Highlights — 30 March 2018 — by Rowland A. Parks
2018-2019 budget debate ends Friday night

BELMOPAN, Fri. Mar. 23, 2018– On the other side of the House, some Opposition PUP members tried to keep the debate focused on the analysis of the figures and what they mean. The Opposition members lambasted the Barrow government for its lack of emphasis on the people, and more than once the price of kerosene was used as an example of the government’s lack of sensitivity, due to the heavy tax placed on this commodity.

The member for Corozal North, Hon. Pablo Marin, who is also Minister of Health, took some flak for the condition of the roof of the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital, which led to the main referral hospital having to trim its functions in some areas.

Marin explained that the roof was impacted by the seismic effect of the 7.8 earthquake which hit the Caribbean region in January.

“Madam Speaker, when we had the seismic [earthquake] – I think it was seven point eight on the Richter scale…one of the engineers mentioned – here it is, Mr. Cadet [Henderson] – seven point eight earthquake on January ninth, 2018, that is what affected us and that is what shifted a little bit, the hospital and all of the corbels that hold the second beam, because there are two beams there, that broke loose and that was when they found out there was a problem, and not anyone would have seen this coming if that wouldn’t have fallen, but that propping that we did helped us. Madam Speaker, again, I am asking the Opposition to stop [using] health as a tool for political mileage.” Marin said.

He promised an open tendering process for the repair of the hospital’s roof.

“This is a lame duck budget, Madam Speaker,” declared the member for Caribbean Shores, Hon. Kareem Musa. “It is a budget in a coma, a lifeless body of fancy words that do not in any way reflect the true Belizean reality of struggle and hardship. A lazy excuse of a budget that was prepared without any effort or vision, no consultation with private sector partners like the Belize Chamber of Commerce,” he remarked.

Musa said that the Prime Minister would have gained the respect of the entire nation if last Sunday he had made some adjustment in his budget to fight crime, instead of ‘going down into the garbage’ for his solution to the crime problem.

Musa went on to say that the government created the “perfect environment for crime to grow.” He cited the example of the Elvin Penner scandal, and the lack of compliance on the part of the Commissioner of Police to investigate and produce a case file.

Hon. Julius Espat, Cayo South area rep, described the budget as “all bone, no meat in the ham.” He predicted that the government, after passing the budget, would return to the House of Representatives months later for supplemental spending which could constitute as much as 40 percent of the budget. He said that it is a crime to use “more than 10 percent of the budget as supplementary.”

Espat said that the amount of money that is being borrowed in an effort to grow the economy is alarming. “The national debt is approximately $3.5 billion dollars,” he said. “The external public debt is approximately $2.5 billion dollars, and this amounts to about 66.8% of GDP. Our domestic debt amounted to about $1.026 billion dollars, which is about 27.2% of GDP. We add this up and this year we have approximately 93.8% of GDP, Madam Speaker, which is more than last year and it keeps increasing. This is quite alarming. It is alarming because we keep borrowing to be able to try and grow this economy,” he commented.

“I am saddened that the PM and his cabinet with their billion and odd dollar budget doesn’t have vision, they are not looking at how we can move forward, how can we better the lives of our people, they are only seeking how to suck us dry…” Espat further said.

The Pickstock area representative, Hon. Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, who is also Minister of Foreign Affairs, diverged from the discussion of the budget to speak on the dispute with Guatemala.

“We have had good success,” he said, “in relation to the Belize-Guatemala negotiation, which is one of our priorities…We are very pleased to note that in fact it appears as if the Guatemalans will hold their referendum on April fifteenth. It’s a matter which we are monitoring very, very closely, and it is our hope and trust that in fact that matter will go through as planned.”

He then explained,  “…because of our electoral timetable, we cannot go as fast as they are going, but in the interim we are going to continue the education campaign, so that hopefully, by the time we go to referendum, every single Belizean will be fully informed as to the pros and cons of that issue.”

The budget debate ended after 9 p.m. tonight.

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Deshawn Swasey

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