Belize Table of Contents
Government House, Belize City
Courtesy Steven R. Harper
The country is divided into six political districts, or subdivisions: Belize, Cayo, Corozal, Orange Walk, Stann Creek, and Toledo (see fig. 9). No administrative institutions exist at the district level, however, and there is no regional government between the national government and the municipal and village councils.
Laws enacted by the National Assembly govern the municipal councils, which have limited authority to enact local laws. The primary role of the councils is to oversee sanitation, streets, sewers, parks, and other amenities, and to control markets and slaughterhouses, building codes, and land use. Their revenues come from property and other taxes set by the national government, as well as from grants from the national government. The largest of the eight municipal councils is the one for Belize City, which has a nine-member city council. The other seven municipal governments are the seven-member town boards in Benque Viejo del Carmen, Corozal, Dangriga, Orange Walk, Punta Gorda, San Ignacio, and San Pedro (on Ambergris Cay, off Corozal). Each municipal council elects a mayor from among its members, and elections for the municipal councils are held every three years. The PUP and UDP dominate the municipal elections, and candidates, often recruited on short notice, are highly dependent on their party. The use of at-large elections frequently results in one party winning all of the seats on a council, and this situation tends to make the local elections a popular referendum on the performance of the party in power at the national level. Aliens who have resided for three or more years in a given municipality may register to vote in the municipal elections.
Village councils are a more informal kind of local government. They are not created by law and thus are not vested with any legal powers or functions. Nevertheless, most villages have councils, which operate as community organizations promoting village development and educational, sporting, and civic activities. The village councils have seven members and are chosen every two years in elections overseen by the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development. These elections commonly take place in public meetings, often without voter registration lists or secret ballot. Their informality does not prevent the village councils from becoming politicized, however, and they are often a base of support for or opposition to the local representative in the House of Representatives.
A third form of local government, the alcalde (mayor) system, exists in a few Kekchí and Mopán Indian villages. Derived from the Spanish system of local government imposed on the Maya, the alcalde system is the only government institution in Belize that is not Anglo-Saxon in origin. Laws enacted in 1854 and 1884 gave the system a legal foundation. Since then, however, the system has declined, largely as the result of a delimitation and regularization of its authority in 1952, the growth of the cash economy, and the diminished importance of subsistence farming and communal labor. Coordination of communal labor had been a key function of the alcalde. Annual elections are held to select a first alcalde, a second alcalde, a secretary, and a village policeman. The alcalde has the right to judge disputes over land and crop damage. In minor cases, the alcalde has the authority to try and punish offenders. Decision making in the village is generally by consensus after village elders direct open discussion. Women do not participate in these public meetings.
In addition to these forms of local government, Belize grants certain exemptions and rights to three Mennonite communities that immigrated to Belize in the late 1950s and early 1960s. An agreement, or Privilegium (signed in December 1957 between the government and each community), spells out the exemptions, rights, and responsibilities of the Mennonite communities. Under the Privilegium, the Mennonite communities have the right to run their own churches and schools using the Low German language, and their members are exempt from military service, any social security or compulsory insurance system, and the swearing of oaths. In return, the Privilegium commits the Mennonites to invest in the country, be self-supporting, produce food for both the local and export markets, conduct themselves as good citizens, and pay all normal duties and taxes established by law. The Mennonite communities tax themselves in order to make lump-sum property tax payments to the government and to finance schools, and public works, and other internal operations. The communities legally register their land in the name of the community and restrict individual ownership of community land to members in good standing with the Mennonite Church. Other Mennonites also live in Belize with no special arrangements with the government.
Data as of January 1992
Belize Table of Contents