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Former Labour Commissioner fights IVC Over machinery

The former Labour Commissioner and UDP Standard Bearer, Ivan Williams is seeking legal recourse against the Government of Belize. 

The former Labour Commissioner and UDP Standard Bearer, Ivan Williams is seeking legal recourse against the Government of Belize.  Williams’ decision follows an incident on Tuesday when a grader was taken from his farm by Police and members of the Independence Village Council.  According to Williams he was not in the area when Police showed up at his farm in Silk Grass Village, Stann Creek District.  He says they broke down his gate and subsequently took away the equipment.  Love News understands that it was Williams’ sister who contacted him by phone to tell him what was happening at the farm.  Williams says he had managed to speak to the police officer who insisted that the equipment be removed immediately.  According to Williams, the equipment actually belongs to the Gut-Wil View organization, and he has the paper to prove it.

Ivan Williams, Former Labour Commissioner

Ivan Williams, Former Labour Commissioner: I asked of the police three things. One, under whose instruction they were operating because they told me it was under instruction. And two, I am on my way to Belize City please I have the keys for my gates, because my gates were locked two gates, and I have no problem I will not stop the police from doing their duty and by tomorrow I could go there and open the gate and providing they have all proper documentation whatever I’m satisfied they’re following due process of the law no problem. Thirdly if anybody had made any report to the police or anything then we can then present our documents just like them to show at the end of the day they can determine if it’s an investigation they want to carry out and I was point blankly told no they were on instructions and they will proceed. As you could see from the document that I’ve sent, that grader belongs not to Ivan Williams or the directors it belongs to the community based organization Gut Wil. The Gut Wil project had approved some works in the area, we assist villages. People call from time to time and it’s a community based organization and we help with the- actually it was doing some work the last time it did some work in Silk Grass grading the streets for the village. 

Reporter: How long ago was that ?

Ivan Williams, Former Labour Commissioner: That’s a little over two months and it was parked there because it had tire problems. The Gut Wil project money was spent on the grader. I dare the Ministry of Rural Development to show us any evidence of any money from the village council which bought a grader because a grader is not a cheap piece of equipment.”

The plot thickens, however, as while Williams has the certificate of registration to prove ownership, the government has the documents to prove that they had granted a tax exemption for the grader in April 2019 with the written understanding that it was for the sole use for Independence Village.  Meanwhile the Independence Village Council has the paid invoices addressed to them from the seller in the United States, as well as the ocean freight company.  According to Ivan Williams, however, he says that the Gut Wil organization had only used the Independence Village Council to carry out the money transfer processes, but it was the organization who actually paid for the equipment.

Ivan Williams, Former Labour Commissioner: “When the current village council, which is a mixed council there’s four PUP and three UDP so it’s a mixed council there had to be a handing over supervised by the Ministry of Rural Development and at that time the issue of the grader came up and the Rural Development Officer clearly said that the grader was not a part of the assets of the village council, that there is no evidence of any purchase of any grader because you know to purchase equipment like that the village council would have had to get permission from Rural Development to spend those kinds of money. So there was no evidence of any village council money to that extent to buy a grader and a grader is not a cheap piece of equipment. I remember the chairman called me one time and said that he received a letter from Senior Counsel Michel Chebat, that is before he ran for minister, to hand over the grader otherwise he would take civil action and we were waiting for that so we thought that it would be the subject of a civil matter because in my view it’s a civil matter. If you are claiming something and I’m saying it belongs to me I’m not sure where the police come into that and like I said I don’t know what the police have, I’ve not been served with anything. I’ve not been told anything other than the discussion I had with the officer on the ground and the discussion with the Commissioner. As far as I am concerned is that the directors of the community based organization are the ones who are in control on behalf of the organization and they are answerable to the organization and not to the village council. I can say to you in all fairness and honesty there was a good working relationship between the previous village council because the previous village council was a full UDP village council and we had very good relations as a matter of fact village councils all over Stann Creek West have been coming to me asking for assistance and when the Ministry of Works couldn’t do certain works we go and help people in villages so that’s what we were doing and we had a very good working relationship with the previous village council. Now the village council is controlled by the PUP they had the majority people and we have also offered to help them on certain terms- instead they are claiming ownership. We have done over $20,000 worth of works in Independence using that grader through the good relations between Gut Wil and the former village council.”

Our newsroom investigated further and spoke with the Vice Chairman of the Independence Village Council, Clifford Garbutt.  In our interview with him, Garbutt explained that Gut-Wil (which is short for Gutierrez and Williams), started off as a land distribution project where two thousand lots were to be distributed in the village.  He noted that when these lots were being surveyed, it was agreed that the cost of equipment would have been incorporated into the survey costs.  Garbutt went even further to explain that what started out as a land survey project ended up as a registered organization as recent as last November.

Clifford Garbutt, Vice Chairman, Independence Village

Clifford Garbutt, Vice Chairman, Independence Village:Money was paid from Independence Village Council Fund for the transportation of that grader so we have a check stub to show that over $7,000 was paid for the transportation of that grader from the US to the Big Creek Port.”

Reporter: So who paid for the grader itself ?

Clifford Garbutt, Vice Chairman, Independence Village: “Now that’s a mystery that we are trying to figure out. We know at the initial discussion of a two thousand lot project in 2018 the village council at that time made a public announcement to the villagers of Independence that through the survey cost that they would have charged for that two thousand lot project they would purchase equipment from the proceeds of that for Independence Village Council. And so they made that public announcement that they would procure grader along with other equipment and they would do other infrastructural development in that area and it’s on that premise and on that promise that they made that the present Village Council have made the decision then that because we have these documentation , because we have that announcement that they have made and we don’t see anything else to show otherwise that we are saying then that that equipment belongs to the people of Independence Village. After the village council election of 2019 they lost majority seats on the council and so to retain management of that project they decided to create the Gut Wil project so as to continue with the management of that project. So that project was never handed over to the Independence Village Council of 2019 or the new council of 2019 even though the permission to survey was given to Independence Village Council and not to any Gut Wil project. Now if there’s other documents to say otherwise we are not in possession of those documents. The clarification to that is that they registered as an organization on the 26th of November 2020 as documents that we have, we have no other document to show that they have registered before that it’s actually Gut Wil for the former chairperson and the former standard bearer. They have morphed themselves, they have changed different names as they lost the different elections. So as they lose one election their name changes. So they were first, Independence Village Council they lost that then they turned into the Gut Wil project. The general election they lost that as well and then you saw the Gut Wil Organization Management, that’s a new organization now they registered on the 26th of November. So we have seen a change and we believe the change has been done to legitimize the entire process. I’m not so certain whether that’s the case but it does point in that direction.“

The events surrounding this expensive machinery seem to be glazed with politics.  According to Garbutt, the arguments over the grader began after the UDP lost the village council election in Independence in 2019.  Since then the council has been trying to repossess the grader, they firmly believe is theirs.

Clifford Garbutt, Vice Chairman, Independence Village: When the swearing in took place there was no handing over of the equipment and at that time we were told that there was a memorandum of understanding but no MOU could have been shown to us on that date. Some MOU that should have been signed between the village council and the operants of the Gut Wil project but no MOU was shown to us on the day of the swearing in. Even at their launch to the village council they brought the grader to show that this is what we purchased for you to show political mileage for their council at the time. So they brought that out, the IVC was marked on the grader to say that this belongs to Independence Village Council. They have made statements on Facebook to say the same that we have purchased a grader for you and we are going to make sure that the streets of Independence will be maintained with this grader and so there are public statements that they have made but not in a formal declaration but they have made public announcement where villagers are quite aware that this equipment belongs to them or it was promised to them.”

The two sides have spoken, but the matter is soon to become a legal battle as Williams says he is seeking advice from his attorney.  Meanwhile, the Independence Village Council through the support from the Ministry of Rural Development is working on having the grader under their management.

Ivan Williams, Former Labour Commissioner: “And I believe- this is my personal belief- that they are actively pursuing that. Now and I will say this they claim that they’re acting on instructions and my things is that on whose instructions can they act other than some political element because you know I’m now a public figure I ran for UDP in Stann Creek West and maybe it’s an attempt to try and attack me in that light but I have nothing to hide. I’m a law abiding citizen and so I believe that a number of wrong have been done to me personally I don’t think that the police has the authority to do that and that’s the reason why I’m looking at it from a legal point of view and I will be seeking legal advice in terms of the method that they use to remove the thing and also try to seek legal counsel in respect to taking the documentation that we have and hopefully the grader can be released from the police station.”

Clifford Garbutt, Vice Chairman, Independence Village: “The equipment is now at the police station here in Independence and we believe that they are doing their own investigation to find out whether or not this is a legitimate process in terms for the village council to actually have possession of this equipment. We are certain based on the information that we have that Independence Village Council should have access to this grader from the mere fact that they have made promises, they have used village council fund to assist in the procurement of this grader and because of that we think that if you have used the money from the village council then the village council should have possession of that equipment.”

We will keep following this story.