Headline — 14 November 2018 — by Rowland A. Parks
Right under the PSU’s nose!

Union’s headquarters sold by Belmopan CitCo to a 1-day-old company

BELMOPAN, Mon. Nov. 12, 2018– The Public Service Union (PSU) of Belize has begun mobilizing its members countrywide today after its Belmopan branch discovered that their headquarters was sold by the Belmopan City Council to a Chinese businessman who had registered his construction company at the Belize Companies Registry on October 9 — just a day before the company purchased lot # 6061, the PSU headquarters, for $400,000, a price that is well below the last valuation of the property.

At a press conference this morning, the PSU Belmopan branch vowed, “this is our headquarters and we shall not be moved.”

In 1998, the building known as Hilltop was an abandoned structure when the PSU Belmopan branch was searching for a place to locate its headquarters. Elections were around the corner and the PSU approached both the United Democratic Party and the People’s United Party about getting a building for its Belmopan headquarters, according to Hubert Enriquez, a former official of the union at the time.

The incoming government of Prime Minister Said Musa met with PSU representatives and offered them the Hilltop for their headquarters. There was no Belmopan City Council at the time and the property was leased to the PSU through the RECONDEV in 1998.

In 2001, the PSU was headed by its president Margaret Ventura, who signed the agreement with the Belmopan mayor Anthony Chanona, with Prime Minister Said Musa serving as witness.

Enriquez said what has happened with the PSU property is a disgrace and requires a proper investigation.

On October 9, 2018, Xi Ni, a Chinese-Belizean, and resident of Santa Rita Layout, Corozal District, registered a company “Simplex Design Company Limited,” at the Companies Registry, in Belmopan.

Our investigation has revealed that Ni is listed as the sole director of Simplex Design Company Limited. The company is established to deal with all aspects of building construction.

On October 10, Ni, of #38 Santa Rita Layout, Corozal District, placed his signature as the transferee for parcel #6061 in block number 20 in the Belmopan Registration Section. The Belmopan Mayor, Khalid Belisle, signed as the transferor along with the Belmopan City Administrator Ralston Fraser.

Ni paid a consideration of $400,000 for the 1.507 acres of land.

The certificate of identification of Mayor Belisle and City Administrator Fraser was signed by Phillip N. Timmons, MBE, Justice of the Peace, while Sonju Chulari, a Justice of the Peace from Corozal Town, signed the certificate of identification of Ni. Both identification documents were signed on October 10, 2018, the day of the land sale.

One month and one day later, the president of the PSU, Dareth Cayetano- Obermayer, and Fayne Nicascio signed a Caution as the beneficial owner as per lease agreement dated 19 September, 2001, between the Public Service Union and the Belmopan City Council.

The Caution stated that the lease agreement between the Belmopan City Council and the PSU was for 20 years with an option to purchase.

“The expiration date for the lease would be 2021, please find attached payment toward the purchase of the said lease,” said the Caution.

PSU President Obermayer told the press today that the Belmopan City Council did an evaluation of the property in 2017 and it was valued at 1 million dollars. At that time, the Belmopan City Council assessed the purchase price at $503,000.

On October 9, Obermayer explained, they were supposed to have a meeting with the Belmopan City Administrator, but they waited and waited and Fraser never showed up for their meeting.

When they checked with the cashier about the payment that they had made toward the purchase of the land, they were told that their payments could not be found; only the lease agreement was found.

It was also revealed at today’s press conference that in January 2009, the PSU had sent a $1,000 payment toward the purchase of the land, but this money was not accepted by the Belmopan City Council.

Obermayer said that to date, the PSU has paid around $50,000 toward the purchase of the Hilltop land — with initial payments going to RECONDEV in 1998, and payments thereafter going to the Belmopan City Council.

Today, the Opposition People’s United Party issued a press release condemning the action of the present government.

“The People’s United Party (PUP) condemns the actions of the Government of Belize in dispossessing the Public Service Union (PSU) of a property from right under their nose and in such a back-handed manner. The PUP demands that Government immediately returns this property to the PSU,” said the PUP release.

The release added, “On November 9, 2018, after the PSU made several unsuccessful attempts to meet and or contact the Mayor and his Council, the PSU decided to check the status of the property at the Ministry of Natural Resources, when they were informed that on October 10, 2018, the property was sold to Simplex Design Company Ltd…”

Late this evening, the Belmopan City Council issued a press release on the question of the PSU land that it had sold.

The press release said, “The Belmopan City Council (BCC) takes this opportunity to clarify statements made by the Belize Public Service Union (PSU) as it relates to their headquarters in Belmopan. The building used for the PSU headquarters is situated on Parcel No. 6061 owned by the BCC and was first leased to the PSU in 2001 for a term of 20 years at the rate of $500 per month.

 “Subsequent to the signing of that agreement, a new lease was signed in 2003 for a term of 20 years with a monthly rental in the amount of $500, with an option to purchase upon completion of the contract. All payments made over the course of the lease would then be applied to the purchase of the property if the Union chose to exercise their option to purchase.

“Upon reviewing the records, it was noted by the BCC that only four payments totaling $2,000 had been made by the PSU since 2001. On August 31, 2017, in a meeting with Mayor Khalid Belisle, the PSU was notified that they were in arrears and discussed ways in which to move forward if they planned on purchasing the building. The PSU claims they have made payments totaling between $50,000 and $60,000 since 2001; however, no records were found at the BCC, and neither could they provide receipts totaling more than four payments of $500 each

“In an effort to work with the PSU and maintain a relationship with the union, the BCC was still willing to honor the first right of refusal for purchase despite the breach of contract for nonpayment. The BCC offered the property for purchase at a heavily discounted price of $503,810.54. The PSU then made a counterproposal of $187,278.70, which was less than half of the already discounted valuation.

“While in negotiations with the PSU, an offer was made to the BCC and was accepted in the amount of $400,000, which is more than double the PSU’s best and final offer.”

The release ends saying, “The Belmopan City Council makes it absolutely clear that every effort was made to come to an amicable agreement with the Public Service Union that would be beneficial for all parties involved.

“Unfortunately, negotiations lapsed after more than a year and the BCC made a decision to accept the best offer presented at the time. The decision was made in the interest of recouping lost revenue over the past 17 years which will be used to continue servicing the residents of the growing capital city of Belmopan.”

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Deshawn Swasey

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