Economy Letters — 03 June 2014 — by Brian Plummer

Dear Editor:

The Belize economy has been performing less than stellar from independence until now. Our economic growth has been induced by eternal borrowing. Our external debt has increased steadily since independence with no post-independence government ever having a balanced budget.

From January 2010 to January 2014, Belize imported $546 million worth of goods and exported $232.5 million. Our imports exceeded our exports by 134.8 %: it is equivalent to us earning a $100 and spending $234.80. For the 1st quarter of 2014, 37.5 % of our imports were from the United States (US) with an additional 25% from Curacao and Mexico combined.

For the first quarter of 2014 we have trade deficits with all our major trading partners except the European Union. Sugar is our number one export earner for the first quarter 2014.

We owe $2.5 billion (budget speech 2014/15). No one in government seemed to be alarmed about our dismal economic performance. Regardless of which political party is in government little is done to address our trade deficit. If this is allowed to continue it will cause loss of jobs.

All developed countries have a skilled workforce. The OECD estimates that half of the economic growth in developed countries in the last decade came from better skills. We have a population with less than 10% having a tertiary education. We seem to be less than serious about addressing our education shortfall. We spent about 25% of our budget on education, but a significant amount of it is ill-spent on a bloated Ministry of Education.

According to the Learning Curve 2014, a study by Pearson, “Before focusing on 21st century skills, developing countries must teach basic skills more effectively.” We have a primary school exam that is not designed to foster national development yet we do nothing about it. Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, and other Caribbean countries with a similar exam have realized that their exam is inadequate and are making the necessary changes. We seem to be a country on auto pilot regardless of which political party is in government. Our political class is static and they are not performing at even a minimum acceptable level.

We have a poverty rate of 43%. In 2012, we had the third highest murder rate in the world (44.7 per 100 000). The most likely and reasonable explanation for this miserable state of the nation is that there is extreme mismanagement or corruption. We have oil, gold, abundant agricultural land, and a young population: a recipe for an economic boom like the economic boom of the Baby Boomers in the US. Our poor performance is all connected; poor employment opportunities breed crime.

Since independence, Belize has always had a double digit unemployment rate – definitely unacceptable – it is reasonable to assume that the crime rate will increase as the population increases and opportunities do not increase commensurately. Mismanagement of government resources encourages deficiency; when Ministers of Government have state-of-the-art vehicles and many schools don’t even have proper facilities, this encourages poor academic performance.

Because we have the natural and human resources (young people), we have immense potential. It is just the will and hard work necessary that we do not have, particularly in our political leadership.

I see the move by BGYEA as the sign of the times: Our leaders are not performing, so our people are going to take matters into their own hands. Even the high crime is a vote of no confidence in our formal system and an attempt by people to create an alternative, because the current formal economy is not working for them.

Yours truly,
Brian Plummer

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