How Placencia Could Have Saved The Hulse Properties & How They Still Can
On Tuesday July 27, 2010 I was invited to the Robert's Grove conference room, in Placencia Village, as the Chairman of Placencia Village, to attend and discuss the proposed Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) funded Placencia integrated water and sewer system. At that time I had heard very little about this project, and most villagers also, did not hear or know much about the project.
Immediately after that meeting I visited Ms. Janice Leslie, who was the appointed Chairlady of the Placencia Water Board. I asked her why wasn't she present at the meeting, and she informed me that she knew nothing about the meeting. I got to find out that Mr. Brian Yearwood, who was the previous Chairman of Placencia, was invited to and attended several meetings about this project, however, Ms. Leslie was not invited. I found that odd. So, I did my best to brief Ms. Leslie on what was discussed (I video recorded the meeting. A copy can be found online here: https://vimeo.com/14504682). I informed her that one of my main concerns is that I get the feeling that the Belize Water Services may be coming to Placencia to take over the PWB.
I spent the next 3 years as Chairman of Placencia (2010 - 2013), doing my best to warn the PWB and the villagers of Placencia, that we needed to be cognizant that BWS was planning on taking over the PWB and all its assets, even though they assured us they would not. For your information, the Chairman of any village sits on water boards as ex-officio members, therefore having no real power in the water board.
In 2012 it became clearer and clearer that BWS was planning on taking over the PWB and all its assets. Two of the strong recommendations at that time, that I fully supported and lobbied for, was to:
1. Place the assets, especially the money in the bank held by the PWB, into a Trust for the Village. Such as was done with the Placencia Sanitation Company.
2. Deposit the money held by the PWB into the accounts of the Placencia Village Council, since that account was owned by the Villagers of Placencia. The Chairlady of the PWB and the majority of the Board, though realizing the clear and present danger of the PWB being taken over by BWS, basically ignored both recommendations.
I wrote an article that was published in the Amandala, on September 28 2012, that made clear the sentiment of the residents, that we wanted to keep our PWB.
A negotiating team was put together, between the Placencia, Seine Bight Village Council and Water Board members. We had several meetings in Belmopan and Placencia, with the Minister of Local Government, Godwin Hulse, and members of the BWS. At these meetings it was made very clear to us that BWS would be taking over the PWB, and the main reason was that the PWB did not have the capacity to manage such a large, peninsula wide project. Our negotiation team haggled with the Government over this IDB-funded integrated water and sewer system.
The two main deal breakers were:
How would both villages replace the financial vacuum that will ensue from losing a profitable and successfully run water board that contributed to the community’s development and;
How to avoid costly payments for the service for the community’s residents.
Two very important leverage that the Government and BWS had were:
the fact that a decision needed to be made quickly, by June 2013, because the 20 million Belize dollars available in grant and loan funding for the project was going to expire.
They were prepared to use eminent domain to take over the PWB.
To reiterate, I knew this was going to be the case from the very first meeting where I was made privy to this project in an official capacity, on July 27, 2010. Thus, the reason I continued to lobby the PWB to take advantage of the two proposed options of dealing with the assets of the PWB.
April 27, 2013
The last and final public consultation meeting about the decision of this project was held on April 27, 2013 in Placencia Village on the basketball court. The week leading up to this meeting a consultant for the GOB/BWS, by the name of Mr. Earnest Raymond, was sent to Placencia to canvass the village and talk to residents to "clarify" information on the project. This gentleman was simply doing his job, and after speaking to him, for I knew him personally, it dawned on me that this meeting was just a formality and the Government and BWS had already decided that they would impose eminent domain and take over the PWB. I made one last attempt to convince the PWB to move at least the money in the bank that PWB were holding, and deposit it to the PVC accounts. This never happened. At the meeting I gave the project my full support as Chairman of PVC, under the conditions that the PWB money was to be placed in a trust for the village, or alternate methods on filling the financial vacuum that would be left by BWS taking over the PWB. I knew this was not going to happen, however, I wanted my conditions on record.
When BWS took over, the PWB had almost a million Belize dollars in cash and CDs at Atlantic Bank. If action was taken by the PWB from 2010, that money could have helped with many community projects and also assist the PVC in purchasing this very important, and critical piece of real estate for the village and residents of Placencia.
It is important to note, that village council elections took place that same year, and Placencia's was held on May 19, 2013. The current Chairlady of Placencia, Ms. Ilsa Villanueva, along with the UDP stalwarts in Placencia, especially those on the PWB, wanted a scapegoat and wanted someone else as the Chairman of Placencia, because, as Mrs. Jodie Yearwood
Leslie, who was influential on the PWB and did not support me, stated "GOB is not threatened or annoyed by her (Ms. Ilsa Villanueva), but is willing to worked[sic] along side of her, so this puts Placencia into a whole new out look in their eyes, (which is needed at this point.)" read her full statement here. They went on a village wide negative smear campaign saying it was because of me, that Placencia Village lost the PWB.
When in actuality it was because of me, Charles Leslie Jr, that the PWB and the residents of Placencia even knew about the IDB-funded integrated water and sewer system, since the previous Chairman of the Village did not properly inform the PWB Chairlady, Ms. Leslie, about this project. She only got fully briefed in July 2010, when I briefed her and made sure she or a representative from the PWB was present at ALL other meetings about the IDB-funded Placencia integrated water and sewer system.
QUESTION & POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS:
QUESTION: Why didn't the PVC request money from the GOB to purchase this property for the people of Placencia, especially since Ms. Villanueva is friends with Prime Minister Barrow, and works for PM Barrow's law firm partner, Mr. Rodwell Williams? If they did request assistance, why were they not successful?
Since, Ms. Villanueva is no threat to the Government, and "this puts Placencia into a whole new out look in their eyes", the Government should return the funds from the PWB to help with this purchase and they, the Government, via the Prime Minister's Ministry of Finance, put up the rest of the money. It is important to note that the PWB funds is money that was derived from the hard working residents of Placencia.
The PVC should also start a Crowd Funding effort: this will allow them to reach possible donors from all over the planet whom may be sympathetic to this cause and write generous checks.
I am sure this article will rub some of the UDP stalwarts in Placencia the wrong way. I want to remind you, I have records of all meetings and supporting documents to prove what I say. Don't let me be the focus of your frustrations. If the PWB had listened to me from 2010, and if the residents of Placencia paid attention to facts and not negative smear campaign that was launched against me, just because I was an independent thinker and couldn't be controlled and I stood up for Placencia, even if it meant standing up to the government, the village of Placencia may not be so deep in this quagmire it finds itself.
July 27, 2010 IDB Sponsored meeting: https://vimeo.com/14504682
Amandala article: Re: “The Peninsula rises: “Noh tek wi wata!”
Popular Crowdfunding sites: http://www.crowdfunding.com/
GOB carrot on a stick for Placencia residents: http://ambergriscaye.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/topics/463397/Placencia_Peninsula_to_get_wat.html
I started this online petition on October 27, 2011: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/re-acquire-hulse-property.html