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THIS LIQUOR LICENCE THING !

THIS LIQUOR LICENCE THING !
January 11
12:10 2019

By Major Lloyd Jones (Ret’d)

The recent murder at Pier One in Belize City has renewed the debate about the decision taken by Mayor Bradley’s Belize City Council to grant permission for a bar to be opened in a park that was supposed to be a family friendly space.
There was moderate public outcry about the establishment which was designed to host adults drinking only liquor: in effect a bar! Mayor Bradley, in attempting to deflect criticism, suggested that the establishment would be a restaurant and bar. As it turned out it is just a bar and was such from the day it opened its doors. Belizeans in true form simply accepted the decision of the politician and moved on!

There is a growing feeling among the Belizean people that alcohol may be at the root of a great many Belizean tragedies. Alcohol’s contribution to social violence and upheaval in Belize has not been scientifically documented so I am going on gut feeling here.

In Belize City, as indeed across the country, there has been a proliferation of stores that sell alcohol. Every neighborhood store appears to be licensed to sell alcohol “not to be consumed on the premises.” The reality is that those neighborhood stores attract men who loiter and consume alcohol; if not on the premises then certainly close by.
As if the loitering, bad language and public urination is not bad enough often times the men gathered at the store resort to harassing the teenage girls and women who go to the store to buy. The alcohol somehow makes them think that they are attractive so they impose themselves on the women and girls.

The proliferation of these “Chinese stores” occurs at a higher rate in the poorer neighborhoods of Belize City as opposed to the more affluent neighborhoods. This is so primarily because of two reasons (1) the land in the crime ridden parts of Belize City has been devalued and (2) the poor tend to “socialize” on the streets whereas the not so poor do it behind closed doors.
The availability of alcohol at every corner store and the resultant social impacts, without a doubt, degrades a neighborhood. This politically created problem has a direct adverse effect on the quality of life adding even further to the social challenges those communities face.

Then to make matters worse, we send in the Police to try and correct what is for all intents and purposes a political problem. The enforcement of public drinking laws places an undue burden on the limited resources of the Police; strains the relationship between the Police and the community and demoralizes the Police who would much rather spend their time addressing major crimes (the crimes against which their report card is drawn up).

Granting liquor licenses to every corner store and then sending the Police to try and curb a known outcome (public drinking) is a great disservice to the Police. The genesis of this problem is a political one and therefore the solution must also be political.

The truth is that none of the Belize City politicians have been willing to address the liquor license issue because liquor licenses equate to money and the more licenses granted the more revenues the Council derives. Secondly, the City politicians don’t have to deal with the fallout from the proliferation of liquor selling corner stores. This unenviable task falls to the Police. And thirdly, the “Chinese” political clout, though not visible, is robust in both political parties.

To give you an idea of the paradox of the current liquor licensing regime, in FY 2015/2016 the Belize City Council derived 3.1% of its revenues from liquor licenses, ranking fifth out of eleven in terms of the City’s revenue streams. One can understand why a Council would be hard pressed to do anything that can jeopardize that revenue but what is needed here is creativity and leadership!

In this spirit, I would humbly suggest that the Belize City Council press the “Minister” to revamp the liquor licensing regime in Belize City in a way that is revenue neutral yes; but in a way that also improves the quality of life in the City. The Police Department should join CitCo in this campaign as well given the number of alcohol-fueled crimes in the City, not to mention road traffic accidents on the highways. I would also suggest the Church joins in as well but that may be difficult as they can’t seem to be supporting the sale of liquor period!

In 2018 there were two hundred and three corner stores in Belize City that were licensed to sell alcohol; accounting for forty eight point three percent (48.3%) of all liquor licenses issued in Belize City. Corner stores in Belize City that sell liquor have a proliferation rate of three stores per thousand of population. Such a density of liquor stores is way too much for any City, much less one that is gripped with a near state of insecurity. The Belize City Council should therefore aim to reduce this number to no more than sixty five stores: one store per thousand of population.

The intent should be to reduce the number of corner stores licensed to sell alcohol, thus shifting the sale of alcohol to restaurants and special “liquor stores.” The Intoxicating Liquor Licensing Act already makes provisions for the imposition of such controls as the “Minister” deems fit. So the matter is really now one of a coordinated campaign by interested stakeholders.

There should be a phased approach to reaching the targeted number of licenses; therefore the reduction of the number of licenses should be done over a period of three years. Starting in 2019, there should be a prohibition on the issuance of NEW licenses for corner stores. Then in 2020 the number of licenses should be slashed to one hundred and fifty and then to one hundred in 2021 and finally to sixty five in 2022.

To determine the number and location of licenses the City should be zoned with special emphasis on reducing the number of licenses on the south side and in the crime ridden parts of the City; the Police should have proper influence in regards to such decisions.

To preserve the City’s revenues, as the number of licenses are slashed the cost of the license should be increased thus making the exercise revenue neutral. The increased cost of the license alone will automatically cause natural attrition as some current license holders will not want to re-apply thus making the reduction exercise a little easier. The remaining interested business should then be placed in a raffle to determine who gets a license.

The above ideas might not be perfect but they can work if you get involved and share your views with your Mayor and your favorite City politician.

I ain’t waiting for no liquor store to show up in my neighborhood. Are you?

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