Headline — 16 May 2014 — by Adele Ramos
$750,000 for UDP’s Mother’s Day cheer

15 UDP reps got $50,000 each of taxpayers’ money; 14 PUP reps got nothing

Earlier this week, the Opposition People’s United Party went on record to condemn a decision taken by the Barrow administration to gift $750,000 of taxpayers’ money to select recipients for Mother’s Day, while leaving out those mothers who live in divisions which are represented by the Opposition PUP.

Mother’s Day is observed internationally on the second Sunday in May, and Cabinet had apparently decided that each of the constituents with a ruling party rep would receive a $50,000 allocation for the annual Christian observance.

However, it appears from official information we have gleaned from Financial Secretary Joseph Waight that the constituencies represented by Opposition members of Parliament did not receive an allocation from Central Government.

“The scope of the program to include Government area representatives only was a decision of the Cabinet,” Waight told us.

Amandala spoke with Elodio Aragon, Jr., the UDP’s standard-bearer for Orange Walk East, who received a full-page spread in the Guardian featuring events in that constituency. Aragon categorically denied receiving any money from the taxpayers’ purse.

Aragon said that contrary to media reports, he got “not one copper; not one shilling,” from the Government, and neither did he receive party funds for the undertaking.

He told us that the funds used to buy roses, cards and gifts for Mother’s Day came from the business community and through fundraising efforts and donations collected by him and his constituency committees.

We tried to reach Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who is also the Minister of Finance and UDP leader, for comment, but our attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.

Amandala posed some questions to Financial Secretary Joseph Waight, who responded to us frankly with the information. We reproduce for you below both our questions and Waight’s responses.

Q. How much was issued via the electoral divisions for Mother’s Day?

A. A total of $750,000 – approximately $50,000 per Government area representative. Two did not participate.

Q. Was this budgeted expenditure? From which line item in the budget were funds drawn?
A. No. Not in the original budget, but it will be processed as supplemental expenditure and the approval of Parliament will be sought under a Supplemental Appropriation Bill.

Q. How were the funds disbursed? To whom and via which offices?

A. Funds were allocated to the Ministry of Finance, which in turn either prepared bank cheques made out directly to individual recipients, or made payment through pay-lists processed through the district Sub-Treasuries. There was also an option to purchase and distribute small gifts. Recipients were nominated by the respective Government area representative.

Q. Is this going to be an annual gifting to mothers by the Government of Belize?

A. There is no firm indication at this time. Depends on the availability of funds and the approval of Cabinet.

Q. Please address, if you can, complaints that the funds were given to UDPs and not PUPs.

A. The size and scope of the program was a decision of the Cabinet.

Q. Does this mean that 15 UDP area reps got $50,000 each?

A. Yes

Q. Also, why did the 14 PUPs not similarly receive funds for their division? Who, if so, would have distributed funds in those remaining divisions?

A. The scope of the program to include Government area representatives only was a decision of the Cabinet.

Q. Can you say which two divisions from among those approved by Cabinet did not participate?

A. Not sure. I believe that one area representative was out of town. Not sure about the other.

Q. Was there a per-person allotment? If so, what would that have been?

A. Yes, there was a ceiling of $100 per recipient — also a floor of $50 per recipient.

Q. Am I correct in saying that payments were funneled through the UDP area reps to constituents who were paid with GOB cheques or funds via the Treasury?

A. The area representatives identified the beneficiary. And in some cases, arranged for the distribution of the gifts/cheques.

Last December, it was reported that the Government had approved $2.23 million for the second annual X-Mas Cheer Program. The Opposition had complained that the funds were not channeled through the elected representatives of their party, but through the UDP standard-bearers or other appointees who are not elected members of Parliament.

Apart from that, there were complaints that the divisions with PUP reps received an allocation of less than half what was allocated to the divisions with UDP reps. Government had indicated that the allocations were used to buy goods and that no cash was issued directly to recipients.

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