister of Infrastructure Development and Housing, Hon. Julius Espat, stated the contrary, in a recent media interview. He said that the changes in the act would be of benefit for people of lesser financial means.
“The Ministry is looking at doing a category of housing applications under a thousand square foot, where we will waive the fee. The concept of this is to be able to have the people of lesser means — give them an opportunity to build their house with less expense, so all we’re asking is that anybody under a thousand square foot, including rural and urban areas, follow the application process. So, you still have to hand in your plan to be able to – we won’t request that you pay the fee. And so, there’s a large portion of the fee structure that we won’t collect,” he said.
He went on to note, “Balancing that, we have had to adjust some of the fee structure. The SI 96, when it was legislated in the past, the designers had in place, for example, for fencing $0.25 a linear foot for the application fee. When the legislation fee was done, and it was drafted, a clerical error was done and instead of $0.25 it was put in as $0.025. So since then, to now it has been very difficult to charge the correct fee because it was not legislated properly. So, we’re just doing due diligence and adjusting that to come back to where it was. After that, some minor changes, nothing much. Most of the fees will remain the same. There are some changes that are different per square foot. For example, the one that is for commercial use, which is banks, stores, restaurants. Instead of the twenty-five cents per square foot, it is proposed to be elevated to thirty cents – a difference of five cents. Where houses, garages, and factories from thirty-five cents to forty cents. Apart from that, in reality everything remains the same; we’re just making sure that it follows the law.”
In regard to consultations, Hon. Espat said that the decision to bring the proposal to Cabinet was in fact a precursor to speaking with stakeholders in the construction and building industry.
“The important thing that we are trying to do with this revised building act is, Cabinet had approved the Belize Building Codes, and the building codes is worked in conjunction with the international building codes. They fall under what you call the International Code Council. We have already signed a contract with them to to assist us in developing a Belize Building Code. For the Belize Building Code to function properly, the Belize Building Act had to be updated and adjusted and amended to suit those requirements that will be coming in. So that is what we went to Cabinet for. To seek approval. Not to legislate right now but to be able to communicate directly with the Attorney General’s Ministry and start the consultations with all the stakeholders – the architects, the technicians, the contractors and show them and explain to them what we’re doing. Our mandate under this new leadership in the Ministry, we want partnerships, we don’t want to impose anything, so in reality to be able to have partnerships we have to do proper consultation, because these are the stakeholders in the industry,” he said.
The Minister estimated that these amendments to the SI will come into effect in the early part of 2022 before the fiscal year begins. He stated that architects are also doing the necessary building code training to become familiar with what the process entails. The Building Act Amendment is pending review from the Attorney General’s Ministry. The new Building Codes, however, are expected to be complete by the end of 2022, with the presentation of the draft legislation making its way to Cabinet in July of next year.