Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

While many people look to the Honduran central government or some international aid organizations to solve Roatan’s problems it is Roatanians themselves and their local government that should be in charge of the islands destiny. The new Roatan Municipal administration has, without a doubt, been doing some good and desperately needed things: building and maintaining infrastructure and enforcing municipal laws that make people act responsibly. But, there is much more to be done.

On the list of pressing problems is migration, but, strictly speaking, migration from the mainland to Roatan cannot be controlled given that the Bay Islands are a department of Honduras and not a separate territory. What can be controlled is enforcement of minimum building standards and minimum habitation standards. The enforcement should come not from some central government agency, but from Roatan Municipality itself. That would practically halt the migration as the island would become too expensive for every mainlander and their cousin. The illegally built homes are a threat to the future of growth on the island.

The Roatan Municipal, as our representatives and the stewards of our taxes and our future, should inspect all structures being built, fine the owners if they have no permit, stop them if they are constructed with inadequate construction methods and tear them down if they are build on land that is not owned by the people building there. The hill west of Coxen Hole is quickly beginning to look like a Brazilian favela. Every week a few more trees are cut down and a new wooden structure goes up. They have no permits, no inspections, no water or electricity. They are just a shelter and a base for new migrants to Roatan.

Migration to Roatan cannot be controlled by central government.

Curiously, there is one part of the Roatan Municipality fine system that is working well: it is the enforcement and collection of fines for illegally parked vehicles on the main streets of Coxen Hole and West End. The municipal police officers are motivated, professional and the 8-5pm parking regimen is enforced. They quickly boot the wheel of offending cars and enforce the Lps. 500 fines that contribute towards their salaries and the municipal budget. This professionalism and commitment to enforcing municipal ordinances should be applied to other areas like: illegal construction, improper drainage and poor and dangerous driving.

The municipalities of Roatan and Santos Guardiola should step in where central government has never stepped in. All permitted taxis should be required to undergo mechanical inspection at a designated motor shop once a year for a fee to be paid by the taxi owner. Anyone driving a taxi should be required by the municipality to participate in eight hours of safe driving training each year to be paid by taxi drivers.

The main reason why Roatan’s roads are in such bad shape is due to the traffic of huge, overloaded vehicles and debris brought in from private roads. If activity or neglect of property adjacent to the municipal roads causes damage to the pavement, the municipality should fine the property owner for the entire cost of repair of the road or damaged infrastructure.

Vehicle inspections are standard procedure in developed countries and Roatan should be no different, regardless of the Honduran central government’s capacity or willingness to require and enforce such inspections.

The island municipalities should pick up the slack left by the central government and clean every culvert and drain on every island road weather it is national or municipal. If the road disintegrates it becomes Roatan’s problem, not Tegucigalpa’s. While volunteer efforts are great, the island’s municipalities should hire a full time mobile cleaning crew that would continuously pick up all the plastic, metals, wood trash and transfer them to recycling collection points or garbage dump.

The Municipality should also inspect all boats that are no longer afloat and fine the owners of the property where that boat has rested. All boats should be salvaged or transported away for scrap.

While these are just some basic, commonsense proposals, they would save lives, they would attract investment, and they would make the island safer and more attractive for residents and visitors. It’s time to stop looking at how the other 17 Honduran departments are managing their business and get to work. If Roatan wishes to look like a developed, secure place, it needs to act like it.