The Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) faced a dilemma earlier this week with the resignation of Cayo North area representative Joseph Mahmud and the announcement of two candidates to contest the seat: attorney Michel Chebat and businessman Richard Harrison. With time running out and nomination day set for December 15, the party met with both men and today it was announced that Chebat had withdrawn his candidacy and endorsed Harrison, causing the party to do the same. At a briefing today, PUP leader Francis Fonseca said that although both men wanted the people of the division to decide, timing ensured that this could not be done.
“Mr Chebat approached us and said [that] in the interests of unity, in the interest moving forward, he felt that it would not serve the party’s best interest to go through that process.
He supported Mr Harrison. He believed Mr Harrison could win, and therefore he was stepping back, and allowing the party to proceed.
So maybe if there were two candidates, yes we would have a convention, but there is only one candidate, and that is Richard Harrison.”
It is a coming out party for Mr Harrison, the owner of Verena Foods and other businesses and a sometimes columnist for the party’s newspaper, the Belize Times, on economic and social issues.
Richard Harrison told PLUS News that he wants a public debate with his friendly political rival, the UDP candidate Senator Omar Figueroa, on the issue of unemployment and economic opportunity among other things.
“I’ve been tallking to the people over there last week and a half, and we’re convinced that we have a strategy. The time has come, so suddenly and so short upon us. We believe that we have a practical strategy to win that seat.
Basically, we have an opponent, Mr Omar Figueroa, who is somebody that I know very well. he comes from a family that I respect. I respect Omar. He’s a good guy.
But right now Belize needs people with experience and a lot of fire, to get things done. This country needs a change, and I believe that I am the better man.
I would like to challenge Mr Omar Figueroa to a public debate. Let’s debate the issues of Cayo North in front of the people of Cayo North, and let the people decide, because this is a short time to January 5th. Therefore we must find a way how to get the message out as quickly as possible. I think he wants to do the same thing. Let’s do a debate tomorrow.”
Richard Harrison also took the opportunity to clarify statements he made on social media network Facebook earlier this week, that seemed to suggest he was being boxed out by the PUP.
He says the statement about “puppet masters” bringing “bags of shillings” to the constituency was actually referring to the current administration, and his wish that the electoral process be conducted fairly.
Richard Harrison also responded to claims that he has a poor track record as a businessman, which would make him unsuitable for politics. Here was his response.
“I will record that this Government of Belize, this government right here that we’re under right now, that we’re suffering under, changed policies.
I had a fast growing business, Verena Foods, everybody all over this country was using my products, a fast growing business from 2002. When I opened it in 2009, under the support of the People’s United Party Government, a fast growing business, I can’t say numbers, but my business was very successful, and I was investing all my profits in Belize., none abroad.
But this Government, as soon as it came in, saw it fit to take away my facilities. Then they change the import duties. They lower the import duties on the items that compete direct with me, to favour their importing friends.
They didn’t finish there. They removed the Environmental Tax from goods that come in from outside and compete direct with me. Another jump given the imported products.
So. don’t ask if I have failed. Please also ask, why did I fail? OK? And I’m ready to get to the bottom of that.
One of the basic reasons also why I’m here, because what happened to me with my investments, what happened to me should not happen to any other hard working Belizean man and woman. That’s what I’m here to do.”
Today’s briefing was attended by other party officials, representatives and standard bearers.
The by-election takes place on January 5, and while the party is confident of victory, Francis Fonseca said any questions on what the party would do if Richard Harrison lost would be answered after the by-election result.