Most businesses in Belize and the world have been suffering financial losses because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so no one would be surprised if Port of Belize Ltd. is seeing lowered profits or is operating in the red. The company, which was taken over by the Belize Bank in 2012, and has been in receivership since, recently told its employees that business is down and as a consequence it would be reducing their salaries. The employees of the company who are members of the Christian Workers Union (CWU) responded that before accepting a reduction in salary they needed Port of Belize Ltd. to open its books and show the managers of the CWU its financial statements.
In a recent meeting with the press, the president of the CWU, Evan Hyde, Jr., told the media that since taking over in 2012 the receivership has been in violation of an article in the present collective bargaining agreement which says that any/every year the company makes a net profit of $500,000, the employees are entitled to a bonus equivalent to 5% of their basic salary. Hyde told the media that the audited financials of the company have not been provided to the CWU since the receivership took over, “and the 5% bonus became 3% without any consultation with, or agreement from” the union’s members.
If there is logic in this world, and honor, the audited accounts of Port of Belize Ltd. must be presented to the representatives and experts appointed by the union. How else can workers know what they deserve? It is very disrespectful behavior by the management of Port of Belize Ltd. to keep this information away from the workers, and it cannot be tolerated in the independent Belize.
The leader of the Belize Progressive Party, Mr. Patrick Rogers, in a conversation with the host of the WuB morning show on Tuesday morning, noted that receiverships in Belize are in the sick habit of taking advantage of people/companies whose businesses are in distress. Our interest here, however, is not in how the Belize Bank got control of the port from its former owner, Mr. Luke Espat, but in the behavior of the receivership, and the likelihood that it is being influenced by the Belize Bank’s owner, Lord Michael Ashcroft. That gentleman might have done a few good things in Belize, but behind him is a trail of disrespect.
Lord Ashcroft, the owner of the Belize Bank, which now owns Port of Belize Ltd., acquired two prized publicly built businesses: one, BTL, from a government that was later chased from office, and the other, Port of Belize Ltd., during the tenure of a government which the people hired to make right what had gone wrong, but which instead compounded the felonies in the interest of perpetuating their time in office.
His supporters say that Lord Ashcroft loves Belize and that his plan is to make Belize a wealthy country, like the Turks & Caicos Islands where he reportedly has a lot of investments. The Turks & Caicos Islands are a British Overseas Territory, effectively a colony. Belize chose statehood, independence. We aren’t looking for investors to dictate the way forward for us; we are looking for partners who are genuine in helping to build Belize, and have respect for our people.
It might be that Lord Ashcroft has had too much interaction with hustling politicians, and employees who go gaga over his wealth. He is supposed to have spent some of his youth in Belize, but he can’t have had much interaction with the people who are the salt of the Belizean earth. He must have little knowledge of our history. Belizeans are a proud, hardworking people, and he should have learned that by now. As Mr. Alfredo Ortega, the chairman of the Orange Walk branch of the Cane Farmers Association said some time ago, Belizeans are not about kneeling to any foreign company, and we will go back to eating tortillas and beans, or rice and beans, before we give up our dignity.
Ownership has certain privileges, but it must still be in compliance with the labor laws of Belize. On the matter of these businesses built by the people of Belize, which were acquired by Lord Ashcroft from a government that lost its way and during the tenure of a government that is sick with self-interest, a higher level of respect is demanded. Port of Belize Ltd. has not been respectful when negotiating with the Port’s workers over the years, and in these desperate times of COVID-19 the Port’s management remains disdainful.
What is happening at the Port is not right, and it goes beyond Port Loyola; it involves every worker, every person in this country. This is gross disrespect. We are not colonial subjects. Lord Ashcroft’s investments are welcome in Belize, but it is conditional — the condition being that he and his surrogates have the utmost respect for our people.
The threats to our COVID-19 defense
Anyone can get infected by the new coronavirus, but for the good of others, especially family and friends whom we interact with regularly, and the nurses and doctors who will be exposed if we end up needing hospital care, we must all do our best to not get the disease. Something else that’s good for us to keep in mind is that the best marketing tool for our country is to be COVID-19 free, or have the disease fully contained.
We have been given expert advice on what to do to protect ourselves, and how to avoid spreading the disease to others if we get infected but, as they say, you cannot force a horse to drink after leading it to the water. There are people who, for varied reasons, are not respecting the safety measures we are called to observe.
Among those who are not respecting the safety measures are the superstitious, the ignorant, people who cross our borders illegally, the defiant, those who have blind faith, and those who have been and are being failed by the government. It will take extra effort, different tactics, to reach each group, but it is for the good of Belize, so we must pray that the authorities do a better job of getting the message across, and that the government steps up where it is not doing a good job.