The Mayor of Belize City, Mr. Darrell Bradley, has not committed to run again for Mayor, well after the deadline for application set by his United Democratic Party.
The question Belizeans are asking is: WHY?
Mr. Bradley is a relatively young lawyer….under whose leadership Belize City has seen significant improvements in the conditions of streets and parks….with over 100 streets now cemented, and the principal parks completely overhauled….with a full year left in his three-year term.
This improvement is already yielding benefits in the cost-of-doing business in the city…with significant reductions in time, cost and convenience of moving around the city.
No doubt mistakes have been made….especially with regards to the structural designs and construction of the streets….not making provisions for proper drainage and culverts, nor for utility conduits. It is not that he was not advised, because many many persons, including myself, had made cautions in writing. So light showers now cause major flooding in the city and grave inconveniences to city residents….not to speak of the potential health hazards. The good mayor has been accused by his detractors of not having the qualities of a good listener….of being
stubborn….and perhaps he has done everything he could to prove them right.
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His leadership saw the first successful placement of municipal bonds in Belize, with which he afforded the investments in cemented streets…financed by committing the portion of cruise-ship passenger head-tax allotted to the Belize City Council….an important achievement in itself, a decentralization of tax revenues negotiated by the previous mayor. So, the funds were already there….just that this mayor came up with a plan of how to use these resources….and to link it to a private-public structuring of the municipal bond….for which this mayor goes down in history as the first to achieve this new financing instrument for municipal development, with very large potential for providing the city with solutions…and for challenges….depending on how it is managed.
The developments during these first two years of his becoming Mayor are on the level of those cornerstone developments such as the building of Haulover Creek, the Mesopotamia and Borden Canals, The Water and Sewage project, the land-filling of Caribbean Shores, West Landivar, Belama Phase 1-3, Buttonwood Bay, the building of the Municipal Airstrip, the BelCan and BelChina bridges, the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital, the University of Belize, the Marine Promenade and the seawall that protects the Belize City coastline from erosion. However, the streets and parks projects of this mayor has more cosmetic features…more sexy, so to speak….compared with the structural functionality of the past projects mentioned and now taken for granted by voters….and thus the perception that this mayor has done wonders for Belize City….certainly much more than the recent mayors the city has seen and can remember.
The past projects were all sunken in central government finance allocations as they were financed by national debt….with financing spread over the shoulders of all Belizean tax payers….while the mayor’s municipal bond for the streets are being financed by city revenues….with city finances now stretched thin.
Now that the mayor has completed his bond-financed street project….he needs to know where financing will come from for his next terms’ projects…and he probably has not identified such source of new financing. He would become a sitting duck mayor. In such scenario, perhaps he had better set his political sights on constituency representation?
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There needs to be an independent audit of the use of bond finances….to ensure that the funds were appropriately allocated and to report to bond holders….if good fundamentals are proven, then the central government should buy out those bonds…and free up the municipal body to raise more public-private funds for continued development of the city using the freed-up head-tax allocation….taking into account the lessons learned.
Either that, or double the allocation of the portion of cruise tourism head-tax that goes to Belize City.
Alternatively, it can take a more progressive brush stroke in decentralization by allocating the Environmental Tax (ET) revenues….projected to be $24.5 million this year….across all municipalities based on per-population portioning….such that Belize City would get around 20% or around $5 million per year.
The powers that be would have to evaluate the current use of the entire head tax….to be satisfied that a reallocation of the portions will have significant cost-benefit and desirable results. In the case of the ET reallocation, Government would have to rationalize some of its forecast expenses/responsibilities that would now devolve to the town and city governments.
That Belize needs more and better decentralization of tax resources goes without saying.
This has to be placed in the context of our national need to reduce tax burden on each shoulder overall….so that the economy becomes more competitive and productive.
Fiscal overhaul is about when, where, what and how….not why or if.
Bold, prudent, pragmatic and wise leadership is required to achieve this.
This article was written by Richard Harrison, Belizean investor in production and services businesses in Belize. He holds a Masters in Business Administration degree from Lancaster University.
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