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‘UNFAIR?’ Did Floralia get tax preferences over other bus operators?

By Michelle Sutherland

Members of the Belize Bus Association (BBA) remain on edge after a document from Financial Secretary Joseph Weight's desk was leaked, confirming, in fact, that Floralia Bus Company had received easing on import duty and excise tax for four of its 2022 Yutong Buses.

This comes on the heels of Floralia's part owner Marvin Vanzie's recent appearance on a local news station denying that his company was receiving any preferential treatment from the government.

On Thursday, however, Vanzie backtracked a bit, telling The Reporter, “The document [i.e., the letter from the Financial Secretary] is legitimate; Floralia paid full GST and environmental taxes, which all Belizeans are obligated to pay. However, there was a reduction in Duty and Excise tax, which any Belizean business can apply for. Despite this, Floralia still paid taxes in excess of $420,000 for six buses to the Government of Belize.”

$420,000 in taxes to GOB for the importation of six intercity coach buses that Vanzie said would have been enough to purchase an “entire fleet” of old school buses.

“It is clear that Floralia did not receive any preferential treatment,'' said Vanzie. He reiterated that they made an investment to provide Belizeans with the highest quality transportation available in the world and remain committed to providing their customers with only the best in services.

We reached out to BBA’s Secretary Ewart Metzgen who underscored that “no operator in the BBA or otherwise have gotten any waiver. We have been asking and have asked on several occasions under this administration but were told that GOB is not in any position to do so,” said Metzgen.

The letter dated January 28th, 2022, signed by Financial Secretary Joseph Weight, copied to the Comptroller of Customs, the Director General of the Belize Tax Service, and the Chief Transport officer, and addressed to Vanzie confirmed the approval of a waiver of 75% on import and excise duty. The document indicated that the waiver was to be applied to four Yutong Buses along with 150 packages of spare parts used by the company and was to be valid for a period of six months.

The letter, however, indicated that “please note that General Sales Tax and Environmental Tax remains payable.”

In documents dated 10/11/2021, that Vanzie had forwarded to our newsroom, it revealed, per bus, the company had paid $7,139.90 in import duty instead of $28,559.63. In terms of excise duty, the company paid $3, 569.95 (instead of $14,279.81) in excise tax. However, the company still paid $14,279.81 in environmental tax and $42,839.44 in General Sales Tax, all to a total value of $67, 829.10 per bus.

Recently bus operators have once more been flustered after learning that Floralia has been given new runs, or existing runs, thereby directly competing with seasoned bus companies. One such example is Floralia being granted approval to conduct a run from Placencia to Belize City that had belonged to Ritchies Bus Company. Ritchies have since secured the assistance of an attorney to fight the case since they maintain that they were unlawfully targeted.

A second contention is also brewing between Floralia Limited and the Owner of Shaws Bus Company, Thomas Shaw, over a later night run from Belize City to Belmopan, going as far as San Ignacio. Shaw has maintained that Floralia's service for that particular run is not needed since commuter traffic at that hour is minimal. And yet, in another instance, which is yet to see any reaction from the Taxi Association, Floralia has also been granted a new run from Placencia to the Phillip Goldson International Airport to transport tourists to the destination hotspot.

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