[private] After three years of existence ZOLITUR, finally has some funds to give away. The governmental organization has been created by act of congress to encourage investment in the Bay Islands through tax free imports, provide security and support island culture.
Instead, ZOLITUR has looked like a dead end street for many island business owners and a cash cow by the Honduran Central Government, as incompetent and secretive by many islanders.
In 2008 it was attacked and its offices vandalized. Now after three years in existence, it finally has some wealth to spread around. Its only funded project to date was a garbage track for the municipality of Guanaja.
2011 looks better for ZOLITUR than the years prior and according to Ricardo Merren, ZOLITUR’s executive director since March 2010. Merren, 50, served as the Mayor of Roatan (1994-1998) and Bay Islands Governor.
In 2010, the 1% of property sales tax, the $1 foreign visitor tax, $2 per cruise ship passenger fee brought in Lps. 29 million for ZOLITUR. This is considerably (27%) lower, from the Lps. 37 million brought from the fees in 2009. “The last two years were very difficult, but we have a good sign of growth this year,” says Merren.
With 50% of the money being kept in Tegucigalpa, the operating budget for 2010 was just Lps. 14.5 million. According to the numbers provided by ZOLITUR, the salaries at ZOLITUR cost about Lps. 5 million a year, or 34% of the organization’s budget. With the Central Government behind on payments, so far ZOLITUR was only able to pay the salaries of its 24 employees, leaving few funds for other projects. According to Merren, the Central Government currently is behind at returning quarterly payments in the amount of Lps. 60 million – that is over two years in back fees.
257 Bay Islands Business are now part of ZOLITUR, and Merren assures that the procedure can take as little as three weeks. ZOLITUR should finally be passing some money back to the Bay Islands communities.
According to Merren Lps. 15 million ZOLITUR funds was passed for the septic system in West End. Santos Guardiola will receive Lps. 3.9 million for the building of the Preventiva Police station in Oak Ridge. Guanaja is scheduled to receive Lps. 5.5 million for the construction of a better, concrete municipal dock. Utila Mayor has asked for funds for constructing a bridge whose costs have yet to be estimated.
Merren is also looking at helping to fund the new Roatan waste dump. “There could be an explosion there at any point,” says Merren, about the methane gas leaks at the current Mud Hole municipal dump. A World Bank funded project which lifespan has been cut short by lack of appropriate maintenance.
According to Merren, ZOLITUR is also pursuing Lps. 13 million in funds for the creation of a Garifuna Culture Village in Punta Gorda, and the paving of the remainder of the Punta Gorda road. “It’s the responsibility of the Santos Guardiola Municipality,” says Merren. [/private]