Important Note: This Internet version of 7 News is a verbatum
transcript of our evening television news script. Many interviews on our newscast
are conducted in Creole. In the interest of clarity for our foreign readers,
we attempt to paraphrase the Creole quotes in English
David Nanes Schnitzer is in a Mexican City jail, awaiting trail on charges that he defrauded investors in a Ponzi scheme. He was caught in Mexico after coming over form Cuba, in a bearded disguise.
But, in Belize, a place that Nanes-Schnitzer is believed to have made his home for as many as three years, he needed no disguise. And that is because he - or his agents - worked the corrupt immigration system like a bag of tricks, coming up with one surprise after another.
Nanes-Schnitzer applied for nationality in late 2012 - what you might call the "bad old days" when the Immigrant Office in Belmopan was over-run by irregularities - the kinds that we hear about every week in the Senate Hearings. But this case never made it into the auditor general's report. But, there was a report, done by then Director Maria Marin. The media has now obtained this internal document which provides a compelling insight into how easily the system was hijacked to produce a passport for a fugitive:
This 14 page internal memorandum compiles everything that went wrong - just within the immigration department - with the issuance of a fraudulent passport to David Nanes Schnitzer.
His applicant was accepted in November, 2012, and that's where the funny business started with his name.
From the start, his own sworn affidavit states his name as Nanes, and the two referees also declared his name as Nanes.
But somehow, the officer who accepted the applicant,
Ady Pacheco even though the receipt is written out using the name David Names
she accepted a nationality application with the letter "B," as in Banes subsisted for "N," as in Nanes. That eventually became Belziean citizen David Banes.
Director Maria Marin who wrote the report noted, quote, "there is nothing on the file to support or justify the change in the applicant's name from Nanes to Banes…there is no basis for the change in the names." But it still happened - in spite of all the documentation clearly stating otherwise.
Director Marin insists that Pacheco should have recognized the glaring inconsistencies.
But, according to the Director's report, Pacheco didn't even ensure that a photo of the applicant with his personal particulars was included in the file. The director says this, quote, "indicates neglect and disregard of procedures."
Pacheco also did not notice that the copy of Nanes's US passport had been tampered with. The bio data page had his name as Banes, but the machine readable area listed his name as Nanes.
On, the the Us Embassy stated:
"these two fields must reflect the same information or the passport is considered to be illegitimate." But Ms Pacheco passed it on as a "certified true copy."
The Director notes that Pacheco even accepting the application in the first place, quote, "is not a duty that she would normally perform."
The Director notes also that it was out of the norm that the interview "was conducted on the same day that the application was submitted and by the same accepting officer. There is routinely a one or two week waiting period for interviews." The Director notes, quote, "the entire process was carried out by Ms. Pacheco even though it was not the norm for one officer to perform several steps in the application process." End quote.
And, there are inconsistencies in what she put together. First she states that Banes was a permanent resident since 2004, and in that same form she writes that he was a permanent resident since 2006. Of course, neither statement is factual. He was not a legitimate permanent resident.
There is no permanent resident file for either David Banes or David Nanes. In fact, the permanent residence file his name is linked to actually goes to one Warren Edward Mudry.
Later on in the file, it notes that there is a recommendation from Minister Edmond Castro - which is then forwarded to the then Director, Ruth Meighan.
We note that his application was also signed by Gonzalo Heredia - brother of Minister Manuel Heredia - a senior JP - who attested that he had known Nanes for 5 years. Nanes was not in the country during that period.
His nationality was approved but he didn't even show up for the swearing in ceremony. He never signed the oath, but still his certificate was illegally released through the backdoor.
And of course, he got a passport and so many other forms of identification after properly bamboozling the system - which seems not too hard to do.
Director Marin recommended disciplinary action against officers Ady Pacheco and the Former Officer In Charge of Nationality Gordon Wade. The two are still with the department.
Those two public officers, plus former Director Ruth Meighan, and a UDP Minister are all Nanes called in the internal report.
The Senate Select Committee can or have called these persons to testify. In fact, Gordon Wade was called back this evening, and we'll have more from him in tonight's newscast. But, the Committee Chairman says that he doesn't believe that the Committee can question them about the David Nanes Case.
That's because the Nanes scandal was never covered in the audit period of 2011 to 2013, and so, the Chairman believes that they aren't allowed to bring up that topic in these hearings. Here's how he explained why:
Daniel Ortiz "Can you share your personal view on whether the committee is able to review cases that maybe outside the scope of the audit report but it demonstrates the same irregularities that the senate is trying to examine?"
Hon. Aldo Salazar - Chairman, Senate Select Committee "I think our terms of reference are very clear, we can only examine that which are in the report, which are produced in the report for that period 2011 to 2013; In my view we can't go beyond that. If something only tangentially on that I believe we can but if it's something that is totally outside of the period or outside of the report itself then I don't believe we have any - in relation to that."
Reporter "So in specifically in the case of Nanes Schnitzer which does fall within the time frame but is not highlighted in the report; what would happen in relation to that?"
Hon. Aldo Salazar "I am not familiar with any details of the Nanes Schnitzer matter, I don't know about any allegations against Ms. Pacheco in that regards and as far as I'm concerned I myself am not concerned with, that is a matter for the police or other authorities, not for me."
Reporter "Sir have you heard back from Ms. Pacheco about when she would be available to the committee?"
Hon. Aldo Salazar "Ms Pacheco is not able to attend because of a certain medical issue which I don't wish to disclose. There is a time period by which that will expire; a medical survey is for a certain period. I can't really say what will happen thereafter."
Reporter "You do recall though that when Senator Lisa Shoman then the lead opposition senator brought a motion before the senate in 2015 December, you voted against that motion alongside the leader of government business Mr. Hulse who she was asking to recuse himself. So you are aware of the case."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "Nanes Schnitzer?"
Hon. Aldo Salazar "Yes I am but the question is whether I am going to commence an investigation, I don't have that power."
Reporter "To question removing your hat as chairman, to question you as a senator taking that decision back then, I'm not sure if you've been following it up but with the revelations now that there was clearly fraud and although the nationality and passport were revoked there was never any police investigation into the matter to find out who were the ones who committed that wrong doing. Do you feel that there should be such an investigation or a police investigation?"
Hon. Aldo Salazar "Well I don't know - I haven't studied any of the things that you're saying, I don't know that there wasn't an investigation. If what you're saying is true that there was illegality, there's wrong doing then I believe that any illegality should be investigated but I don't know, I don't really know, I haven't seen what they are speaking about on Plus TV and really it's not my responsibility to do that. When the matter comes before the senate then we will consider it at that point."
So, we turn now to the immigration hearings held by the Senate today in Belmopan. Teresita Castellanos, the former Finance Officer for the Department, was one of 2 witnesses called back to testify today.
Her time on the stand was spent mostly on administrative matters, but close to the end of it, the Senators asked her about a very curious case highlighted in the passport Audit. It involves a 500-dollar bribe which the former officer in charge of the passport office was allegedly given to process the Belizean passport for a Asian woman.
Now, instead of making a formal complaint and handing the money over to the police to investigate this bribery attempt. The Auditor General questions the decisions they took to instead collect the money and deposit it into the Government purse as regularly collected revenues. So, since Castellanos was part of the courier for payment, the Senators asked her about, it. That topic caused an interesting back and forth between Castellanos and the Committee, which would have been comical, if they weren't talking so casually about a crime. Here's how that went:
Teresita Castellanos - Former FO, Immigration Department "This 500 dollars was given to me by the director. I did not get anything Mr. Sambula nor Ms. Chavarria - I don't know what the report has but Ms. Ruth Meighan the then director called me and she explained to me what happened and she told me before I have the money the 500. I did not get it right away and then somehow I believe later on I reminded because she was going out for a meeting - I don't recall if it was the following day or a couple days afterwards but I went to her office and I asked the director for the money. During that while I made contact with the treasury, FO and told her the situation and the combination of cost, under what we would pay it."
Hon. Aldo Salazar - Chairman, Senate Select Committee "Miss I don't think you understand, they are saying that this is bribe money. It's a bribe; somebody was being paid to do something."
Teresita Castellanos "Yes but do you want me to start from there because I did not see the report. Yes from what Ms. Chavarria is saying here, yes it was a bribe at the time. At the time the passport office, they still had a passport office in Belize City that it was printing passport. That bribe took place in Belize City with Ms. Chavarria and a Chinese individual. The thing is that, that money was handed to the director and if you want to get to the bottom of it yes I went and I got the money from the director but regarding the report and the bribe - that's why I'm saying we paid 500 as I was instructed into the treasury, that money was paid into the treasury. That money that the person took - the 500 that person took to Ms. Chavarria, Ms. Chavarria did not accept the money."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "I have no confessed that I am absolutely confused. We really need to get to the bottom of this."
Teresita Castellanos "According to Ms. Chavarria she was given the 500 to facilitate the passport. That happened in Belize City at the passport office at the time."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "So Ms. Chavarria got money from somebody? A bribe-"
Teresita Castellanos "Yes to facilitate a passport."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "For a passport, and then what happened?"
Teresita Castellanos "Ms. Chavarria claimed she did not take the money, she left it on the desk."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "So money was left on the desk?"
Teresita Castellanos "Mhmm."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "And then what happened?"
Teresita Castellanos "That part I don't think, I think the director was in Belize City- Ms. Chavarria must have brought it up to her."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "Who was the director at that time?"
Teresita Castellanos "Ms. Ruth Meighan. Some investigation was done in regarding that passport."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "Let's just focus on the question. So then the director Ruth Meighan somehow got the money which according to Ms. Chavarria was left on the desk as bribe to facilitate a passport. Then the director spoke to you?"
Teresita Castellanos "Yes I was brought into the picture."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "And told you this money is bribe money?"
Teresita Castellanos "Mhmm, yes."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "But you were going to pay it into the revenue?"
Teresita Castellanos "Yes."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "So your involvement, you found out there was bribe money, it was left on a desk at immigration office Belize City, the director found out, she gave you the money in order for you to pay it into government and that the police?"
Teresita Castellanos "When it comes to that I don't know if there is any investigation into that-"
Hon. Aldo Salazar "How did you record that revenue?"
Teresita Castellanos "I went to the Belmopan sub treasury - I personally went and paid it in and got a government receipt."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "Paid it in as what?"
Teresita Castellanos "We refer to a file to a file of this investigation. It has a reference on it and even the audit was questioned but I advised by the finance officer of the sub treasury - I gave her the whole detail and they collected it and they referred it to a file reference of that same investigation."
Another of the witnesses who came back today for a second round with the Senate Committee was Gordon Wade, formerly the Officer In Charge of Nationality at the Immigration Department.
PUP Senator Eamon Courtenay used that opportunity to get more information from him on that immigration rush heading up to the 2012 General Elections.
Wade and former Director Ruth Meighan have told the Senate the same thing, that the rush compromised the Nationality procedures when over 2,000 applications were processed before that Election. The Opposition is accusing the UDP of using that feverish activity to steal two marginal electoral seats: Cayo North East, and Cayo Central. When we asked the Prime Minister about it, he said that was nonsense, and so, Courtenay asked Wade more questions to explore what exactly happened during the last 4 months before the 2012 General Elections. Here's how that conversation went:
Hon. Mark Lizarraga - Business Senator "So there were instance when the files were not complete you would make a note and say this file is missing is missing so and so. It would then go to the director, the director would make a decision whether she would pass it on the minister or not. I'm taking about those files that you did not recommend but that you sent up incomplete. Did you ever see any of those files? Were they ever approved for nationality being incomplete? That was my question."
Gordon Wade - Former OIC, Nationality Section "Yes sir."
Hon. Mark Lizarraga "And was this frequent, was this a frequent occurrence?"
Gordon Wade "Well the last time I was here the questioned was asked and that was mostly prevalent during the time when we had a lot of applications being processed in 2, 3 months."
Hon. Mark Lizarraga "Prior to elections?"
Gordon Wade "Yes that was when most of the files in that status would have gone up."
Hon. Eamon Courtenay - PUP Senator "The level of vetting that was taking place was it anymore intense or less intense that the ordinary?"
Gordon Wade "Sir with the magnitude of applications I don't think they could have been more. I remember it was a time between let's say 3, 4 months and the magnitude that was done in that time I don't think it could have been more scrutiny."
Hon. Eamon Courtenay "So what you are saying and I want to be very clear is that because of the amount and the significant amount and the short period of processing, you're saying that the vetting was not more than usual?"
Gordon Wade "No."
Hon. Eamon Courtenay "Would it be less?"
Gordon Wade "It would definitely be."
Hon. Eamon Courtenay "Now there are only a finite number of people in the vetting department."
Gordon Wade "Final vetting in the department should be done by myself."
Hon. Eamon Courtenay "But below that where the vetting is taking place, how many employees, how many officers?"
Gordon Wade "At any given time I would say 2 to 3 other - which would be considered a pre vetting because final vetting was done by the officer in charge. So the other officers in the section would have done a pre vetting."
Hon. Eamon Courtenay "What I want to know is at this time again around up to the 2012 election when things were being expedited, was there an increase in the number of officers who were doing the pre vetting or was it just the same two?"
Gordon Wade "During that time there were officers that were doing final vetting not only pre vetting, a part from myself."
Hon. Eamon Courtenay "So there were people who were actually giving final approval and recommendation-"
Gordon Wade "Final recommendation to the director."
Hon. Eamon Courtenay "Not you, in addition to you?"
Gordon Wade "In addition to me."
Hon. Eamon Courtenay "So was there extra staff brought on?"
Gordon Wade "From the office in Belmopan from the different sections."
Hon. Eamon Courtenay "Isn't that out of the ordinary?"
Gordon Wade "Considering yes, that's why the sections are specific."
Hon. Eamon Courtenay "And so this was being done to facilitate-"
Gordon Wade "The magnitude of applications that were being processed during that time."
Hon. Eamon Courtenay "And then finally, for some time it was known that a substantial number of these nationalities were approved on files that were incomplete to be charitable, let's say incomplete- has there been any review in the immigration department of these files to go back to see how many of them were complete, how many were incomplete?"
Gordon Wade "No sir that hasn't been done."
Hon. Eamon Courtenay "So there is now review to saw that those persons who are walking around with passports that they are not legally entitled to - to find those people and cancel their passports."
Gordon Wade "No sir that has not been done."
Hon. Eamon Courtenay "Does the law provide for persons who receive passports on a process that is incomplete, what is to happen to those?"
Our archives show that in January 2008, before the March General Elections, the Musa Administration swore in over a 1,000 new citizens, in a closed door session, just in time to meet the deadline to register to vote.
So while both sides of the political colour bar are guilty of the same thing, there is only one constant: and that is the misuse of the Immigration Department. Today, Gordon Wade confirmed as much to the Senate Select Committee today:
Gordon Wade - Former OIC, Nationality Section "Whatever year an audit would have been done in our department from a department when civilian - if any 2 years or 1 year would be chosen to run an audit we would be doing the same thing we are doing now with different people answering questions because that has been the norm ever since from I have been in the department that's the way it has been."
Hon. Aldo Salazar - Chairman, Senate Select Committee "You're saying not that it's normal but it's a usual occurrence that running up to an election politicians and not just from one party government or opposition - politicians would engage in heightened activity to see that whoever it was would get nationality?"
Gordon Wade "Yes sir."
Hon. Mark Lizarraga - Business Senator "We have heard of this culture that has existed in this department for so long and you've been there for 27 years so you've probably seen it all. And over the years I'm trying to establish why were a lot of these things not addressed and fixed and why did it take an audit by the auditor general to really stir things up and to get some action where we still haven't determined what action and how many plugs have really been put in place. What was it in this culture that blocked improvements? That blocked revamping of the way things were done, what is it in your view?"
Gordon Wade "Like I mentioned before these were political requests and it starts there because like I said if there was an audit to be done in the department at any time since the department has existed this would have been the same thing that would have been encountered."
Hon. Mark Lizarraga "So you're basically saying if I'm hearing you right is that the political culture is what has allowed this to continue."
But, one UDP who the Senate wants to question is former Deputy Mayor Eric Chang. He and Patrick Tillett, the former Financial Controller for the Belize City Council, are named in the scandal for involvement with 8 stolen visas.
Chang is also named in the Won Hong Kim Passport scandal, and both men are refusing to show up to answer questions from the Senate.
Well, it appears that both men will be compelled through the Legislative Assembly Powers and Privilege Act 1962. As we told you, this law allows the Committee to compel anyone, even private citizens to show up and give testimony. Today, Senate Committee Chairman Salazar told us how they will use it in this instance against both men:
Hon. Aldo Salazar - Chairman, Senate Select Committee "Yes we have as far as I understand issued the summons. I'm not sure if it's on today's date or yesterday but we have issued it."
Reporter "Is that in relation to both persons?"
Hon. Aldo Salazar "Yes. 1962 Act gives the legislature certain powers and privileges and part of that - it does gives the legislature powers and privileges speaks to the power of the senate to call witnesses etc. How it directly affects us is that when these laws predate the constitution there's a constitutional provision which saves all the laws that existed prior to the constitution and except where there is an inconsistency with any law then that law must be modified so that the constitutional provisions are retained."
Daniel Ortiz "Is the committee confident that the summons or the warrant that these laws allow for will give you enough authority to bring these gentlemen before you?"
Hon. Aldo Salazar "I don't like to speak for the entire committee but the committee gave it consideration and it acted based on advice and its own deliberations. So it acted from an informed position. Whether there's a dispute or there's a challenge is not necessarily up to us but we have our views. So it's not necessarily whether we express confidence but we acted based on what we feel the law is."
They are expected to show up next week Wednesday, and if they don't, the law allows the Senate to take a stronger step against them.
And we have one more piece of Teresita Castellanos's testimony to the senate today. It's her condemnation of the way the Auditor General's team handled the audit, and she says, they made mistakes that they could have avoided. Here's how she explained it:
Teresita Castellanos - Former FO, Immigration Department "I need for them on the record to do a proper auditing. I think they should have sent in their best team, top team to do this investigation at the audit department because they are causing a lot of unnecessary confusion and wrong information and then I don't want to say I was not remembering because I remember things - certain things I remember in detail as if it was yesterday. But the thing is they should have sent in their top team to do this investigation."
Hon. Aldo Salazar - Chairman, Senate Select Committee "So you don't think the audit was properly done?"
Teresita Castellanos "The audit has a lot of things that need to be amended and those of us who are affected and being accused - I fully agree with an investigation they want to carry because I have nothing, I'm taking about myself, nothing to worry about. If I did a human error I can admit it anytime and say sir I did an error, I apologise for it if that be possible."
Tonight, Southside police are investigating a complaint of child abuse. This is after a cop pepper sprayed an 11 year old boy. Yesterday, we received a report that police were breaking up a fight within a group of boys. Anacelia Castillo of West Street told me that they pepper sprayed her son - even though he was not in the fight:
Anacelia Castillo - Mother "Like a little bit after yesterday evening, my baby came home on his bicycle, but when my baby reached home, like I notice my kids because in notice kids, I always notice my kids when they come home so when the little boy reached home, he said "mommy" …he didn't say Mommy, he said like Hmmm they chanced me, and I asked him who chanced him and he said it's the police and I said "What!"
"The least he could have done was spank my son and send home my son, he didn't need to spray pepper spray in my baby's eye, I need for Chester Williams to do something about him."
Courtney Weatherburne "But what you understand happened? Why would police pepper spray your 11 year old son?"
Anacelia Castillo "Because he said he stood up to watch a fight but he said he wasn't in the fight and he said he stood up to watch the fight now the police looked at him and told him "wait there, wait there and he just started to spray the kids in their face with pepper spray."
Courtney Weatherburne "Where did the fight happen? Was it at school? And what school?"
Anacelia Castillo "No, he is going to Wesley School, Wesley Lower, Wesley at the back but he went to the Sand field to play football because every evening they go to play football but he ended up leaving his sister and went around Queen Square coming by St. John's School and all the kids crowded and started to fight with each other but he stood up and but when he stood up, he isn't fighting so he didn't run, everyone else ran and he say the police just take the pepper spray and spray it in their eyes."
"My baby is in their program and this area where we live, I put my baby in the program so he isn't on the street, they chance my baby, my baby already said he isn't going back to the program so I don't know what they will do."
Police say that the mother has made a report and the police are following up on it. They say that if the officer who has been named is found to be in the wrong, then he will be disciplined.
A strange thing happened today: the PUP and the VIP issued a joint press release. Strange because the VIP is an independent party and it doesn't usually team up with the main mass parties. But they have a common cause, and that's re-registration.
The joint release says, quote, "leaders of the political parties inclusive of the PUP and the VIP met last week to call on the Government to comply with the rule of law and immediately begin the legally overdue re-registration of electors." Now, the PUP is as much a part of the overdue re-registraiton because they failed to do it when it first due in 2007. But now, it's a different issue. The release says, quote, "in light of the revelation that a number of persons were given fraudulent nationality certificates, which allowed these individuals to register and vote in elections in Belize…a proper re-registration exercise (is) the only way to ensure that future elections are free and fair. The leaders agreed that the current voter register is compromised and as a result illegal." End quote.
So, the leaders are insisting that re-registration occur before the planned re-districting. They are also calling on trade unions, civil society and religious organizations to support the request for re-registration this year. The BNTU had already released a statement calling for the same.
Recently, we've been hearing complaints that certain prescription drugs are scarce, and many have had to look over the border to find what they need. Well that is because the Ministry of Health is now enforcing strict standards for importation of pharmaceuticals across the board. While this new system may cause major inconvenience to those who depend on the regular supply of pharmaceutical products, the Director of Health Services Dr. Marvin Manzanero told us via telephone today that these standards are for the publics own good.
Dr. Marvin Manzanero - Director of Health Services, MOH "There's not no real restriction in terms of medication once the medication meets the established requirements. As you will recall from last year in the middle of last year we faced a moratorium in terms of medications that can come into country or not which means all new medications coming into country would have to have a good manufacturing practice certificate or a certificate of analysis. This is across the board and if the new sender process that the government has sought to enforce that which means we want to be able to ensure to the public that whatever is coming into country is of good quality and it meets international standards."
"What we are noticing is the traditional importers and we have about more than 50 pharmaceutical importing companies would traditionally just bring in medication without going through that process. Now that we are enforcing the regulations in order to make sure that everybody meet those minimum standards some of the importers are having difficulties and so they are saying well we can't access the medication, we can't provide the medication to the private sector or to the government but that is a given anywhere in the world so it can't be that we are bypassing this particular situation."
Courtney Weatherburne "What was in place before if that's the case to ensure that the medication or any pharmaceuticals coming into the country are actually safe?"
Dr. Marvin Manzanero "It wasn't perhaps being enforced at any level but now mind you this is being done at all levels, all international companies are scaling up the same situation across the board. As I give you an example in the past and now companies that are exporting medication to Belize, they are requesting these 14 companies in Belize to get permission from the relevant health authorities before the medication can be exporter to Belize, that wasn't being enforced. You would have seen for example just in our neighbours in Mexico where they were some company was giving them fake insulin made in China, some medication in the state of Veracruz that were found to be just placebo drugs, those are the issues we are try to curtail and again the basis is trying to safe guard the health of everybody."
So as you heard if the importers do not have the good manufacturing practice certificate to import pharmacuti LS , the products will not be allowed in the country. The ministry plans to develop a drugs registry with a the drugs that can enter the country.
The latest figures from the Statistical Institute of Belize show that exports in January of 2017 increased quite significantly, up 51.2 percent from January 2016. And most of it is thanks to sugar where earnings were up 10 million dollars compared to last year. The SIB reports thatBelize's other major exports, banana, crude petroleum and marine products, also performed well in January. Banana sales shot up by $3 million dollars. but the news for citrus isn't quite so good. Citrus was the only major export to experience decreased earnings in January 2017, falling from $3.5 million to $1.6 million. The SIB says it is due to a drop in orange concentrate exports, but Citrus Products Chairman Doug Singh says it's a little more involved than that. He says, quote, "demand last year was high so we did not come into January with sufficient inventory for sale….Secondly, the damage caused by Hurricane Earl in August eliminated our first crop which would generally be processed in the last quarter of 2016 and sold in 2016-17."
And while that is the story for exports, on the side of imports, those went up by 7.7 percent or $10.1 million dollars when compared to January of 2016. More than half of that went to the â€˜Commercial Free Zones', with increased purchases of cigarettes. the SIB notes that imports of corn oil went up by $1.6 million dollars.
Notably, imports of'Machinery and Transport Equipment' fell by $3.6 million mostly due to decreased purchases of four cylinder vehicles and liquid transformers.
And one part of the increased revenue from exports is an increase in sales of crude oil from $4.8 million to $7.8 million. That's a sharp increase, but it's because of world prices which are going up - it doesn't mean more oil is coming out of the ground. The SIB notes that the export volumes in January 2017 remained virtually unchanged from January 2016.
So while there is an increase in revenue, the oil resource continues to diminish as the Mike Usher oil wells in Spanish Lookout are drying out. According to Dr. Justin Ram of the CDB, that is a big part of Belize's economic downturn, and the cocktail of crippling debt with revenue downturns:
Dr. Justin Ram - Director of Economics, CDB "We know that the government now is experiencing fiscal difficulties and a big part of that as they have rightly seen, is that their debt burden, about 34% of their debt burden is related to the super bond, and, of course, there is some requirement to look at how you're going to repay that."
I think that it is important for Belize's to understand that, the oil, the oil sector has now almost ground to a complete halt, it's too expensive to get whatever oil is remaining in the ground out and because international prices are so low, it's just not profitable. So the government will have also received significant revenues form that particular sector and those revenues are no longer coming in. Because we have seen the decline in the oil sector which was very important for Belize, it means that the government now has to consider alternative sources of revenue, so the economy need to diversify, so as we have been saying here this morning, that means that the doing business environment needs to be improved."
If the private sector can't see how they can make a profit in a particular country, they certainly will not want to invest and so the government needs to provide that enabling environment."
And a different kind of oil, known as bitumen, or tar, was going down today in the Belama Phase four area. It's the ongoing testing of new equipment acquired for the city council as part of the municipal drainage project. 10 days ago, we showed you the city council putting down the first layer of asphalt on Link road. Today, as they put down the final layer, two city councillors were beaming about the promise contained in their first success:…
Phillip Willoughby - City Councillor "We are doing the second coat to seal what we coated last week, so this is the first street since about I believe late 80s early 90s I believe the city council has paved its first street and it's a momentous occasion, it's historic. With that in mind we say again this is what the Belize City residence has to look forward to as we embark on tackling one street at a time."
Jules Vasquez "What I don't understand, you all are going two directions at one because the mayor he believes only in concrete streets but now you all are doing what I guess would be called chip and seal. So I'm not understanding what really is the direction of the council?"
Phillip Willoughby "Well it's two fold. Those heavily traversed streets will be concreted to give us longer usage and longer life."
Jules Vasquez "Yes it's a lower grade but I'm saying that instead of the mayor having embarked on this monomaniacal quest to pave so many cement streets might the money not have been more judiciously spent if you say boy lets pave x, y, z with concrete but a, b and c we can do them with a lighter grade such as right in my work neighbourhood - Plues Street, West Street, George Street, there aren't heavily trafficked streets but they are all concreted."
Phillip Willoughby "They aren't heavily trafficked streets but look at the conditions in particularly the rainy season. When the rain comes you know these streets are inundated with water for long periods of time."
Dean Samuels - Deputy Mayor "A lot of people personally is not looking for their street to be concreted, a lot of people just want to be able to come out of their yards in the rainy time, people just want the quality of life. Presently as we speak we are doing some total rehabilitation of streets in the Rio Bravo crescent area, we'll be doing the entire block. We'll be doing streets like Tapir, Lionel Tillet, Price Street, all these streets within that cul-de-sac will be upgraded - we will be continuing with our tar work, so no if or but these streets will be tar."
Jules Vasquez "Do you have a programme of what streets will get immediate attention?"
Phillip Willoughby "Yes we do but first of all, all the newly acquired assets has to be handed over to the city first. So that is in motion, I believe our last PSE will be next week Thursday and we'll be finalizing all the details leading up to the handing over. So we believe that will be shortly and it's just now for us to take off and there is no turning back Jules."
Jules Vasquez "Okay now you accept that you were advertising as an asphalt truck is not an asphalt truck and you were falsely advertising?"
Phillip Willoughby "It's a bitumen truck, none the less I won't dispute technicalities with name of a particular vehicle. Our point is sir is that we are going to improve and impact the quality of life for the residence of Belize City with these trucks."
Work on the street finished at 5:00 this evening.There's no date currently set for when the equipment will be handed over to the city council.
On Valentine's Day, Eric Moses and his common-law-wife, Genevia Estrada were drinking at their Victoria Street home, where Estrada allegedly pushed him down the stairway. Estrada was detained, and Moses was taken to the KHMH to receive treatment for his traumatic head injuries.
Estrada appeared in the Magistrate's Court last week, where she was read a charge for the offense of dangerous harm. She was granted bail of $2000 despite objection from the prosecutor, and the case was adjourned for May. However, it seems that those charges will need to be upgraded, because last night, Moses succumbed to his injuries at the KHMH.
Estrada has been detained and is expected to be brought back to court tomorrow, to be read a new charge of manslaughter.
Some time ago the Belize city council erected two wooden structures on Sandlighters' Promenade. They were for an eco project that never materialized and the two structures fell into disrepair and were abandoned. But now the project has been fully re-activated, it’s conceptualized a water theme park with wake boarding, and a high rope obstacle course among other fun water sports. We spoke to the developer about the project and what it means for city residents:…
The department of the Environment has green-lighted the project. The developer says that there will not be any major re-structuring to the area.
The budget is 2.2 million dollars and if you would like to learn more you can attend a meeting tomorrow night at 6:00 pm at the Sandlighters Promenade.
Grace Kennedy is one of Belize's largest import and export businesses. 2017 marks the company's 35th year operating in Belize, so today Grace's executives held a press conference to review it's strides so far, and to discuss what's next. Grace Kennedy Belize's Executive Chairman, Gilroy Graham told us more...
This year also marks the Jamaican company's 95th year in business.