Provisions in the amended contract of operation of Fort Street Tourism Village (FSTV) between its owners and the Government of Belize and the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) had the effect of ensuring a continued source of revenue and satellite development through the Stake Bank project being developed by Michael Feinstein. This is the developer’s argument as presented in the Supreme Court today where his lawsuit against both the Government, the Board and the Village in which he was once majority owner began before Supreme Court Justice Courtney Abel. Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck argued that while Feinstein, who sold his interest in the Village in 2003 to begin developing Stake Bank with the expectation that it would become the primary port of entry for cruise ship tourists into Belize, was never a party to the amended contracts, provisions related to the exclusive rights of the village to be a port of entry and to collect what is known as the “head tax” from passengers effectively fettered his and other developments from proceeding. Marshalleck told us more after the conclusion of the first day of arguments just before newstime.
“What we are saying is that the contractual provisions and there are a number of them—there is Two-E, Two-F, Five, Seven and Four of the contract—are unlawful. The provision in the contract is paragraph four—that has to do with head taxes—but the other provisions have to do with exclusivity and other requirements they’ve sought to impose on the Stake Bank development. Here we have two strangers to the development sitting down and making an agreement as to how my client is to proceed with a development and we have serious objections to that kind of thing taking place. We think it is unlawful.”
According to Marshalleck he and his client do not have a problem, provisionally, with the sharing of the head tax under the amended agreement; however, there is no legislative support for the Government ceding to the BTB the right to collect without such monies going into either the Consolidated Revenue Fund or a special fund such as those held by the City and Town Councils and Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT), both of which hold a share.
“What the law says is that all monies raised or collected by Belize must go into the Consolidated Revenues Fund or into some public fund established for specific purpose. In relation to the City Council, there is the Belize City fund established, which is a public fund established for the purposes of the city. And the law authorizes certain monies collected by the City Council to go in there. The Protected Areas Conservation Trust likewise, there is a Protected Areas Conservation Trust Fund established by law into which certain fees that are collected are authorized by law to pay into it. The Town Councils Act likewise establishes a Town Council Fund into which certain taxes that are collected by town councils can be paid and the monies accessed. There is no tourism in endowment fund. There is no fund, no special public fund established for the benefit of the tourist board to avoid the monies going into the Consolidated Revenue Fund and have to be voted out back in the annual appropriation.”
Feinstein told us that there is no excuse for the Government agreeing to establish a tax without the requisite legislative support, even as he acknowledged that the original agreement he signed for operation of the Tourism Village was virtually the same as the current agreement, with the provisions on Stake Bank added.
“We are saying that head tax is not legal, we are saying that these agreements are not legal and it all falls in place…if the head tax is not legal, then any agreements based on head tax is not legal. And that…I think the arguments are going well and we will find out maybe on the twenty-fourth. As the judge said….if it is not legal now it wasn’t legal then.”
“So do you accept that it wasn’t proper then either?”
“I am saying head tax is not legal now; it wasn’t then.”
“Sir, but aren’t you concerned that if the court fines…”
“I am not saying that collecting taxes is illegal, collecting monies is illegal. I am saying there is refuting it illegal.”
The case continues tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. Deputy Solicitor General Nigel Hawke and Senior Counsel Rodwell Williams represent the Government and FSTV respectively.