Thursday, April 16th, 2015. Aaron Humes Reporting: Fort Street Tourism Village and the Feinstein Group have gone to court over the agreements signed in the early 2000’s for the then-Belize Tourism Village that gave it exclusive rights to dock cruise ship passengers. Michael Feinstein is now preparing to build his own docking facility at Stake Bank off the mainland.
The Government of Belize is monkey in the middle and Prime Minister Dean Barrow today said that it has sought to find an accord between the two sides that protects each of their interests. He has met with both sides and is now preparing to meet with the single largest provider of cruise passengers to Belize, Carnival Cruise Lines. While the Prime Minister was not keen to go into details on the way forward at this time he did say that it involves a trip back to the House of Representatives to legislate for the head tax – the monies collected from passengers entering Belize of which various entities receive a portion.
He would then go back to each side until a final agreement is reached. FSTV have retained Barrow’s own law firm Barrow and Williams as counsel but the P.M., who is not practicing at this time, says that has no material consequence. If anything, his preference is for the Stake Bank project to proceed, preferably by the end of this year
The case resumes later this year with trial if no agreement is formally reached before then.
Half a million looted from Treasury?
The Government of Belize faces some financial worries tonight, as police are investigating a reported theft from the Treasury. Certainly more than $350,000 and reports say as much as half a million, up to reportedly a million dollars was taken in several installments. But how was it done? Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow, who was briefed earlier this week by Financial Secretary Joseph Waight, says certain officials participated in a scam involving Government accounts over a period of time without notice from the bosses. They would access legitimate payments for particular accounts, changing account numbers while retaining the names. One of the local banks apparently caught on when it found a mismatch between a certain name and account number and reported the matter.
While police are still investigating the Prime Minister says arrests, as of when he was last briefed, are yet to come. They are still gathering evidence in the case. He referred the press to FinSec Waight for an update as of tomorrow after he is briefed or the Central Bank.
BTB to scrap increments?
The Belize Tourism Board is reported to be facing a cash crunch that has led to an unpopular plan to end increments for workers, replacing them with 5% end-of-year bonuses. While the former are not taxable, the latter are, and disgruntled employees are reported to be hiring legal counsel to pursue their interests. The Prime Minister weighed in on the issue today, saying he was not aware of either the reports or claims that the BTB is “running broke,” though the Board is in a hole financially. The P.M. referred the press to the BTB Board and CEO Karen Bevans, saying they had the matter in hand.
PM promises to keep trying with audit requirements
Auditor General Dorothy Bradley has fingered the Government of Belize for being unable to reconcile 22 accounts as part of its annual audit exercise which resulted in an adverse review charging that it is not a true picture of Government finances as well as contracts being drawn up after work is finished. Today Prime Minister Dean Barrow responded by noting that that is in the province of public servants and not their political overlords, but he committed to seeking improvements.
Speaking generally in terms of the report the Prime Minister said he is satisfied that the house is for the most part in order and the allegations of corruption directed at his administration have been curbed.
PM Barrow clarifies banking remarks
At the preliminary meeting before the 7th Summit of the Americas convened last week in Panama, Prime Minister of Belize Dean Barrow told his counterparts that under pressure from internal regulators, major banks in the United States are “de-risking” in response to strict anti-money laundering regulations and ending their correspondent relationships with domestic banks. It has not yet become a major problem in Belize, but has become so elsewhere, so much so that U.S. President Barack Obama heard several entreaties from regional leaders in both Jamaica and Panama. Today the PM said Obama has made a proposal in regard to the issue and the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne and Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela are to write separately on behalf of the Caribbean and Central American heads of government on the matter for follow-up.
In regards to Belize’s situation, the Prime Minister said he wanted to avert any potential crisis. Belize senses what may be coming but for now no local banks are affected; however the offshore banks may be the first to be dropped in what the PM called “ominous mutterings.”
P.M. defends Ray Davis on Senate vote
The Petrocaribe Loans Act, 2015, passed with six votes to five in the Senate, with one abstention – that of the Senator representing the Trade Unions, Ray Davis. Davis is now waging an internal battle with elements, particularly the militant second vice president of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), who want him to resign for not properly representing their interests in the upper chamber. Today Prime Minister Dean Barrow was called on to defend a childhood schoolmate and said that that relationship did not preclude Davis from being his own man. More importantly, he says, it did not influence that crucial vote. The Prime Minister otherwise declined to get involved in the Congress’ internal politics as it debates Davis’ fate. But he did note that the unions are benefiting from the Government’s spending of the Petrocaribe funds through their seats on the Belize Infrastructure Limited Board and the National Bank of Belize.
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