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Floralia Limited had import and excise duty waiver; how will other operators respond to upgrade ultimatum?

Posted: Friday, February 17, 2023. 11:49 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: Leaked documentation shows that in January of 2022, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance John Briceño waived 75 percent import and excise duty for the importation of buses and spare parts for Floralia Limited, the newest player in Belize’s transportation industry.

We were unable to speak to the owner and co-founder of Floralia Marvin Vanzie on Thursday as he was out of the office when we called, but in a statement to Channel 5 News, he maintained that his company paid “G.S.T. (General Sales Tax) and environmental taxes in full, which all Belizeans are obligated to pay. However, there was a reduction in duty and excise tax, which all Belizean businesses can apply for. Despite this, Floralia still paid taxes in excess of four hundred and twenty thousand dollars to the Government of Belize for six buses. By comparison, any other bus operator importing the standard old school bus would pay taxes less than twenty thousand for six buses.”

We are reliably informed that a facility to get such exemptions is afforded to all operators as well as tourism stakeholders; however, none have so far taken advantage.

Vanzie told Channel 7 News earlier this week that he did lobby for lower prices to offset the investment, but was refused because it would “set precedence… it’s going to have to be done for all the other bus operators.”

That would suit Thomas Shaw, president of the Belize Bus Association (BBA) and a member of the National Transport Board, who as of this week is in direct competition with Floralia on the late evening run to Belmopan. He told Channel 5 News: “When I look at it and saw it what came to my mind is if you are giving this company preferential treatment and you want to fix the industry this should have been across the board and being gazetted and it’s the law that for the industry these are the incentives that the government will be giving in order to have the operators upgrade. But when an operator is getting these kinds of treatment and they [hit] on the other operators about old bus and all of it, they can afford to do what they are doing, because nobody is following the money or asking where the money is coming from and the other operators are supposed to fall in line and one operator is benefiting from this and the other operators are right out there, and this is my take on it.”

For the record, Minister of Transport Rodwell Ferguson once again denied having any personal interest in Floralia earlier this week.

The Ministry on Thursday released details of its new standards for ground transportation, which sets a formal ultimatum of half the bus fleets upgraded by the end of this year and the rest by the end of 2024. According to Shaw, he was first informed of this in January.

For that to come true, Shaw says, the hoops in front of his members need to be cleared: “They took us to the National Bank and the manager said; yes I could lend you the money. But, if they do that they need a seat on the board. They denied that so National Bank kept it moving. They said if you want the money you have to have the e-wallet and people has to use the e-wallet and they have to see how much money you are making in order to see if you can pay back the loan. So that is a dead dog you are beating. It is too much of your business they want to know. Operators are not in agreement with that.”

 

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