There is only one way to interpret the proposal from the receivership at the Port of Belize Ltd. (PBL) that an international mediator be hired to resolve the impasse between the company and its workers, and that is that PBL, whoever is pulling the strings, has little or no respect for the Ministry of Labor or our country. Every Belizean should bristle at this suggestion of a foreign arbitrator.
We are aware that Lord Ashcroft is the owner of the Belize Bank, and that the owner of Port of Belize Ltd., Mr. Luke Espat, for reasons not yet fully explained, owed the bank money, wasn’t meeting his payments, and so the management of the port was handed over to a receivership.
Lord Ashcroft, on his television station, Channel Five, said that in the BTL dispute the Government of Belize had acted “contrary to the investment protection treaty that they had signed” with the United Kingdom. This leads to the question: Is the impasse at the port between the receivership and the workers, or is it between Lord Ashcroft and the workers? If it is the latter, does this investment protection agreement kick into action with a simple negotiation between a British investor and Belizean workers?
The leadership of the Christian Workers Union (CWU), which represents the workers at PBL, has said that at the root of the impasse are PBL’s failure to settle on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with its staff and the stevedores, and also PBL’s refusal to show their financials. The CWU has said it needs to see PBL’s balance sheet because there is an agreement that if the company does well the workers get a bonus, and it also needs to see whether there is justification in the company’s claim that pandemic-induced losses are so great that it had to cut wages and lay off workers.
PBL’s refusal to share its financials with the workers’ representative(s) isn’t logical. How can the workers have an agreement with the company that if business is good they get a bonus, but the company’s balance sheet is top secret?
There are businesses that hate unionized labor, because where there is a union the workers are more like partners than servants. The workers at the port have a union.
PBL has to understand that we stopped being colonial subjects in 1981. All that the workers at PBL are asking for is a new CBA, and respect.
GoB struggling to hold things together
Belize, like most other countries in the world, is focused on survival, how to make it through the pandemic without falling apart. Almost every country has to survive with less, and those who were in the category of having little, like Belize was, are going through especially harsh times.
Gone are the days when we were splurging, spending the $450 million from the Petro Caribe, the $500 million from revenues derived from the oil fields in Spanish Lookout, and the many millions from a multitude of lending agencies and countries, with no thoughts of us ever having a rainy day. On Wednesday the Prime Minister called a press conference, at which it was announced that the government had scraped the bottom of the barrel to deliver a $10 million line of credit for our hard-hit tourism industry.
The difficult times have tested the Prime Minister, and we might be witnessing his best performance in all the years he has been the leader of our country. Whatever the reasons for us being flat broke, when the pandemic hit us, he has risen to the task to keep us from collapsing. As time goes by, however, things are getting tougher, and one consequence of that is that the country is becoming more lawless.
There is an unfortunate increase in armed robberies across the country. In most of the recent armed robberies the gangsters have gotten away with cash and goods, and in some cases the victims have also suffered physical harm. Last week was particularly cruel, with one shopkeeper being stabbed viciously a number of times, and there was the shocking, cold-blooded murder of a popular fast food entrepreneur.
Things are bad, and armed robberies are the types of crimes that can completely crush an economy. The government must make a greater effort to address the physical needs of our citizens who have desperate needs, and our government’s security forces must keep a closer eye on those who are inclined to commit violent crimes, such as armed robbery. No nation can survive without small businesses, and many will shut up their shops if the danger of doing business is too great.
In these hard times it is particularly disheartening that our leaders are trying to milk every last drop from us, a prime example of that being the recent issuance of a new Boledo contract for ten years, with the winners of that being a known favorite of the government, and a suspicious entity or entities registered as an offshore company in St. Lucia.
At this time we have a government that is very unpopular because it is riddled with corruption, and especially for that reason most Belizeans are looking forward to the next general election with great zeal. The general election should be called no later than the first week in November; however, it might have to be pushed back. The Belize Peace Movement has a case before the court to have a redistricting exercise done by the Elections and Boundaries Department because of the tremendous disparity in the number of electors in some areas.
In the May 2019 Referendum there were 7,611 electors in Stann Creek West, while there were only 1,409 electors in the least populated division, Fort George in Belize City. The area in the districts with the least number of electors was Corozal Bay, with 4,104 voters; yet, only one of Belize City’s ten divisions has more than that —Port Loyola with 4,462. The call for redistricting is gathering momentum, and if the court rules in favor, it might be déjà vu to 1998, when the term of a UDP government was extended almost two months.
If the general election is pushed back it won’t be the best news on the economic front, because at this time we are a country that is dying for new energy and new ideas. It might matter less where that energy comes from — a near completely overhauled UDP, a fresh PUP, or a surprise third party – than it matters that we have a change. While we wait for that next general election, we have to hope that our struggling government can keep holding the pieces together.