First, I would like to announce that the fishing boat with 3 young men that left the island on Tuesday, May 6th, were finally located somewhere near Belize by the Belize Coast Guard! The young men went out on a particularly windy day last week and had not been heard from. Boats from the island searched the surrounding area for them with no luck. Since we have had over a full week of really rough seas and high winds, everyone feared they may have encountered problems and either sunk or were capsized and were lost at sea. So, I am glad to report that they have been located. Upon reading the Belize News, the boys were dehydrated with associated illnesses and were in the hospital, otherwise they were in fairly good condition. It is not known when they will return to the island.
We still have no word on the fate of Matthew Zapata who was last reported in San Pedro Sula and has not been heard back from in a while. We are not clear as to when he arrived there or when he was to return or why he has not contacted his family. Needless to say it is feared that something has happened to him and the family is anxious.
But back to my topic. In the hopes of laying to rest our curiosity about what the new administration of the island has for it's future, my husband, Mike, and I met with the Mayor, Spurgeon Miller, on Monday. We had some concerns and wanted to get some input as to his ideas for the island.
First, Mayor Miller is an educated island-born individual with a good grasp of English which certainly helps when trying to communicate. My husband and I have a fair grasp of Spanish and I can converse with doctors, bankers, shop keepers and locals in Spanish. I love Spanish; it is very descriptive and fairly easy to grasp. However, trying to be come bi-lingual at my age is difficult. Not impossible, it just take a lot more time.
Mayor Miller met with us promptly at our appointed time. He is a very cordial young man who seemed to be on top of things. I questioned him about the Municipal Dock and my concerns with the problems that are facing it. This structure is fairly new having been completed a little over a year ago. We were much in need of a new dock and although it took longer than projected it is of sturdy concrete construction which we hope will stand the test of the sea. However, the design did not include any plans for smaller, local boats to use it for docking and/or parking when one has business in town. The large commercial boats that go to and from the Mainland weekly have no trouble docking there and off-loading but the height of the dock and the fact that the openings under it restricts use by small boats who wish to tie up. Presently there is a platform at the beginning of the dock where a few boats can tie up - maybe 3 or 4 minimum. More than that and it becomes a crowded, unsafe area. This is the only area where water taxis can drop off their clients and people can park to take care of whatever task they have in town that day.
As of a couple of weeks ago we have been told that no small boats can park at this platform. We are directed to park beside the dock which, because of the height of the structure and the openings, presents a huge problem to the safety of people and boats alike. Previously it was a "first come, first served" basis for parking at the platform. Now there is no parking.
I asked the Mayor what his plans were to correct this situation as, after all, it is a public dock. He said that as we spoke materials were being sought to build a wooden dock abutting the larger dock on the east side of the structure. Prices were being quoted and plans were being assembled to build this dock. He estimated that once everything was in place it should be completed in 30 days.
I suggested that he post a notice informing the local citizenry of the plans and the exact present restrictions for using the platform at dock; i.e., is parking allowed or is it merely a drop off? I felt that informing the public would be helpful. I also told him it would be constructive and informative if they would also post a notice informing the public-at-large that a parking dock is being considered and details be given regarding the final outcome of the plans. He agreed that it was an idea worth considering.
My husband brought up the disparity in building permit fees and wanted to know if a fee structure could be established as in the past there seemed to be no set price and the opportunity for graft was great. The Mayor was informed that some individuals in the past have been charged as much as 150% more than other buildings in proportion to their overall size and function. The Mayor said there was a set rate on 1.5% per million lempiras for building permits and anything over that was not within legal limits. He said he would examine the records for past charges to establish if the legal limits had been overstepped.
Next we inquired as to the status of the investigation regarding the attack on the night watchman at Dunbar Rock over a week ago. The building was reportedly broken into by 2 men who arrived in a boat. They attacked the 78 year old guard and stole food and a radio. It appears that whoever the perpetrators were they may have had keys as the freezer they entered was not broken into and the lock appears to have been opened with a key. The guard sustained 10 stitches to his head and got medical help by going to the room of two of the guests there at the time asking for help.
The Mayor said there was an active investigation into the crime as it is suspected by some that it was an "inside" job and may have been done by disgruntled employees who had not been paid in some time. This fact, however, has to be researched to establish if it is true.
With regard to that topic, my husband asked if employers running a business and, therefore, having been issued an operating permit, can be held accountable and be made to pay their workers when wages are being withheld an inordinate length of time. Mike proposed that people withholding wages are creating a problem which may lead to stealing from the business or others by the employee just to sustain their daily lives because they are not being paid. We said this does not look good for the island in general if people are allowed to come, build a business and withhold salaries for whatever reason. A consideration should be given to pull their operating permit until they have rectified the problem and a fine charged for such deplorable actions. Upon proof that all employees have finally been paid and any outstanding debts cleared, they would be allowed to re-open their business. The Mayor showed interest in such action and said he would check further into the actions of what went on at Dunbar rock to see if proper steps could be taken to prevent occurrences that may have created this problem.
The Mayor was advised by my husband that this is not the only case where employers are withholding wages and not because the employee is not doing the job. Why any employer in a viable business would delay normal employee salaries is open to everyone's speculation but seems un-productive. We asked if he could somehow check into this practice and take moves to correct it by fines or other restrictions.
Mike then questioned the Mayor on environmental issues stating his concern for the hunting and retention of turtles in confined areas. It is against the law to interfere with turtles in any way, either by hunting, selling or keeping them in penned areas. The Mayor understands the environmental impact regarding sea life around the island and it is his desire to cooperate with restricting these actions and enforcing the law.
The Mayor also said that special considerations are being sought to establish better ways of gathering needed construction materials such as sand and gravel. His Honor is looking into areas that can be used for these supplies without harming the environment or jeopardizing the shorelines of the island.
We can only hope that this administration will shed a new light on the face of Guanaja, helping rather than hindering its development. We realize that the Mayor has a tough job ahead of him which will take many hours of his time and important decisions. We wish him the best in his endeavor and hope that all citizens will be willing to work and assist him in making Guanaja more productive and a place that people will want to return to.