On April 10, members of the Bay Islands community attended at town meeting at ESBIR Bilingual School in Coxen Hole. The purpose of the meeting was to present the plan of the Honduran national government for the The Secretario de Planification (SECPLAN) for the next 28 years of the country and the Bay Islands specifically for integral development. The public was given a chance to ask questions, vent grievances, and posit positions on pertinent issues. The four municipals of the Bay Islands were represented by their respected mayors, with exception of Julio Galindo, who was represented by Vice Mayor Elsa de Hernandez. According to journalistic sources, the conversations with the public will be ongoing. President Lobo stressed facilitating an emphasis on social responsibility, urging the community to come up with a list of their real issues, and to appoint advisors from the community to inform the government.
The Plan for the Nation was presented by Coordinator and Manager, Arturo Corrales, publically disseminating the Plan for the Nation. The Plan is a follow up to a law enacted in December 2009 for the development of the country, and recognizing figures being collected since 1998. According to the Plan, Honduras is divided into six regions, delineated by geographical location according to water resource, mainly river basins. One of the regions is the part of the Mesoamerican Reef that comprises the Bay Islands. Each region has its unique set of planning initiatives for development. According to Presidential Commissioner Evans McNab, who served as the Bay Islands Diputado from 2002-2006, each region will be set up with an advisory board which will include members of the municipality, business sector, patronato, teachers’ assembly, and fishing community, among others. This board will oversee projects proposed by the government, who will be responsible for seeking funding either on the federal or foreign level. According to McNab, the board will not handle the budget but approve and advise for assistance purposes only. “The board will give more credibility to government proposals in that the people are given the right to objective opinion and to lend their expertise. It will assist in the decision-making of the municipal.”
Following the presentation, members of the public lined up to speak publically to ask questions, make requests, and vent grievances to the politicians at the table. Of most prevalence on speakers’ minds were:
- Scholarships for primary and secondary education public schools; Lobo responded with his goal to give 50 scholarships per year to top Honduran students for universities in the US. He placed responsibility on the education community to determine the most pertinent problems and proposed solutions. He also urged the residents in considering indicators and issues of ethnicity, religion, language, and population.
- Transparency in the municipality; to which Lobo pointed to social responsibility to invite all in the community to participate in not only creation and support of development programs, but in regulation.
- A place to care for patients of SIDA (AIDS) to which Lobo promised to connect key organizers with his wife, Rosa, who does much work in this realm.
- Peoples’ rights; infrastructure and culture in Punta Gorda, to which Lobo urged the community to work towards preserving their culture. Not restricting access to sources of information, he announced the celebration of the Garifuna festival in Sambo Creek and Punta Gorda.
- Issues regarding artisans; many products are being brought from Guatemala and sold in many tourist points throughout the Bay Islands. Lobo stressed that products can be made, and should be made, locally, with a sufficient amount of local prodders. “We have more hands and the capability of producing quality artisan products here.”
- The poor; Lobo urged the people to apply for help, referring to the government’s need to realize how many people must receive help and what assistance would be most constructive.
Each mayor presented requests for their respective provinces. In efforts to push a master plan in congress, Bay Islands Diputado Romeo Silvestri points to the complexity of issues needed to be addressed in the areas of security, education, health, infrastructure, and new product development. However, among Bay Island mayors, roads were the topic of the day. Guanaja Mayor Richard Hurlston reiterated the need for the road to the airport while Utila Mayor Alton Cooper called for the construction of a road to access the beaches in Utila, thus raising the possibility of a higher level of tourism. Santos Guardiola Mayor Perry Bodden asked for the support of congress to complete the road from Oakridge to Camp Bay. Roatan Vice Mayor Elsa de Hernandez reminded the President of the need for help with the septic system in Roatan province, as well as the desire to pave the Palmetto Bay road and the one in West End.
With a goal of reducing poverty and generating employment, growth and productivity, Diputado Romeo Silvestri asked the President to help facilitate the implementation of the ZOLITUR law. According to Silvestri, ZOLITUR is an instrument of generating investment, both foreign and locally. With little or no agricultural resources, mining, industry, or rivers to generate electricity, the Bay Islands are dependent on an “artificial economy.” currently and majorly driven by the service industry in aspects mostly with tourism. The money from ZOLITUR is processed through the central government and, according Silvestri, is taking too long to be dispersed and actually delaying the programs which would facilitate investment. With more efficient processing the Bay Islands would move forward in developing a better quality of life for the community in a more timely manner, said Silvestri. According to Silvestri, a major problem with ZOLITUR during its inception was that their incentives we’re not communicated properly and the general public couldn’t understand it fully. Currently a census is being researched. “First of all, we need to know how many people we actually have. How much do we cost?” Silvestri is pushing three main agendas in Tegucigalpa: To protect areas for fresh water sources; to create a development plan for the Bay Islands that is time regulating in short, medium, and long term plans; and to enact the Bono 80, the law in action on the mainland whereby households that consume less than 150 kilowatts are subsidized by the central government. According to Silvestri this translates into 49% of electricity users, 12,000 households, and the possibility of directly benefitting up to 36,000 people. [/private]