Tonight, descendants and concerned residents of San Jose Nuevo Palmar in the Orange Walk District are up in arms. They are alleging corruption and embezzlement of funds from lands in their village. Tired of being lied to and taken for granted by the present lands committee, the irate villagers took to the media today as they held a press conference staged at the Community Center. Reporter Maria Novelo and videographer Jesus Melgar were there to capture the fuss, here is that report.
Maria Novelo– Reporting
A handful of concerned citizens of the San Jose Nuevo Palmar Village attracted the attention of the media today as they accused the present and former land committees of illegally embezzling monies from lands being sold within the village. This they claim is contrary to the rules set in the appointment of a land advisory committee. Concerned Descendant, Lorenzo Aldana says, this has been occurring since 1996 without accountability or transparency, and villagers have simply had enough.
Lorenzo Aldana– Concerned Descendant
“In the decree it was said that whenever a piece of land now known as San Jose Palmar should become dis occupied or the Indians become extinct the land was going to be reverted back to the Belize Estate and Company. We know that BEC they disappeared 99% almost of Belize so who took over, we took full charge of our land and any government blue or red was going to be the trustees of the Palmar land, this is where everything started brewing into what we now have is corruption. As the saying goes absolute power corrupts absolutely, this is what we have been experiencing ladies and gentlemen, over a million dollars has been embezzled, the one that we know rightfully, is the By-pass sold and it was sold for $317 ,000.00 more than ten acres industrial acres along the highway were also sold and if we do the math behind it, for every acre it goes for not less than $40,000.00 and if there is ten acres we do the math it would be $400,000.00 so that is the very minimum close to $317,000 that is $700,000.00 and that is just the skin.”
Chairman of the Village, Orlando Balam says, they are seeking a solution and as stated per their by-laws, the lands committee should be selected by the people of the village and not appointed by the Government.
Orlando Balam- Chairman of Palmar Village
“When we gone to the Solicitor General with a group of persons nominated in one of the meetings, the Solicitor General told us something, there is nobody else to blame but ourselves that we have left these people to do, there is no one else to blame, but we are standing now, and we are saying today we want this to stop and we want the people and the descendants to get a chance to elect who they want in the lands committee.”
“This is a war going on between families they even came up with a list and including in that list they have placed the names of other people that have nothing to do with certain families, like for instance saying that my uncle has another child or two outside and that these are his children never, ever have we recognize these things that is total nonsense how can we tolerate such things, it is only because they want more land and they are excluding other people from their rights.”
The villagers stand firm with their present Chairman, who is demanding for accountability and an audit report on lands that have been given out as compensation since 1996. In a span of 8 years, this wrinkly, crimpled paper is the only report the village council has gotten, and they are demanding more transparency.
Orlando Balam- Chairman of Palmar Village
“The next group is saying that they will fight it and they are saying already the lands committee but we will not accept that, we are here to say that we are united and we have to go I don’t what we will have to do but we will not accept a committee that is appointed or only selected by a small group of people, we will only accept a group of, a lands committee elected by the descendants of San Jose Nuevo Palmar. I have always heard him say in the media or at the meetings that he is zero tolerance for corruption, now we will truly see if the Honorable Prime Minister and the Honorable Gaspar Vega will do the right decision and seek the justice for all descendants, we will see the justice and the zero tolerance of corruption that the Prime Minister always speaks about because we have evidence, the only report that the said lands committee has ever given to us is in this piece of paper, no receipts, no documents, no voucher, no nothing.”
It is of note that in 2001, the then Minister of Lands, Honorable John Briceno signed the original document for the rules for the appointment of a lands advisory committee that included specific by laws that stated that of the seven members that would be elected by the villagers, four of the seats should be reserved for the elders of San Jose Nuevo Palmar who should be elected by the elders. A seat would also go to a member of the village council.
The laws also stated that quarterly financial reports shall be submitted by the committee to the descendants, agent of the trustee and the village council. And every year the treasurer of the committee shall make available an audited report to the descendants and the agent of the trustee. Proceeds from sale of lands are to be distributed as follows: 60% to the elders and 40% to be allocated to any village project as agreed between the committee and the San Jose Nuevo Palmar Village Council.
The present council is stating as advised by the Deputy Solicitor General that since 1996, the ‘appointed’ lands committee have been operating illegally, and contrary to the bylaws of the decree of the San Jose Nuevo Palmar community.
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