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CONTROVERSY BOILS OVER SALE OF HILLTOP

CONTROVERSY BOILS OVER SALE OF HILLTOP
November 14
10:18 2018
THE REPORTER: News Staff, - 

When news surfaced this week that the Belmopan City Council (BCC), headed by Mayor Khalid Belisle, had sold off the Council’s property which has housed the Public Service Union’s (PSU) headquarters in that municipality for the past 18 years via a 20-year lease, it raised the ire of many people, particularly the PSU leadership, which denounced the sale and said it would challenge the decision.

Belisle justified the sale by saying that records at the Belmopan City Council shows that since the PSU signed a 20-year lease contract with the Council in 2001 for $500 per month, the PSU has only made four payments of that amount over that entire period.

The PSU, on the other hand, has vehemently countered that allegation. Its President, Doreth Obermayer shared that the property was “given to the Public Service Union to manage in 1998.” Obermayer explained that when land parcels reassignments were done under a subdivision in 2001, the property was valued at $187,000 and offered for purchase. The lease agreement, she stated, indicates that the PSU was leasing the property towards ownership.

In 2017, however, Obermayer stated, the Union was entering discussion with the Council to get title for the property, but the Council revalued the property at $1M and then made a new offer to the PSU for $503,000, barring the initial agreement signed several years earlier. The PSU made a counter offer, she added, because the Union had not only made some payments, but had also made some investments on the property.

The PSU claims it has paid between $50,000 and $60,000 in payments for the property over the years, even before there was a Belmopan City Council and that when it tried to make payments in December of 2009 under a previous Council, their cheques was rejected without reason. Where the records are for the payments reportedly made is anyone’s guess, but the Council issued a press release following the PSU conference, stating that “no records were found at the BCC, and neither could they (the PSU) provide receipts totalling more than four payments of $500 each.”

Discussions between the two over the status of ownership and arrears continued on over the years under different Councils but it was not until early last month when the Council sold the Hilltop property to Xin Ni, an Asian with a Corozal address and a company recently registered as Simplex Design Ltd. at a price of $400,000 that it drew serious concerns on social media and the talk shows.

The PSU says it will challenge the sale of the property legally if the Council does not meet its demands within a certain time frame. “We are asking that whatsoever City Council had done, that that be revoked and that Hilltop property and title be handed over to us within a time frame allotted by the ending of November; because at no point are we are going to move from where we are under this circumstances, knowing fully that we have invested on this property from the past 17 years and we continue to invest. …Under no other circumstances we are going to be moved from here, come hell or high water,” Obermayer warned.

Mayor Belisle has offered to allocate new land that the PSU can purchase for its headquarters.

Meanwhile, the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) of which the PSU is an arm, has lashed out at Belisle and the Council for the sale, calling it “unfathomable, morally repugnant, counter-productive, ill-considered, unconscionable and scandalous.”

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