By Khaila Gentle
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. May. 5, 2022
The Prime Minister has made public statements to justify his administration’s decision to award a contract to the Belize Bank for the use of its e-wallet services as the medium through which employers will be paying for temporary work permits online—a decision that has been criticized by the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), which has pointed to the fact that the government could have used the e-wallet services provided by the National Bank of Belize through its NBB Pay platform.
Several entities had been bidding for the contract—including Digi, Smart, Heritage Bank, and the National Bank of Belize.
Prime Minister Hon. John Briceño stated that the government is simply trying to make it easier for citizens to make payments. During an interview on Thursday evening, Briceño stated, “What we have to do, we have to give our citizens the opportunity to have any service. We’re not giving a monopoly to one—or to the Belize Bank. All of these different services including the National Bank and BTL, we are going to use those services. But if you do not have an account with the National Bank and you have an account with Belize Bank, then how can we make it easier for you as a citizen to make your payments to the Government of Belize? We need to make it easy for people to pay and I wish that the NTUCB that they would think out things carefully and clearly before they speak out,” said the Prime Minister.
Hon. Briceño further told local media that he wishes the NTUCB would “think out things carefully and clearly before they speak out” and also said that it’s unfortunate that they do not seem to understand business—a refrain previously deployed by the Prime Minister when a $3.3 million contract for the provision of Microsoft software was given to Speednet’s SMART, instead of the nationally owned Belize Telecommunications Limited.
Shane Reneau, a representative for the NTUCB that is on the National Bank’s board, spoke on the Congress’ position while on the Wake Up Belize Morning Vibes talk show last month. According to Reneau, the NTUCB believes that whenever a state-owned entity can provide a service that the Government is seeking, the tender should be awarded to that entity.
“It is time for us to start building ourselves instead of building others. These private entities—the profits generated from these private entities does not go to our Consolidated Revenue Funds. Those go to private entities’ pockets,” Reneau had said.
Notably, the privately owned Belize Bank, which is reportedly owned by Lord Michael Ashcroft, is currently viewed by a number of local trade unions as an entity that has been complicit in the undermining of trade unions and the labor movement in the country, due to its affiliation with the Port of Belize Ltd. (also supposedly owned by Ashcroft-affiliated entities), which has brought a lawsuit against the members of the Christian Workers Union (CWU) in what many see as an attempt to punish them for industrial action carried out by the union earlier this year.
As an expression of solidarity with the union, and in condemnation of what they see as an attack on trade union activities in Belize, both the Belize National Teachers Union and the Public Service Union have closed their accounts at the Belize Bank and taken their business elsewhere.
The PSU stated in a press release that the actions of the Belize Bank-affiliated Port of Belize LTD. to freeze a payment of $1.5 million to the stevedores who belong to the CWU was,” financial and legal harassment of the CWU, its President, and members by the proprietors of the Port of Belize Ltd (PBL) and it condemned the actions of the Port of Belize Limited as “a threat to all workers and an attacked on the Belizean trade union movement….intimidation and retaliation against workers who choose to collectively bargain in order to better protect their rights when faced with injustice.”
It also reasoned in the release that its decision to seek financial services at other banking institutions in the country, “increases competition in the banking sector, resulting in lowers service fees, better interest rates, and improved banking services for the Union, while its general membership benefits from lower banking service and lower interest rates on loans and mortgages.”