Two weeks ago at a meeting of the House of Representatives the Prime Minister of Belize publicly excoriated the Mayor of the Punta Gorda Town Council, Mr. Anthony Fuentes, for using subvention money provided by the Government of Belize to pay off a personal debt with the Toledo Teachers Credit Union.
A few days later Mr. Francis Fonseca, the Leader of the People’s United Party, came to the defence of Mayor Fuentes at a press conference in Toledo. He declared that there was no misuse of town council funds, and rebuked the Prime Minister, saying: “Mr. Barrow’s statement is a cowardly lie!”
The curious thing about this heated exchange is that Mayor Fuentes has himself admitted that he personally authorized the Toledo Teachers Credit Union to deduct his loan payments from the subvention money, which the Government of Belize regularly gives to the Punta Gorda Town Council.
Mr. Fuentes has admitted that his own monthly salary and the salaries of two other councilmen are paid from the Council’s monthly subvention. He explained that these payments are payroll deductions, that is to say, they are legal expenses which the Punta Gorda Town Council is required to pay.
The question we have to ask here is “why?” Why are these salaries being paid from a government subvention when the Punta Gorda Town Council has its own independent income derived from local taxes! Town Councils earn revenue from property tax, trade licenses and liquor licenses.
If the subvention was set aside to pay off a town council debt, it should be used for that purpose; not diverted to pay salaries!
Another question we have to ask is this: How is it that the Punta Gorda Town Council became indebted to the Toledo Teachers Credit Union? The Punta Gorda Town Council is incapable, under law, of becoming a member of a credit union because the Council is an institution, not a person. Credit unions exist to help persons who are members, not institutions or organizations which are not!
On balance it appears that the Punta Gorda Town Council has been doing some unorthodox things in the handling of its affairs. We are willing to accept Mayor Fuentes’ assurance that there is nothing seriously wrong, but before we do this, we’d like to have him explain how it is that the Town Council is indebted to a credit union, and why it is that Punta Gorda’s tax revenue is so small that it cannot cover even basic administrative expenses such as the Mayor’s monthly salary.