Real Leadership with Vision - Ambergris Caye sits on the doorstep of the second largest barrier reef of the world. Because of this, it is uniquely located and it is loaded with exceptional features ideal for a place to live or a place to visit. Inherently it has great weather, fishing, scuba diving, and water sports. It has archeological sites, rain forest and a wide variety of wild life. It is conveniently isolated because it is an island; yet it is easily accessible. Most of it is untouched and undeveloped. It is still a diamond in the rough that needs to be carefully cut to make it one of the most valuable of Belize’s assets.
It is no secret that San Pedro Town is developing haphazardly without vision or plan. All of us live the daily problems of traffic congestion, bad streets, dirty beaches, lack of basic infrastructure in some areas and the discontent of people who expect better. This haphazard development is spreading to North Ambergris Caye causing more uncertainty and lack of investment confidence. One of us can afford to continue on this path.
Some people who do not care about the well-being of Ambergris Caye thrive in this climate but some of us who have lived here all of our lives and expect our children and grandchildren to live here, need something better. The genuine investor needs better. He needs planned and sustainable development to keep making a reasonable profit and to keep giving our visitors the wholesome features that they come here to enjoy. Without such a plan and such a road map we are lost.
I have a vision for the orderly development of Ambergris Caye that I want to share with you to generate awareness and healthy discussion. My aim is to remind you that all of Ambergris Caye will continue to develop with or without a plan. I intend to point to you that if this is true we need to plan today how that development should be to able to protect what we have and to avoid costly mistakes. We need to plan where the basic infrastructure – road, water, sewer, sanitary land fill, airport, marina, electrical power, etc – should be. We need to know where playgrounds, sports fields, schools, churches, hospitals, etc will be. Unless we do that, we cannot intelligently plan today for our family, for our business, for our workforce and for our social welfare.
The end product of my vision is a master plan that serves as a guide for the orderly development of Ambergris Caye for the next 25 years and beyond. The first phase of this plan will include the legislation of a zoning plan that will determine areas that should be protected and what kind of development is permitted on the rest of it. This plan will give our municipal government power to enforce the rules. It will also give the people legal recourse to ensure that the rules are properly implemented. The plan will also provide clear guidelines to residents and developers that if fulfilled, guarantees approval of proposed project.
A good zoning plan was drawn many years ago with the input and consensus of the stakeholders. This plan was never put into law but it was used as a guideline by some decision makers. This plan wisely selected an area of mangrove wetland around the WASA sewer lagoon as a No Development Zone because it was useful only to the ecosystem and to the sewer lagoon. The mangrove wetland was left there to naturally purify the effluents that constantly leach out of the lagoon. These effluents are poisons that could kill the reef if they reach it. Without an EIA, a permit was issued to destroy all of that mangrove wetland in the name of progress and development. My point is that if a legal zoning plan had been in place, this serious mistake could not have been made.
The master plan cannot undo the mistakes that have been made in the San Pedro Town core but it can establish clearer zoning guidelines for its inevitable future development. The idea is to accept the fact that the streets in San Pedro Town from the bridge going south cannot support more heavy traffic and more vehicles. The idea is to understand and accept that the unplanned traffic of San Pedro Town core is actually chasing tourists away from it. The idea is to accept that the schools are overcrowded and that there are not enough open spaces for recreation and sports. We need to accept that the mechanism that now exists to regulate vehicle importation, building permits, subdivision approval and land use approval are not functioning properly and cannot function properly until a clear legal foundation is establish. We need to accept that these problems are sabotaging our tourism product. If the majority of us accept these facts, then we have a real chance of actually doing something to mitigate them.
It insults and enrages me when a “developer” can bribe government officials to get approval for a subdivision that does not leave enough green belts, spaces for schools and playgrounds, clinics, hospitals, sports fields, not to mention big enough lots that allow for a nice house and enough yard for children and family to play in. It further insults me when the people involved try to convince us that they are doing us a favor when they offer these lots for sale. Where will the children of families of a 2,000 lots subdivision go to school, play sports, go to the clinic when no place for these activities was planned in the subdivision? They will have to travel several miles on bad roads to go to the already crowded and limited facilities in the San Pedro Town core creating more vehicle and school congestion, further overloading the struggling system. We cannot keep on burdening ourselves with cleaning the mess of people who only care for a quick buck. If a comprehensive master plan had been in place this other serious mistake would not have occurred.
I believe that the timing is right for real action to happen. We are in the municipal election season and soon it will be the national election season. The first step is to choose leadership that will embrace this kind of plan and do what it takes to have it approved and legislated.
The aspiring leaders cannot wait until they get elected to make a plan and expect to make a positive difference. They have to start working now. They have to surround themselves with intelligent people who can help them come up with real solutions of our recurring problems. They will use these people to help them frame the path for real sustainable growth. The aspiring leaders have to prove that they understand the issues; they have to prove that they have tangible solutions to existing problems. They have to prove that they understand that San Pedro Town needs to be managed professionally as a business.
This is what I propose the aspiring leaders to do now:
*Sit with the present San Pedro Town Council today and find out everything that they need to know about how the town is managed now.
*Find out potential and actual revenue, and how the money is spent now.
*Find out how much the town owes.
*Find out how many miles of street were paved and how much it cost to pave it.
*Find out how many more miles of streets there are and have a rough idea of what it would cost to pave them the same way
*Find out what is in the pipeline in regards to water and sewer
*Do the same with everything else that concerns the affairs of the town to find out what the situation really is.
*Use this information to create a plan of action that will say what they will do the first day that they get in office and what actions they will take to gradually fix what is broken.
*Get acquainted with the proposed Ambergris Caye Master Plan, find out where it stands and plan how it can be finalized and legislated if they so believe.
*This analysis has to be done crudely now but when they get elected they could hire a consultant to make the formal analysis and recommendations.
Armed with this information, the aspiring leaders are able to draft a realistic program of work. They should immediately engage the business community to include their important needs in their plan of action.
We tend to always want to throw our hands up in the air and say that we have no recourse. We, the people, are the government. The elected people work for us. We can make it work this way only if we have a legal plan that keeps our workers in line. The plan will create controls that will serve as checks and balances for them. The plan will create parameters and a legal framework that shows the elected leader where we are going and how we expect to get there. It will be clear and simple, minimizing the opportunities for fraud and deception. The climate will be one of not who you know but one of who is best qualified.
My vision for the sustainable development of Ambergris Caye is perhaps idealistic because it assumes that we can all work together for our common good. It assumes that we are willing to make sacrifices to be able to pass on to our children a better Ambergris Caye. It assumes that there will be the political will to legislate the proposed zoning plan. It assumes very importantly, that the majority of us will believe that this is how we should proceed.
One thing is very clear to me. We cannot continue in this path and expect to protect our tourism economy and the welfare of our families. We are fortunate to live in this precious island. It is my unwavering belief that if we are smart enough we can plan and develop Ambergris Caye in a sustainable manner to protect the very essence that makes it precious and at the same time create a vibrant economy that will create hope and prosperity.
Around 1985 when I was the manager of Victoria House Resort, one of my North American guests told me that one of the reasons that they work long and hard hours at home is that in the back of their mind they have this dream that one day they would find a place like this and live happily thereafter. He told me, “You do not have to dream of such a place, you already have it, do not let anybody screw it up for you.”
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