REPORT #76 June 1999

Produced by the Belize Development Trust
The puzzle that hits many Belizeans and foreigners alike, is why is it so difficult to make a business work in Belize? In the last thirty years, many people with this timeline of experience, claim it is politics, without some sort of clarification. Most people agree, that businesses that do make it in Belize, are usually successful, DESPITE government, irregardless of the pontificating, bragging by politicians, government information service propoganda and bureaucrats trying to claim credit. Rarely is the Government in Belmopan given any credit by actual business people, except when their back is to the wall and they must when forced to do so, exclaim "how wonderfully supportive" government was as a protective measure from reprisals.

In the June 13, 1999 issue of the Reporter Newspaper in the port town of Belize City is a second bus transportation tale of woe, repeated again. This one is not about the four beautiful air conditioned buses sitting in forced idleness, for inter- district capital transport for first class passengers; but about another bus operation within the municipality of the port town of Belize City. A small, local affair.

The Lopez busline was to run an express specialized service between St. John's College and the Landivar Educational establishment area and the inner downtown area, to serve students and teachers alike. Mr. Lopez received a license from the National Belize Transport Board ( note: Not from the Belize City Council under whose jurisdiction one would think this falls in a democracy ) on December 18th of 1998. Four days later his license was revoked. Some 400 students from the Landivar Educational complex have signed yet another petition trying to get this bus service re-instated. Politics say no! They disguise it behind the appointed National Transportation Board, but basically this is political patronage, a milder form of corruption found under our style of representative ruler/leader constitution.

Mr. Lopez calls foul! He states quite clearly that he is a Belizean and that the Constitution guarantees him the right to work and earn a living. He says, the Constitution says nothing about favoring certain business's, or unlegislated autocratic powers of a National Transportation Board in local city affairs.

What is clear here, are two separate things. One, is that this bus service would be within the legal and geographic boundaries of the port town, Belize City. One ostensibly would think in a democracy, that if any rules, or last minute quarrel was to be had with a bus service within city boundaries, it would be the problem of the Belize City Council. Yet, under our Colonial Constitution type, for some strange reason, the National Government in Belmopan, spreads it's tentacles of micro- management into every village, farm and town around the country. Along with the influence and control by an absentee Belmopan Government and partisan party politics comes the corruption aspects of political party patronage. Of this, the bus service licenses are not just open to any business person, in a competitive free and open manner, but are applied rewards of political patronage through a tame controlled, politically appointed National Transportation Board. The Belize City Council has no transportation department that I know of, to contest this interference in city affairs. Even so, under the latest mockery of autonomous legislation in the 1999 Town Act, their abilities are severely curtailed anyway. The whole thing is a cruel joke and a travesty of how a supposedly representative democracy should work, versus the true facts of how it does work crookedly in practice.

The Belize City bus services are awarded to the Novelo Busline. There are other buslines that are in competition, but under the disguise, or rationalization of government efficiency, the control regulatory freaks in Belmopan, both in the bureaucracy and the political party controlling the country as a feudal fiefdom simply award licenses to favorites. Favorites can arise as rewards for filling the coffers during political party election campaigning, through family and relative style influences, outright under the table bribery in one form or another; or just maybe one of the Minister's in the Cabinet still has a vendetta from the time you flirted with his wife at a party. In a large country like the U.K., this would not matter. Such minor items would be lost in the vastness of huge populations, but in a small place like Belize of 220,000 people, the problems become huge. And in this case are a deterent to investment, enterprise, and service to the general public and voters. The development of Belize the nation suffers when such injustices and unfair procedures are perpetuated by political party's with an axe to grind.

The problem basically, in this individual case, one in which the National government is ruling, in what should be purely a local autonomous city government affair. For whatever their rationalizations, or real reasons behind the cloak of management on this decision in Belmopan. It is by rights, no business of theirs in Belmopan at all! It is a city issue! It should be a city solution in a democracy. If Mr. Lopez had a bad ruling from the city council or city transportation licensing department, then he should be able to take it to the District government in a court case. ( Belize is not a nation of evenly applied laws. )

In a democracy, he would normally just apply to the Belize City Council for a license and go into competition with Novelo bus service. There are occasions in which the number of issued licenses are fixed due to various local city problems in some countries that are democracies. Usually, in these cases the bus routes would be awarded by lottery. ( pick a route out of a hat, at a public drawing ). Sometimes license holders get to inherit a license from a limited number of licenses, so long as they pay the annual fees ( taxi licenses in Manhatten) and they are sold on the open market by non-users in competitive bids, private sale, or by auction. Whatever the method, in a democracy, the solution to this bus licensing problem of Mr. Lopez is patently unfair. This rule of the Belize Transportation Board acting as rulers, arbitrarily setting out who can, or cannot get a license, probably as proxies for political party patronage corruption; has no place in a truly democratic national Belize.

Two solutions come to mind. 1) The Belize City Council needs it's own licensing department for public transportation. This one is not a National affair at all. 2) The means of getting a license should be open to all for a fee, in a spirit of free competition and service to the public.

The whole thing discourages Belizean and Foreign entrepreneur investors and the modus operendi of operation for economic well being and future development of the nation demands that economic restrictions based on centralized national rule be stopped. The bad taste in the mouth from what is obviously to the most dim- witted a crooked application and abuse of power. Would you invest in a country where the misuse of power was so blatant?

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