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Local Government

INTRODUCTION

Belize has two levels of government: a state government and a single-tier local government. Over the last five years, local councils have been formally established and the trend has been towards greater decentralization and autonomy. Direct election of mayors was introduced in 2000.
Belize has a system of local government comprising two city councils, seven town councils and a network of 192 village and community councils. Belmopan, now the capital of Belize, has its own city council.

POLITICAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE OF BELIZE

The Minister for Local Government is responsible for local government legislation and regulation on all matters in respect of local government, including the administration of the Acts relating to city and town councils. The Minister for Rural Development has responsibility for village council legislation and the alcalde system.

LEGAL BASIS FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT

The main legislation relating to local government is:

• Belize City Council Act repealing on earlier Belize City Council Act
• Belmopan city Council Act 1999, establishing from March 2000 the council for
the capital city, previously administered by the Reconstruction and Development
Corporation
• Towns Councils Act 1999, repealing the earlier Local Government (District
Board) Act
• Village Council Act 1999, legalizing and defining the role and the powers of the alcaldes

The five main Acts relating to local government have been reissued incorporating all amendments to 31 December 2000. There have been further amendments to cover practical issues for city and town councils including aspects of trade licensing, town property tax and liquor licensing.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT ORGANISATIONAL STRUCTURE

There are four types of councils in Belize: city councils, town councils and community councils.

The two city councils—Belize and Belmopan—plus the seven town councils cover the urban population in the six administrative districts of the country. The 180 village and 12 community councils cover the rural population across the districts. In the Toledo District and other parts of south Belize there is an alcalde system that operates alongside village
councils.

DEMOCRATIC AND POLITICAL STRUCTURES IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Town and City Councils meetings are required by law, which allow the public greater access to decision-making. The public can question councilors at meetings.
Local government elections are by the first-past-the-post system. Mayors and members of the council are directly elected. Under the new legislation the first Belize City Council elections for the mayor and 10 councilors were held in March 1999. In Belmopan and the towns, the first elections were held in March 2000. Each elected a mayor and six councilors.
The term of office is three years for all municipalities. However, special provisions were made for the first term in Belize City to be extended to four years in order to synchronize
future municipal elections. After 2003 the term reverted to three years. The most recent municipal elections were held in March 2006. Mayors (other than Belize City) have an executive role and are designated as the chief executive officer. Their councils determine their remuneration and benefits. Other members receive an allowance determined by their councils. All councils must elect a deputy mayor from their number.

The mayor after consultation with the councilors and city or town administrator allocates portfolios of responsibility to other councilors on the advice of the city or town administrator. Working committees may be set up to assist with some portfolios.

Portfolios cover a broad range of issues including environmental protection, town zoning,
tourism, reduction of drugs and recreational activities.

Village councils began in the 1950’s but were only formalized by the Village Councils Act 1999.

A Village that existed and was recognized by the government before the 1999 Act qualified as a village following the legislation. A new village must have a minimum of 200 eligible voters to qualify as a village. New villages are established by ministerial order.

Registered villagers directly elect six councilors and a chairperson who is the leader of the council. Following the Village Councils Act the first and the second elections were held in March and April 2001.

Councilors elect a deputy chairperson, secretary and treasurer from their ranks. Councils must meet at least quarterly and the meetings must be open to the public. Decisions are
taken by simple majority.

Village councils have discretionary powers to appoint committees. The council must
ratify committee decisions.
Under the provisions of the 1999 Act any are not included in a city, town, or village can be declared a community by ministerial order. Communities are recognized under the Act and are entitled to certain provisions.

Village Councils

Village councils began in the 1950’s but were only formalized by the Village Councils Act 1999.

A Village that existed and was recognized by the government before the 1999 Act qualified as a village following the legislation. A new village must have a minimum of 200 eligible voters to qualify as a village. New villages are established by ministerial order.

Registered villagers directly elect six councilors and a chairperson who is the leader of the council. Following the Village Councils Act the first and the second elections were held in March and April 2001.

Councilors elect a deputy chairperson, secretary and treasurer from their ranks. Councils must meet at least quarterly and the meetings must be open to the public. Decisions are
taken by simple majority.

Village councils have discretionary powers to appoint committees. The council must
ratify committee decisions.
Under the provisions of the 1999 Act any are not included in a city, town, or village can be declared a community by ministerial order. Communities are recognized under the Act and are entitled to certain provisions.

The Alcalde System

The alcalde system is part of the local government structure of Belize. It focuses on judicial matters within a given judicial district. This form of local governance is administered through the inferior courts in accordance with Chapter 77 of the Laws of Belize and implemented by five voluntary village police officers.
The alcaldes are effectively local magistrates operating at the village and community level. They differ from the chairperson of the village as they have a judicial role for which they are paid a small stipend by the government. They have power to decide who can live in the village and can call for the communal cleaning of a village. They are responsible for managing the communal land and act as school officers.

While mainly Mayan communities, including the Mopan and Ketchi groups, in southern Belize practice this form of local governance, the alcalde jurisdiction is not limited to Mayas. Any rural community can adopt the alcalde system as long as the citizens request the relevant authority to implement it.

The inferior court is charged mainly with maintaining law and order and is authorized tohear and pass judgment on petty crimes committed within its jurisdiction. The alcaldes can therefore judge disputes and punish misdeeds and petty crime. The government
appoints alcaldes every two years.

Local Government Staff

City and town councils must appoint a city or town administrator to assist the mayor inthe day-to-day management of the council. In Belize City, this administrator is the chief executive officer. All councils may appoint staff and have the power to discipline and dismiss staff and to determine pay and conditions.
Village councils can appoint support staff for the efficient administration of village affairs. The council determines their duties and pay.

DISTRIBUTION OF SERVICE DELIVERY COMPETENCE

Councils have a statutory duly to provide ‘rules and good governance’ for their municipality and to provide certain basic services.
Urban authorities are responsible for street maintenance and lighting, drains, refuse collection and public cemeteries. They also have discretionary powers over other services including infrastructure, parks and playgrounds, markets and slaughter-houses, public libraries, public buildings and the amenities of the city or town centre.

All urban councils must set up a Utility Coordination Unit to coordinate the activities of the bodies providing electricity, water and sewerage, gas, telephone and other utility services.

Village councils encourage and assist cooperation on economic and social development and general welfare. They run community centres, and assist villagers in making representations to government when there are problems with particular services such as school supplies, primary healthcare, and the provision of agricultural extension services.

FINANCE

The main sources for local authorities are:
• Property taxes
• Licensing of motor vehicles, liquor, trade
• Subventions and grants from central government
The urban councils are responsible for raising and collecting taxes. The Minister for Local Government must approve the rate of taxations set.
The central government provides subventions and grants to local government. Municipal authorities also incur capital expenditure such as infrastructure, development and equipment; these items are mainly financed by central government.

ORGANISATIONS OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT

The Mayors’ Association of Belize represents the mayors of all the city and town councils. Membership is voluntary and is funded by members’ contributions and the Ministry of Local Government. The association is a forum for discussing issues of common concern, promotes dialogue with the government and is recognized by the government.

The association is a member of the Caribbean Association of Local Government Authorities and the CLGF.

Under the Village Councils Act, village councils are required to have a District of Village Councils Association in each district. The six district associations together form the National Association of Village Councils. The District and National Associations may represent a village or group of villages at any forum. These are also funded by members’ contributions and the Ministry of Local Government.
The Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA), set up in 1992, promotes the alcaldes, addresses
issues of concern, and campaigns for recognition of the TAA by governments
internationally.