General — 02 November 2012 — by Adele Ramos

A wide cross-section of people from Belize’s private sector met inside the Jungle Pavilion at Old Belize on the George Price Highway this morning for the Second Business Forum hosted by Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow under the theme “Partnering for Growth.”

In his keynote address, Barrow said “the main focus of this forum is, through ongoing and intensive collaboration and cooperation between the public and private sectors, to identify and implement those approaches, activities and operations that will raise the level of business activity in Belize on a sustainable basis; that will expand jobs, incomes, and business profits; that will improve and expand the efficiency and effectiveness of public sector operations; and all with a view to improving, as rapidly as possible and on a sustained basis, the living levels and quality of life of all residents of our country.”

Last year’s forum resulted in the formulation of a steering committee of 8 persons, 4 from the private sector and 4 from the public sector. That body has since evolved into the Economic Development Council (EDC) with a 10-member constitution, also split equally between the private and public sector.

Barrow said that “I am particularly pleased with the step-up in responsiveness from both the public sector agencies and the private business sector that has come with the appointment of Mrs. Amparo Masson to the EDC Secretariat, which is located in my office.”

EDC chairman, Mike Singh, chief executive officer in the Ministry of Trade, said in his remarks that, “Using the dialogue we started a year ago, we have been actively addressing the issues that affect the business climate in which we operate.

“….just as we focus on the cost of living, we must also focus on the cost of doing business, which is directly related to the quality and efficiency of government services to the public.”

Singh also spoke of a plan by government to address corruption, which he described as “a two-sided issue.”

Singh said, “There can only be corrupt public officers if there are those that are willing to pay. With shared responsibility, we can make great strides in addressing that problem and shortly, at the CEO level, we will be undertaking a new campaign to enlist public assistance in policing against corrupt practices by public officers…”

Speaking on the same issue in his keynote address, Barrow said: “I am serving notice that the anti-corruption drive in the public sector, which we are renewing, must deal equally with those who seek compensation for their ‘special services’ and those who pay that compensation.”

Kay Menzies, co-chair of the EDC, agreed that “…the cost of doing business is too high,” too high because of layers of taxation, security costs, transportation, and utilities to name a few key factors.

One new development should help drive down the cost of doing business. Barrow announced at the business forum that “…yesterday the BTL Board of Directors agreed that the company will once more give its Internet customers increased bandwidth at reduced prices. Accordingly, the 128k Internet speed will go from $49 per month to $25 per month. All other DSL Internet speeds will double, but for the same price as current. As examples, 1 megabit which currently costs $300 will now sell for only $140 per month. And 2 megabits that is sold now for $500, will cost only $240. The reductions will take place later this month, and simultaneously the 206 schools countrywide that already receive free Internet from BTL will have their free speed doubled—all this against the backdrop of the 4G rollout, which will be fully operational by December. How about that for helping with the business climate?”

Barrow also previewed Government’s plan to address what he described as “the elephant in the room”—crime. Elsewhere, we detail more specifically those plans revealed at today’s forum by National Security Minister John Saldivar.

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