Today Belmopan City Mayor Khalid Belisle said the Council has collected on the sale of Hilltop to Simplex Design Company Limited. But it’s a sale that has come with much trouble. The Public Service Union has stated categorically that they will “not be moved” from that property and has lodged a caution on the sale. In a Press Conference today, Mayor Belisle explained their side of the story. He confirmed the existence of a twenty-year agreement between the City Council and the union signed in 2001. Fast-forward to 2017 – that is when the City Council began a revision of its assets and realized there were no records of payments for the lease by the PSU. The mayor says he proceeded to give the union a fair opportunity to purchase the land and began discussions with the executive since August of last year, the same year they conducted a valuation of the property. They then sought an offer from the PSU.
Khalid Belisle Mayor of Belmopan: “Their offer was $187,000 and remember I was absent so I am going by what has been reported to me, their offer was $187,000 best and final offer. This is after we told them, we had had an evaluation in house at 503 but the thing about that in house evaluation is that it represented a severe haircut from the get go. Our Technical Director who was skilled in these manners former employee of the Ministry of National Resources herself and told us that if she were valuing for private enterprise this probably would have been valued at 700 plus thousand dollars and we are at 503. It was a significant reduction on the council’s part in terms of what we thought was reasonable value for the property so come to the close of that meeting between the PSU and the councillors $187,000 best and final offer . I am told that our City Administrator intervened and said well, that is unacceptable to the council and we stated to them an amount, we will give you a month to please go back and come back to use with something more reasonable, that month elapsed. We had absolutely no indication from the PSU in terms of coming back to us and so the Council decided to move up This is remembering now that we hadn’t had a history of payments, over the course of the talks, the PSU I have to give credit where the credit is due. It was the PSU that was able to produce some receipts for payments made to Belmopan City Council.”
Reporter: “Are those the four payments total?”
Khalid Belisle Mayor of Belmopan: “They are the four payments in the summer of 2008 covering the months of April, May, June and July. Two checks for $500, one check for $1000 which covered the final few months and to this date searches on the council’s part as well as I understand searchers on the Union’s part have failed to meet any other payment beside that $2000. We have done the calculations, had the rent been paid to time and had it been up to date we at the council should have collected $102,000. Clearly there was flexibility because we didn’t end up selling for a half a million dollars Jules but we left the door open for them to come back to us but they never did, clearly there was flexibility.
However, the PSU has made a few allegations surrounding the transaction, starting with the speed that the land was sold to the company, the alleged one million dollar offer to the City Council, and the rejection of an offer by the PSU. The Mayor addressed these.
Khalid Belisle Mayor of Belmopan: “This business group decided that as opposed to continuing this new project that they plan to propose to embark on under the previous umbrella that they wanted something fresh and new so that it could be separate and aside from the other interest and that is my understanding of why it was that the new company was created. In terms of the, I do take a little bit of ombridge with your assertion that the transaction was completed in one day, You make it sound like everything sailed through Lands in one day and that is not the case. We have never had an evaluation come in for a million dollars on that property, not our in house evaluation and not by a private evaluator. At no point in time has an impending individual or company offered the Belmopan City Council $1,000,000 for that or any other property that I am aware of particular referring to my term of office here. $400,000 was the offer and $400,000 is what we accepted there. I understand where they are trying to go and I can even understand why it might be that they are trying to go that route but absolutely nothing of the sort and to be quite frank with you maybe because I wasn’t here, I was never aware of the fact that they made some offer in terms of down payment until you mentioned to me. I understand that they claim they paid somewhere between 50 and $60,000. Another claim is based on the memory of their past presidents. I am familiar with some of those folks, I have a tremendous degree of respect for them and so I am not going to question their word but the simple fact of the matter is we don’t have it in black and white.”
Even though the transaction has been completed, it seems not all may be lost for the PSU.
Khalid Belisle Mayor of Belmopan: “At this point the sale is final and it’s a completed transaction as we sit here this afternoon, it is a completed transaction.”
Reporter: “What course of action can be taken considering you are facing a mountain of opposition and you seemingly have come under some form of legal pressure should they decide to take that course.?”
Khalid Belisle Mayor of Belmopan: “Well I mean if they have a legal challenge forthcoming we will mount our defence as best we can, we are of every belief that the facts rest on our side and so we will cross that bridge when we get there if that’s what it comes to.”
Reporter: “You know that Unions can engage in Civil disobedience and resistance. This is a real problem, is this something that you have anxiety about that you want to try and solve before it gets to that point.”
Khalid Belisle Mayor of Belmopan: “Solve how?”
Reporter: “You could offer them another piece of land in Belmopan.”
Khalid Belisle Mayor of Belmopan: “Well I believe we were certainly prepared to do that.”
Reporter: “Have you reached out to them on this proposal on that, you another piece of land maybe would like to look at?”
Khalid Belisle Mayor of Belmopan: “I don’t know that the appointment will be kept considering the tenor and tone of the past few days but I have an appointment to see the president of the PSU or the PSU has an appointment to see me here at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning. I will be here, whether the PSU shows up is another matter, I can’t speak to that.”
Reporter: “But at that meeting you will be willing to propose another piece of land?”
Khalid Belisle Mayor of Belmopan: “Absolutely.”
Reporter: “Has there been any discussions with the developer or the new land owner about them perhaps taking an alternate piece of land.”
Khalid Belisle Mayor of Belmopan: “We have started that discussion , that is as far as I am willing to go.”
The National Trade Union Congress of Belize has also weighed in on the matter calling the City Council’s sale of Hilltop quote, “Unfathomable, morally repugnant, counter-productive, ill-considered, unconscionable, and scandalous” end of quote. The NTUCB accused the City Council of targeting a “venerable institution” and pledged solidarity with the PSU demanding that the City Council restore the property to the PSU.