Two of the three missing Belize City Council Vehicles have been returned from a private property. Last night we told you that the Belize City Council was questioning the whereabouts of three vehicles that were unaccounted for after an internal audit was done by the Council’s Internal Audit Department. An email from the Council’s Internal Audit Department to Mayor Bernard Wagner outlined the Audit Department’s investigation into the equipment. According to the email, a tractor, a Bulldozer, and a Flat Bed Trailer, acquired between December 2014 and March 2016, are a part of the council’s fixed assets. However, the three pieces of equipment, which value a total of $173,000, were not accounted for at the time the new Council received the fleet of equipment. According to the email, Director of Financial Services Mrs. Marilyn Ordonez told the Department that numerous efforts were made to get an understanding of what, if any, arrangement was made as it was brought to her attention that a Minister had the equipment at his compound. The email further stated that Vehicle Care Supervisor, Mr. Lawrence, indicated that the flatbed trailer was originally at the compound of a Minister until the workers of that Minister borrowed the trailer to move the John Deer from off the Minister’s Compound. Well today, our Media Colleagues in Belize City sat down with Deputy Mayor of the Belize City Council, Oscar Arnold, who revealed that his Works Manager got a call earlier today from an unnamed person to pick up two of the three equipment from a Private Property
Oscar Arnold, Deputy Mayor Belize City: We are very care on how we go about in getting pertinent information and trying to find the whereabouts of these pieces of equipment. We had the same information that you guys had that it was gifted and granted on behalf of the Government of Belize to the previous council. When we got in, obviously we did a quick audit of where the council finances were, different things like that. It’s been four to five months now and we are able to try to dig a little bit deeper and have further penetration into the activities and business of the council. One of the things that came to mind was an audit that was done by our internal auditor on council assets, where these three pieces of equipment came up missing. From what I understand, the Government of Belize paid for these equipment and somewhere either between delivery or right after, these three pieces of equipment went missing. No one raised any eyebrow, no one worried about trying to get these back considering that they were council assets. Just today, I got information from our works manager that he will be picking up two pieces of these equipment. There was an anonymous call placed to him, telling him that we have the trailer and the bull dozer ready to pick up. I can’t mention any name right now because I want to confirm that, I want to do the responsible thing and this is just happening, this is unfolding as we speak. So the trailer along with the bull dozer will be picked up today. The Bobcat, which is the other piece of equipment, we are told, he was also informed that it was being repaired and that the individual would fund the bill of getting it to Belize City when the repairs are done.
According to Councilor Arnold, the Council is planning to send an invoice to the persons who were in possession of the equipment while they were missing from the Council for two years. Arnold says that they will use the previous Council’s billing system which charged approximately a hundred and twenty five dollars an hour for the rental of equipment.
Oscar Arnold, Deputy Mayor Belize City: And from the billings that the previous council used to rent equipment, when we actually had equipment that we could use, some of the billable hours was at $125 per hour. So I have also told our works manager ‘listen we need to send an invoice and you need to tell me who we need to send this invoice to’, because obviously these individuals had the use of these equipment and it’s only right that the council be compensated.
Reporter: Now you say it’s a situation that is developing but I imagine down the road you will be able to say on whose compound these was found, just for transparency purposes and accountability.
Oscar Arnold, Deputy Mayor Belize City: Sure, what I instructed our works manager to do was to do an assessment of the pieces of equipment as well, to ensure that they are in good working condition because obviously we’ll have two and a half years wear and tear if there wasn’t regular maintenance on these things.
The media also spoke to former Belize City Mayor ,Darrell Bradley and his account of the equipment was rather contrasting to several portions of the Audit. According to Mayor Bradley, the 3 vehicles were never delivered to his Council at any time.
Darell Bradley, Former Mayor of Belize City: I understand there is three pieces of equipment; one of it is a bull dozer, one of it is something that would be used to clean drains and one of it is a tractor. The City Council never was given those pieces of equipment, so that this would have occurred at the time when we had the BML transition and at time I was very much in opposition to the acquisition of those personnel because it would have doubled the staff complement of the City Council, it would have doubled our wage bill and it would have meant increases in terms of our HR, our Pension provisions, Social Security and so forth. So that caused a whole host of problem which we managed to deal with. Because of that discussion around that transition, the central government tried to make it a little bit more palatable for us to absorb those people because it would have been very difficult for us to do that financially. I still think it’s difficult for us to do so and I still maintain that it was not a good move that’s a bad move. Around that time the central government promised that they would have paid the BML staff for a short period of time, may be it was three month or so forth, So that it would have allowed the city council to forecast, budget for it and really absorb the transition in terms of those particular persons. Another part of that was that the city council was supposed to be given one million dollar worth of equipment. Immediately we had issues with the equipment because we were concerned not only with the items itself, but we were concerned with the years of the items and our requirement to maintain the equipment, we had problem with that. So that when you are acquiring pieces of equipment, you want to make sure that those piece of equipment are properly inspected and they are relatively new because items of equipment for the city council are used every single day. What happened is that through the ministry of finance they would have drawn up a list of items which was supposed to be given to the city council, as part of this transition, I call it a transition deal. We didn’t want the staff but in order for us to take the individuals, the central government had to help us with payment of the persons for a particular period of time and they had to help us with dealing with the equipment cost, we needed additional dump truck and so forth. If I can recall it would have been more than ten pieces of equipment and of those ten piece of equipment, three of those pieces of equipment were never turned over to the council. So in terms of what we would have received, we would have not received the bulldozer, we would have not received a piece of equipment that would have been used to either sweep the streets or to clean out drains and we would have not received one tractor.
Bradley added that the vehicles were needed for several projects his Council worked on. He further stated that his Council made several inquiries into the whereabouts of the vehicles when they were not delivered to his Council as promised.
Darell Bradley, Former Mayor of Belize City: We immediately made queries in relation to why was this not provided to us. One of the reasons why we did that was because whenever the city council receives items, it has to be entered on our fixed asset registry and we would then do either a bill of sale or we would do a certificate of transfer like how you transfer a vehicle. So something would have been done formally and that’s necessary for audit purposes. This is not the first time that an audit had picked this up, immediately when this was not done, our internal auditor picked this up and our annual audit would have showed that a purchase order was issued to procure a million dollar worth of equipment and three pieces of that equipment never came into the possession of the city council. I cannot say why that was not done, I know that we made enquiries in relation to why it was not done. I know that the pieces of equipment were pieces of equipment that we needed because in terms of those items, we were the ones who identified the items. We identified a bulldozer because we needed that because in lake independence and so forth there are large tracks of land that we routinely clean even though its private land, we also needed the bulldozer at the time when we were doing the staff land program because we had to actually clear 50 acres of land which we had to rent a private bulldozer to do that because we didn’t have a bulldozer which we were supposed to have. So this was not an issue which is being raised now from this audit report, this is an issue which was raised from 2014 when those pieces of equipment was to be turned over to the city council and I can state categorically that the city council never received that. At no time did we ever receive those three pieces of equipment and from the very beginning we protested it.
According to Bradley, his Council procured a bill of over 50,000 dollars for bulldozer rental while working on one project alone. So where did the vehicles go after they landed in the country? According to the Internal Audit report, the missing vehicles were allegedly parked on a compound located at Mile 5 belonging to Minister Anthony Boots Martinez. Minister Martinez told the media earlier today that when the former Council was taking over the Belize Maintenance Limited in 2015, they were gifted with a portion of the Belize City Housing for the Poor Compound, where the equipment was initially parked. He added that one year later, the equipment was moved to his 4 ½ miles compound while construction were on the way for the Sanitation Department.
Reporter: When they left did you stay with any of the equipment?
Hon. Anthony Martinez, Port Loyola Area Representative: Not at all, why would I stay with it?
Reporter: These equipment have great value.
Hon. Anthony Martinez, Port Loyola Area Representative: Great value for what, it does not belong to me. Let me put it this way, why would they have left it here? And if you moved something that is not yours, that is stealing.
Reporter: So where did these pieces of equipment stay during these number of years, it’s been four years or less.
Hon. Anthony Martinez, Port Loyola Area Representative: I don’t know. They moved out around 2016 I would imagine, they moved from here around 2016 I am not quite sure.
Reporter: The council move them?
Hon. Anthony Martinez, Port Loyola Area Representative: Well, they moved to four and a half miles, of which I think they were just buying time to fill up more portion of the land and put a building there to house the sanitation department.
Reporter: But even the former mayor is saying that consecutive audit kept pointing out that this equipment was missing, so it had gone to the compound how could their audit be pointing out that it’s missing?
Hon. Anthony Martinez, Port Loyola Area Representative: I did not say it had gone to the compound.
Reporter: But you are saying the council moved it.
Hon. Anthony Martinez, Port Loyola Area Representative: I am saying the council moved whatsoever it is, I don’t work for the council.
And while Deputy Mayor Arnold was not so willing to reveal where the equipment were retrieved from, according to Minister Martinez, his personal investigation led to the discovery of the equipment at a Mechanic located approximately one mile from the Belize City Housing Compound.
Hon. Anthony Martinez, Port Loyola Area Representative: When you see the story broke, I started to enquire. I enquired about it and the equipment is a mile and a half down the road there, taken there to be repaired as I understand it. May be you could talk to the person with whom the equipment is now, to find how he got it.
Reporter: Who is that person?
Hon. Anthony Martinez, Port Loyola Area Representative: Velmex Trucking. So, you can talk to him and find out. Also, since the city council have difficulty searching for their equipment. I am telling you were you could find it, so you could get the police and go there to find out exactly what the situation is. I have never been an employee of the city council, I am just showing you. The road to hell is paved with good intention, you gave them this whole equipment for the same reason, because you don’t want people to say you are involved in hustling with the city council on equipment rentals. That’s why they were given for free.
Hon. Anthony Martinez, Port Loyola Area Representative: I did not manage to locate nothing sir, I found out where they were. I did not manage to locate nothing because I didn’t even go to see where they actually were, I heard. You understand what I am saying? So I didn’t manage to locate nothing.
Reporter: Now, I know you are a resourceful man and you know a lot of people but it’s hard for me to locate those piece of equipment. I am saying that unless I know where to actually search.
Hon. Anthony Martinez, Port Loyola Area Representative: Let’s put it this way, it’s not just you who may not know where to search for the equipment, Belize is a small world. As a matter of fact, the first thing the man said to me who had custody of the equipment, that it’s Joe Lawrence who took it there for repairs.
Reporter: But Lawrence said, in the city council report Mr Lawrence is quoted as saying that ‘Boot’s workers came for the equipment”
Hon. Anthony Martinez, Port Loyola Area Representative: It’s not boot’s workers. I didn’t see anything like that in the report. I saw something in the report to the effect that boot’s workers came for some trailer to transport a Bobcat, now what’s happening as I am presently aware is that the bulldozer is currently seated on the 18 foot trailer. The man said the trailer is right there with the bulldozer on top of it.