Belize City Mayor narrowly avoids Court contempt order

Mayor of Belize City Darrell Bradley narrowly avoided a contempt order threatened against him and the Belize City Council by a company with which they have been doing business for many years – Belize Waste Control Limited. Claiming losses due to a previous Council violating the terms of their agreement to collect garbage in the Old Capital, Belize Waste Control sued and was granted a judgment for damages set at BZ$1 million. But to date it has not been collected, as counsel for the company Fred Lumor SC explains:

Fred Lumor SC:
vlcsnap-2013-02-28-20h48m16s90In 2011 we applied to the Supreme Court that the refusal of a Municipal Authority to pay a debt order by the Supreme Court contravenes the Constitutional Rights of Belize Waste Control. The Court in a decision delivered on the second of April last year. 2012, agreed that the failure to pay contravenes the rights of Belize Waste Control, and ordered City Council to pay the debt forthwith.  This was on the second of April, 2012. Not one cent has been paid. We wrote to the City Council in May of last year. We wrote to them, in June of last year.  We wrote to them in July of last year.  No payment was made.

This morning both parties appeared in chambers of Justice Michelle Arana to agree on a way forward. The Council has agreed to pay down a substantial part of the debt, an amount not disclosed, and work out terms to pay the rest. According to Mayor Bradley the Council has been trying to find means of settling the debt and acknowledges that they should have moved faster:

Belize City Mayor DARRELL BRADLEY:
vlcsnap-2013-02-28-20h45m59s21We are putting in place a process that will advance this issue to the satisfaction of both sides.  The sanitation contracts [are] a liability that accounts for 40% of our outlays. This is not something which has started with this present Council. This is something which has originated from 2007.  Every single year, every single City Council has had a difficulty in meeting its obligations.  We are handling this matter responsibly.  We have dialogued with them.  Of course, they are fully free to take whatever steps the have, including Court actions, and we will represent ourselves reasonably and responsibly, and we will make this statement, and I make it publicly, that whatever debt obligations this City Council has, we’ll meet those obligations.

Counsel for the City at today’s hearing, Michael Young, further clarifies the issue:

Michael Young:
vlcsnap-2013-02-28-20h49m23s15To put matters in perspective, this debt is now at about $2,3 million, and in fact the original debt was just at about a million or so.  It is a problem that had its root back then, and has increased. As a matter of fact, the debt has doubled, and is increasing every day. This position of the City Council, as I have been instructed, is what they have wanted to do is to settle this once and for all, a global settlement that would result in a resolution of the Court action before the Court, and also what is going to happen to the contract.  Perhaps that is what best explains the fact that there has been no movement in the Court, in so far as actual payments being made towards the Court judgement.

Lumor is prepared to give City Hall a chance but says they have to get serious:

Fred Lumor SC:
They said they’re serious, they want to pay, but not one single explanation has been given why not even $10 have been paid under this judgement, and interest continues to accrue on it on a daily basis. One interest rate is about $200 a day.  Another one is about $59 a day. I need to emphasise that the contempt proceedings is not a spiteful act on the part of Waste Control, but it has two purposes: to vindicate the authority of the Court, that when the Court makes an order, no matter who you are, you are supposed to comply with it.  Secondly: To vindicate the Constitutional Rights of Belize Waste Control. They are looking forward to being paid, and these debts have been owing since 2005.  

So will taxpayers foot the bill? Yes and no. The 10-dollar residential garbage fee is still to come on-stream, according to the Mayor, but he insists the Council can meet the debt and continue its programs:

Belize City Mayor DARRELL BRADLEY:
We’re looking at all options.  We are going to go through an entire process looking at the Residential Garbage Fee holistically, so that we can resolve once and for all the situation that we have with these sanitation contractors. We’re not at the point right now where the City Council will need to sell off any of its assets.  We are meeting our obligations.  The City Council is doing relatively well.  Many of the financial policies that we have put in place are performing.  Our income is respectable.  We are meeting all our obligations. Even though we have Court process today, there are still discussions going on between these contractors, to see how we could bring about a once and for all total settlement of this issue, but we’re not anywhere at the point where we would to divest any of our assets.

Lumor told PLUS News that the debt does not affect the relationship between the two parties but adds that the Council cannot afford to continue ignoring the court’s orders. The parties are due back in court on April 22.

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