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January 2012

Interested in applying as an entrepreneur?


Who are we looking for…

We are looking for individuals from across the Caribbean who want a partner through the highs and lows of growing and running a business.  The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship offers a phenomenal opportunity for budding entrepreneurs to realise their ambitions.  We think the best way to achieve business success is to surround yourself with people who have the imagination, good ideas and energy to make things happen.  We’ll be looking for innovative and creative people with an entrepreneurial track record, outstanding leadership and interpersonal skills, and high achievement in professional or academic life.

The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship – Caribbean will only support:

  • Candidates with a proven track record of entrepreneurial activity – an idea alone is not enough
  • Aspiring entrepreneurs that can demonstrate a strong social commitment – job creation in disadvantaged communities is an integral part of the business model
  • Small and growing businesses that have strong financial, social and environmental credentials.

Only if the above mentioned requirements are met will we have a further preference for the following:

  • Individuals between 18 and 35 years old
  • Businesses that support the Caribbean’s tourism industry

We treat everyone as individuals. We are flexible, if we are not needed every day of the week, that’s fine. People won’t lose their place. We are not a university. We are not a school. We are a place people can thrive, whatever their business or skill set.

Got what it takes…

Then start thinking about partnering with The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship – Caribbean. The application form will be available online from January 6th – February 6th, 2012 and will include:

  • A personal statement of no more than 300 words so you can tell us what sets you apart.
  • A business profile in which you’ll tell us about the business you run or are  interested in pursuing
  • An entrepreneur survey for us to learn more about you
  • Two references from people who know you well professionally
  • In addition, we require that you submit a non-refundable application fee of JA$500 to help us offset some of the costs of processing applications, and to make sure you’re really keen.

We would love to hear from you! Please tell us about yourself and your business plan using the link below.

http://www.bransoncentre.org/Caribbean/apply_online.html

From:

Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship-Caribbean

Unit 14, Bogue City Centre

Montego Bay

Jamaica

Office: 876 632-5134

Website: www.bransoncentre.org

Release by:

Yorshabell Cattouse Membership Programs Administrator

Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 2nd floor, WithField Tower, #4792 Coney Drive, Belize City, Belize

Tel: 501-223-5330, Fax: 501-223-5333

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Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Finds in Government’s Favour!


Today the Caribbean Court of Justice handed down a major decision relating to Telemedia, The Ashcroft Alliance and the Eighth Amendment.

Back in August, the CCJ granted special leave to appeal to Dean Boyce and the British Caribbean Bank and barred government from selling any shares in BTL until the matter is settled before the courts.

Attorneys for the Ashcroft Alliance went one step further; they asked the court to examine the constitutionality of the second nationalization one time – without them having to take it to the lower courts.

Today the court announced its decision on that. If the court decided to proceed that would mean that the controversial eighth amendment would be immediately before the highest court in the land.

If not, it would mean a reset; starting the challenge of the ninth at the lower courts – and working it back up – inevitably – to the CCJ – a process which will take years to finish.

The judgment was handed down at 12:30 today via teleconference with the judges at CCJ headquarters in Trinidad and attorneys for both sides at the Supreme Court in Belize City. Denys Barrow and Lois Young appeared for Government while Godfrey Smith appeared for Dean Boyce and Eamon Courtenay for The British Caribbean Bank.

President of the court, Sir Dennis Byron read the judgment which took about forty minutes to deliver.

He found in the government’s favor: That the Ashcroft Alliance would have to bring the case up through the Supreme Court, and then the Court of Appeals, and then finally to the CCJ – which, again, will take years.

It’s far from the end of the road, but it does give Government plenty of breathing room – and today Government’s attorneys were visibly relieved – they spoke to us outside the courtroom:

Jules Vasquez
“Are you satisfied with this outcome?”

Lois Young – Attorney for Government
“Oh, yes, this is all we can ask for. It’s everything we can ask for, and the other side got nothing that it ask for” Jules Vasquez
“What is the consequential effect of what has happened here today?”

Lois Young
“The order of the 16th of December has been lifted. The junction against selling the shares has gone by the way side. The injunction against the day to day management of the company – it wasn’t an injunction; the order allowing the day to day management has gone by the wayside.”

Denys Barrow – Attorney for Government
“What the applicants really had been seeking to do, and the court was sympathetic to the passion with which they yearned for this because of the interest at stake. They were seeking to get a matter, a case, which will be brought in the Supreme Court, heard right away in the CCJ. And, the CCJ in this decision said, ‘Listen, We understand why you want it, but as a matter of how courts operate, as a matter of judicial policy, as a matter of fact of how judges should conduct the judicial process; let us not have that. It is important when things reach us, that all the arguments, which are applicable to this matter, should have been gone through already.”

Jules Vasquez
“Might not the opponents of the 8th amendment, and the rea-acquisition; might they not say that it is simply a deferral of an inevitable day of reckoning for the 8th amendment,”

Loise Young
“It’s not inevitable that the CCJ, or that the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal will rule in their favor. That’s not inevitable. That’s presumptuous of them to say that it’s inevitable.”

Jules Vasquez
“I said that.”

Denys Barrow
“To give fairness and a fuller picture, you would have heard when President Byron was giving his reasoning, He indicated that that issue, the validity of the 2011 Legislation, and in particularly,. the constitutional amendment, raise issues which was so novel, so large, so complex, and which have an impact or will have an impact beyond the parties to the litigation, and beyond the country of Belize, that I think is the ultimate indication that it is a question of huge complexity, and it would be really idle for either side to claim the likelihood of victory. It would be a superficial response.”

The usually voluble attorneys for the other side, Smith and Courtenay – had no comment today. Of note is that Fortis had asked to be included as an interested party if the case goes forward in the CCJ – but since it is not, that was denied.

The injunction against the government was lifted on two conditions: first, that the government must cooperate with the Ashcroft Alliance in having their challenges at the courts below heard as quickly as possible and second that government can now go ahead and sell the shares, but it must keep the proceeds of the sales set aside, and it can only be used to pay compensation to those shareholders whose shares were acquired.

So now, the sale of shares in Telemedia can proceed. By our calculation, 30% of the company is still available for sale. That’s because – according to the Eighth Amendment Government interests must control 51% of the company. With Social Security presently owning 20% and Government with 62%, government currently controls 82%. So, government can sell 30% of the company’s shares and still have public control of 51% of the company’s shares.

One other notable point which came out today is that the President noted that it must be accepted that the Eighth Amendment and the second nationalization is good and valid until declared to be otherwise by a court of law.

From www.channel7belize.com

 

Speech by Hon Dean O. Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize Business Forum November 23rd, 2011


Speech by Hon Dean O. Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize Business Forum November 23rd, 2011 (Guardian Newspaper, 2011)

Despite global conditions, Belize has weathered the storm and our economy is again on the right track. With a continued focus on poverty alleviation through social investment; job creation; enterprise development; growth in productivity; and safety and security, we can look forward to a better future.

I am pleased that today we gather to discuss how government and the private sector can collaborate in taking the necessary next steps to sustain economic growth in the immediate, intermediate and long term. This meeting comes as a follow up to several sessions that our policy team has had with select groups. But the invitation has been to the wider business sector, and I am happy to see a very representative attendance. During the consultations with the select group several issues emerged. These had to do with what was identified as current constraints on private sector, and general economic, progress. The idea is to discuss new ways in which these obstacles might be removed. But we also want to look at new modalities, arising as well principally from the suggestions made by those to whom we earlier spoke, for empowering business models and accelerating accommodation and facilitation on the part of Government and quasi-Government agencies.

In setting the stage for this forum that is overdue, it is fair to say that no Government of Belize has before been put into a situation where so much of its time and resources have had to be spent, including in Court, to recover or protect the assets of the country. This has been at a juncture when the economic crosscurrents caused by both external and domestic factors, would normally have required the full attention of the authorities just to keep the system up and running. Despite our preoccupations with defense of sovereignty and patrimony, however, we have been able to deliver on critical economic and social systemic tasks much more effectively than most of our neighbours. But of course, we too have suffered from the management failures in the United States and the global crises these helped to cause.

Notwithstanding inherited circumstances and the dire world situation, then, Belize has not neglected the pressing domestic concerns. In fact, the development programmes and projects that are being implemented by this Administration since it took office in February 2008 have been unprecedentedly extensive. A booklet containing a list has been prepared by the Ministry of Economic Development, and will be distributed today.

Deservedly, our concentration on poverty alleviation, our bedrock pro-poor policies, has received much attention. But in a larger sense, this focus is also pro-business. First of all, these programmes are largely financed by external inflows. Then, as in the case of the Boost and the Pantry programmes, they result in provision of disposable income to people that will spend, not save. As well, by zero-rating and reducing duties on basic food and other necessary items, we have increased the demand for those products. In turn, this provides greater opportunities for local businesses to import, make and sell them. Most important of all, investment in the poor helps to reduce crime; and investment in education increases productivity.

Moving now to the particular areas of concern raised by our private sector interlocutors, the most significant were as follows:

I. There is a perception of extensive tax evasion, particularly with respect to GST and Customs Duties. This, of course, leads to inequity, increasing the inability to compete on the part of those that continue to play by the rules.

II. Violent crime, including murder and armed robbery, has reached the levels where it has added tremendously to the security costs of doing business.

III. The Financial Sector operations need to be reviewed, with particular emphasis on interest rates, deposit rates and the excess liquidity in the system.

IV. The road infrastructure requires urgent attention, particularly the main streets in Belize City and the roads that are critical for the movement of tourists.

V. The absence of easily available, timely, and reliable statistics covering economic and social behaviour, particularly trade statistics, causes problems for business and investment planning. Ditto for the difficulty in obtaining public finances numbers.

VI. The development concessions regime appears to be useful only to large businesses. As currently operated, the regime is too bureaucratic, time-consuming and expensive to be useful to medium and small enterprises.

At a more general level, there was clear indication of the need for improvement in the perception of the business climate.

Regarding this latter, there is an extent to which negative rhetoric has served to produce the very outcome it claimed to be warning against. And it was also clear that many of those consulted were not aware of the full extent of ongoing Government activity to address the country’s development challenges. This is no doubt due to a failing on our part to disseminate that information. But it is precisely that sort of deficit that interactions like today’s will help to correct.

Now if I could seek to address each of the listed areas in turn:

The GST and Customs Duties situations are obviously troubling. But you would be aware that a leadership change has already taken place at the GST Department, and that two compliance officers, recruited from outside the Department, have been in post for some months now. These moves are paying dividends, but additional effort has been under consideration and two proposals are currently on the table. One is intended to increase the flow of information from individual establishments to the GST office, while the other is intended to encourage the public to become involved in oversight operations. Ms Betty Ann Jones can talk more about them later.

With respect to the Customs Department, you know that the ASYCUDA World system is presently being installed, with financial support from CDB. We will need to establish how well that system works before embarking on any major new operation, although we are aware of the need to install container-scanning capability in the near future if we are to be able to continue to export to the US. We are also aware that implementation of the ASYCUDA project has been experiencing substantial delays, and we have commenced a detailed investigation to ascertain the reasons for the delay, and to accelerate implementation. Both the container-scanning operation and ASYCUDA will obviously change the structure and functioning of the Customs Department. The hope, and expectation, is that these developments will reduce the vicissitudes of the human factor and lead to better control of graft and corruption. Accordingly, the business playing field will naturally be more level as we succeed in eliminating the disadvantage to those that virtue now holds hostage. Operations in the Free Zone, the Export Processing Zones and general contraband control, must also receive closer scrutiny in order to complement ASYCUDA.

In respect to crime, there is now common knowledge of the multi-dimensional actions that we have already undertaken to address the situation. At one level, we are expanding the capacity of the Police Department through stepped-up training, and, with support from our development partners, a substantial supply of additional equipment, including full forensics analysis capacity.

At another level, we have sought to engage all community stakeholders, including the gangs, in an ongoing lifestyle evaluation and assistance process. The effort to deal with youth and gang violence has yielded much success over the past three months. And while it has been a completely local initiative to this point, we have also signed on to a CARICOM pilot that should assist.

At still another level, RESTORE BELIZE is now fully operational; and with assistance from Dr. Herbert Gayle in a consulting capacity, the programme is seeking to coordinate a number of Government interventions that are intended to address the longer-term needs and aspirations of at-risk youth and their families.

At the heart of the overall response, of course, is the requirement to provide all members of the population with a reasonable expectation of a comfortable life, if they make the effort to help themselves. This necessitates an enabling environment that includes a sufficient number of primary school places, adequate opportunity for secondary, tertiary, and technical training, and a physically healthy environment and basic medical care. It also requires that opportunities exist for each individual to work and generate income. Again, the timeliness of this forum is apparent in seeking an expansion of the private sector level of economic activity. This will create a greater employment space, and opportunities for workers in addition to those produced by Government’s job-creation efforts.

In respect to the financial infrastructure, ever since it took office the Administration has been concerned about the high levels of interest rates in the banking system, and the effect of those rates on the level of domestic business activity and export competitiveness. The expectation that the sharp decline in interest rates in Belize’s main trading partners would have been reflected in similar decreases locally, has not been realized. There has been a great increase in domestic banking system liquidity as loan demand has dropped in response to declining aggregate demand. But this has not driven down lending rates to any significant degree. Indeed, while there has been an almost precipitous tumble in average deposit rates, average lending rates have fallen only marginally, benefitting the banks by way of larger interest rate spreads.

Before I tell you the details of the moral suasion that the Central Bank has been employing to deal with the situation, I should tell you that it has not been enough. Now I understand only too well the complexities of the situation and the limits of Central Bank power in an ultra-sensitive situation where none of our commercial banks is truly locally owned. And while I will not say that the banks in Belize operate in the fashion of a cartel, I will most assuredly say that more competition is needed. One step in that direction would be to turn the DFC into a full-scale national commercial bank, and Government will shortly be appointing a committee to examine that possibility. The time may also have come to legislate a cap on interest rate spreads.

Meanwhile, though, and ever since the start of the economic slowdown, the Central Bank has been encouraging the commercial banks to work with their clients through this regionally and globally difficult period. Obviously, loan restructuring arrangements in an environment of very low international interest rates, high domestic rates, and excess and growing levels of liquidity, would require some burden-sharing all around. Thus, one would have expected that interest rate restructuring would have been part of new bank-client support arrangements. This would make both good banking and larger economic sense. After all some downward adjustment of lending rates, even if temporary, could mean the difference between a non-performing loan and one that is being serviced, albeit with difficulty. But the present stance of some of the banks is to insist that even the miserly decrease in interest rates that is extended to new loans, must be withheld from existing outstanding loans. It is a beggar-thy-customer policy that is not supportive of recovery and progress in the prevailing circumstances.

But the idea today is not to hector anyone. So I will merely make the following observation, using my best diplomatic-speak: Commercial banks may wish to use the current opportunity, in which methods of treating with poor-performing loans are being discussed with the Central Bank, to make meaningful proposals. Such proposals could include interest rate adjustment in the context of loan work-out approaches for qualifying borrowers.

While the Central Bank has been paying a great deal of attention to the stability and efficiency of banking and financial system operations, including the operations of the credit unions, it has not been neglecting its larger development functions. I therefore wish to report on two initiatives that are currently well under way. The first is, with assistance from the IFC, the establishment of a credit bureau. Details of the proposed arrangements will be made available for comment and discussion as soon as they reach an appropriate stage. The second initiative is the establishment of a national payments system to facilitate electronic single-card funds transfers and business transactions throughout the country. This will reduce the need for cheques and cash, and for businesses to operate multiple card-swiping terminals. Again, external assistance is being provided.

Regarding our road infrastructure, there can be no question that the current condition of our streets and roads leaves a lot to be desired. But there is also a great deal that is being done. The Northern Road network is benefitting from much improvement under the EU funding connected to the Accompanying Measures for Sugar. Infrastructure can also be looked at under the Banana Belt Rural Development Initiative, and the bridges at Kendal, Mullins River and Middlesex have been or are being financed. One pesky little issue underlined in the discussions was the need for road-marking and edging. The Ministry of Works has already started with the Northern Highway in the vicinity of the Tower Hill sugar factory; and I promise to do something in the next few weeks with the stretch between Ladyville and Belize City.

In relation to the streets in our municipalities, there is the World Bank Infrastructure Project that was to start this month, but which has been delayed some because of the usual nickel and diming of that august institution. However, major Southside operations are starting just about now in Belize City, and Northside drainage works will begin in January or February.

There is a broader issue I believe we should be looking at, and it is this: whether the appropriate technical and financial capacity to build and maintain streets and drains can optimally exist in each of our separate municipalities, or whether it ought to be centralized. While such a notion would appear to raise a question regarding the appropriate range and scope for local government activities, it is in fact entirely consistent with the contracting out of particular services, as in the case of garbage collection in Belize City. But that is perhaps a discussion for another time.

In relation to the general statistics and public finances data availability issues, I have asked the Government representatives on the Board of the Statistical Institute of Belize to get some action from the management of the SIB. Since private sector nominees are also on that Board, there should be a consensus insistence on better. Of course, the compilers of the data have to depend on submissions from a number of agencies. But that has not stopped the Central Bank, for example, from producing monthly reports that are both comprehensive and fairly timely.

In relation to public finances, I have instructed the Ministry of Finance to prepare and circulate quarterly summaries. You should also be aware that, in keeping with the Regulations we promulgated under the Finance and Audit Reform Act, there are certain reporting requirements that will become obligations of the Minister of Finance beginning in 2012. Since taking office this Administration has actively sought to close the loopholes that permitted the very poor management of the public finances that was the norm in the past, and we have benefitted from a number of reviews of our public finances management and expenditure systems. Most important, perhaps, is the fact that we have recently requested a diagnostic of our taxation system, with a view to its simplification and rationalization. We, like you, are anxiously awaiting the outcome of that exercise.

In terms of the management of the public finances one important task is still to be completed, and that is the full integration of the public sector investment programming processes with the budget processes. This would allow public finances management as a whole to become explicitly focused on country development; and recurrent budgetary operations to be guided by the country’s development needs, rather than being treated as a stand alone annual exercise. This will require not only coordination between the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Economic Development, but also close cooperation between the Ministry of Economic Development and all the line ministries.

I have raised the development concessions issue with BELTRAIDE, and the new Board of Directors is streamlining and shortening the process. It will also be making recommendations for a specific Fiscal Incentive program to suit small and medium enterprises, and which will be more sector specific.

At a broader level, there are three other issues I must address. The first issue has to do with the perception that has been expressed about an apparent absence of development planning and focus. The UDP Manifesto, issued prior to the 2008 elections, sets out a detailed programme that the Party intended to implement. This Manifesto had been developed following widespread consultations with the people, and came out of our own observations as we travelled the length and breadth of Belize. The Manifesto was not structured in the traditional form of a development plan since a party manifesto and a country development plan are two different documents and are intended for different audiences. Subsequently, however, the Ministry of Economic Development prepared and published a Medium-Term Development Strategy that drew heavily on the Manifesto, but, which also took account of ongoing programmes, activities and challenges. This Medium-Term Strategy is what currently informs the Government’s public sector investment programme. More recently, we have commissioned work on a longer-term development vision for the country, and we expect, beginning in the near future, to be able to use this Horizon 2030 as a basis for more detailed development planning. While all this has been in progress, the Government’s Press Office has been keeping the nation informed, through special presentations and through the TV programme “Belmopan Weekly”, about Government’s accomplishments and activities.

The second issue is related to the first, and it has to do with the need for Government to enter into a more comprehensive ongoing dialogue with the private sector and for the establishment of a framework to address particular issues as they arise. We would expect a more general discussion at the policy level, while specific areas would be actioned by technical committees established for that purpose. It would be useful to have your views on how these arrangements could be structured.

The third and most important issue involves how we, all of us, go about the business of expanding production in, and exports from, Belize. For it is only through increased output and sales growth that we can hope to boost profits and boost employment and incomes.

Traditionally, the private sector has been the engine of growth, while the public sector has concentrated on providing the enabling environment in the form of the physical and institutional support infrastructure. Increasingly, however, based on some of the comments that are being made in relation to a need for more direction from Government, it appears that the paradigm may have to shift a little. The public sector may have to take more of a lead in identifying, marketing and bringing to fruition the business and investment possibilities that are likely to attract private sector interest. Thus, the Ministry of Foreign Trade, the Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Agriculture will all have to step up.

The point is that Belize has much scope for innovation and non-traditional activity. I believe this is particularly so in ago-industry and services, especially business services. But if Government is to do more, the private sector will have to hold hands with us. Hopefully today is the start of a new joint enterprise. One where, among other things, you will help us to identify the new spaces and opportunities in relation to which Government and Public Officers can become more accommodative, more facilitative, more aggressively empowering of business and enterprise. So a clarion call needs to go out now. Attitudes must be changed; initiatives must be grasped; openings must be created. And Government must be ready to put in place the practical and psychological arrangements not just to buttress but to muscularize the private sector.

Of course, the foremost objective of Government is always improvement in the welfare and conditions of all Belizeans. So that benefits from the sustained business expansion that we now seek, should also be made to flow to the ordinary citizen, especially the poor. In this connection, we rely on the fact that a rising private sector tide will inevitably float all boats. But we will ever want to ensure that output increase and productivity acceleration also bring specific and targeted advantages to those most in need. We know that you are one with us in that regard. After all, the business community in this country is well-known for its conscience and sense of social responsibility. I am happy, therefore, to conclude on a note of certainty that in all we do we will keep the least of our brethren well in mind.
I thank you.

 

Belize Day Tour: Mountain Pine Ridge


Lower Dover Field Journal

The Mountain Pine Ridge region of the Cayo District in Western Belize provides plenty of sightseeing opportunities. One can go on a day tour to the Maya ruins of Caracol and get back to Lower Dover Jungle Lodge in time for dinner. Along the way, there will be plenty of pot holes, wildlife photo opportunities, and numerous sightseeing turnoffs.

The name Mountain Pine Ridge comes from the large granite outcroppings present only here in Belize. These granite peaks, along with the country’s hottest daytime temperatures, provide the necessary habitat for pine forest growth.  Unfortunately, an invasive species called the southern pine bark beetle devastated many of the old growth parts of the pine forest in early 2000.  Luckily, a successful reforestation program has worked to halt a complete extinction of the pine trees in Mountain Pine Ridge.

The first stop on the way is Rio On Pools, a fantastic swimming…

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Belize Day Tours: Tikal National Park


Lower Dover Field Journal

The ancient Maya city of Tikal is one of the great attractions on the Maya Trail. The Mayan Trail stretches from the Yucatan in Mexico, into Guatemala, and all throughout Belize.  It is a common stop for backpackers looking to see the best of the Mayan heartland. If you can only see one Maya site, Tikal National Park is our top pick for Maya travel destination in 2012.

Located within the Peten Maya Biosphere Reserve, which covers a huge portion of Northern Guatemala, Tikal is one of many archaeology sites in the area. It was once a great capital city during Classic Maya times. It remained extremely important until neighboring capital Caracol conquered the city in 556 AD. A 130 year hiatus of building ensued. Only after Tikal conquered Caracol’s closest ally, Calakmul, in 695 AD did Tikal regain it’s significance in the Maya world. It was after this time that…

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