Wednesday, June 25, 2008

BTL Hits Another Legal Wall

Belize is once again brimming with excitement over an interesting turn in the ongoing cases against Belize Telemedia Limited, which the public is heralding as a victory in international law protecting the sovereignty of the small country Belize. This time, the battle concerns the Government's demand that BTL pay a steadily growing amount of back taxes, now assessed at over $10.2 Million dollars, to the Government of Belize. BTL has been claiming since the new administration came to power in February that Government owes BTL money on the basis of a secret accommodation agreement given to the company by former Prime Minister, Said Musa, under the last political administration. News of that agreement, which has not been made public but gives BTL concessions from business taxes and is rumored to give a 15% rate of return, came only a few months ago, when there was a change in Government and Barrow replaced Musa as Prime Minister.

In front of the court yesterday was an injunction against any more summons by the Government to BTL for back taxes, issued by the Commercial High Court of London. But in a decision handed down by Belize's Supreme Court, Chief Justice Conteh stayed the injunction of the London Court, calling it "egregious." The essence of his decision was that no foreign court has the right to prescribe the taxing authority of a sovereign nation.

BTL had also initially gone to the court to ask the Supreme Court to stop the Government from imposing import duties on the company, until it believes GOB’s arrears are settled. But it later withdrew that portion of the request in the local court.

The Government, with the backing of key media personalities and public figures, including the Government's prominent attorney, Lois Young, appears to intend to put its full resources into pursuing the litigation and claiming the back taxes.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Hope Creek

There should be an expression, "Up Hope's Creek." That's what it felt like when I visited the village of Hope Creek, in the South of Belize, with 13 Productions on a documentary film assignment.

We spoke with Mr. Senteno, a villager who had lived in Hope Creek for so long that he named the place (for a bridge that ran across the creek to the back of the town.) He showed us the water marks up to the tops of the windows of his store.

The rainfall came from the hills, that's why it flooded, they said. The water rose to human-sized heights within the space of five minutes. Everybody slept through the rain. Sometimes it rained for 4, 5 days. but it never flooded like this. Environmental advocates are saying that the sudden weather patterns are directly connected to Global Warming trends in the region, trends that will have devastating effects on the bioystem, including the rainforest, access to potable water, and marine wildlife in the Coral Reef.

Much of the village was completely destroyed, and environmentalists are now clamoring about the dangers of reforestation and the inevitable effect of global warming on both coastal and inland areas. But as Red Cross volunteer Larry Silver showed us a pump connected to a generator that, on its own, generated enough clean potable water for the whole community to wash their clothes, I could feel, incredibly, that there was still hope.