BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Oct. 8, 2015–Prime Minister Dean Barrow hosted the Fourth Annual Business Forum today, Thursday, October 8, at the Best Western Belize Biltmore in Belize City. The forum was attended by representatives of the business community, government officials and the media.
The theme of the Forum was “Partnership for Growth and Prosperity” and it reviewed the status of the reform actions discussed at the previous forums, which included initiatives introduced by the public sector as well as issues tabled by the private sector.
An Economic Development Council (EDC), which operates out of the Office of the Prime Minister, was formed four years ago to give energy to the reform initiatives which are the result of an on-going dialogue between the members of the Public/Private Sectors. The EDC is co-chaired by Kay Menzies, former president of the Chamber of Commerce, representing the private sector, and Mike Singh, former CEO of BELTRAIDE, representing the public sector. EDC operates out of the Office of the Prime Minister.
The Forum also included a “Conversation on Investment Climate,” which featured the Prime Minister of Belize and Mr. Alvin Henderson, Managing Director of Royal Mayan Shrimp Farm having a dialogue on aspects of doing business in Belize, with special emphasis on foreign direct investment.
The last item on the agenda was a press conference where the Prime Minister fielded question from the press corps. Joining him at the head table were Mr. Mike Singh and Ms. Kay Menzes, representing the Economic Development Council (EDC).
Amandala asked the PM if he would comment on the 360 million pounds the that the UK’s Prime Minister, David Cameron announced last week in Jamaica that his government would be giving to the Caribbean and if he knows how much is coming to Belize
The PM further mentioned, “No, I don’t know how much is coming to Belize. Cameron made it plain that this is in recognition, perhaps, new found recognition, of the special relationship that exists between the Anglophone Caribbean and the UK.”
He added, “I would say it’s high time that something as tangible as what is being done now is, in fact, taking place but clearly there are all sorts of ways in which the new flows are to be disbursed. They talk about something as simple as increasing the number of Chevening Scholarships. Clearly it is for the region and for the individual countries to get together and access the fund in ways that will benefit all countries.
PM Barrow said, “My understanding is that it will be administered by the Caribbean Development Bank. We have and excellent relationship with the CDB. We have not had any reason to complain about any in equitability in their operational aspect, so we are positive that we will get our fair share. I don’t think that we are at the stage where we can start flinging numbers around.”
We asked the Prime Minister if he felt that the Caribbean leadership needs to press for reparations more forcefully.
Mr. Barrow replied: “CARICOM as a group has agreed to press the reparation issue and we are part of CARICOM. I certainly do not take the view that while the issue is exercising and pre-occupying us that we should, in any way flaunt at the sort of effort that Prime Minister Cameron is now making. That can’t excuse the sins of history but you will forgive me if I am more anchored in the present and focused on what we can do to advance our local development agenda and how cooperation and partnership with some of the bigger countries, in this case UK, can assist us.”
He added, “Reparation is all together a different matter with its own dynamics with a timeframe that, if we are going to be realistic, in my view, does not admit of any resolution any time soon. Meanwhile, there are urgent issues to be address and this is where I want to focus the bulk of my attention.”
Mr. Barrow was also asked why the Public Accounts Committee and the Integrity Commission were not functioning and whether this will change if he once again becomes the country’s Prime Minister.
He said: “We have not been able to reconstitute the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) because we are at odds with the Opposition and the social partners where that is concerned. I made no apologies in saying right from the start that I do not support a PAC in which the government is in the minority. That is not the way it operates in the Commonwealth models that I have looked at. To me it is quite enough that that committee is chaired by a member of the Opposition.
He added that, “I also acknowledge that it should be broader base and that in fact, the social partners should sit on the committee but I will never concede that we need to give way on the issue of majority composition of the PAC. I am agreeing that there should be and extended PAC but still the majority of that committee should belong to the government.
“As I said that is how democracy operates that is how PACs operate in the Commonwealth jurisdictions that I know of. I am still very much open to the reconstitution on the basis of an expansion but not on a reconstitution that would take away the majority from the government.”
Daniel Gutierrez, Communications Director for the Belize Natural Energy (BNE) who also served as MC for today’s forum, told Amandala that he was very encouraged by the forum. “We have been working at this for some time now and we are seeing progress, albeit, incremental,” he said.
“The fact that the PM has moved the EDC into his office has made a world of difference. That speaks to a certain seriousness and commitment to see things move. Already we are seeing movement on such issues as tax reform and the national transportation master plan, as well as the IT training program being offered by the Taiwanese. So things are moving”, he said.