Early in December of last year, the Kremandala group of businesses began an overall belt tightening. This was with a view to surviving the post-holidays downturn which hits the Belizean economy every January. More than that, anyone with eyes could see in December of 2016 that there were economic storm clouds all around The Jewel.
In our editorial last Friday, we remarked on the fact that the ruling political doctorate had not yet come straight with the Belizean people where our failing economy was concerned. Earlier, we had mentioned that the “free” concert organized at the Belize City Council’s expense on February 11 went against the grain, because of our financial crisis. There was still no area which we could consider the Government of Belize as making a determined, visible effort to cut waste. And when the Prime Minister/Minister of Finance, Rt. Hon. Dean O. Barrow, was met at the airport by the media early Sunday afternoon, February 19, on his return from New York City talks with the owners of Belize’s superbond, it sounded to us very much as if he was splitting hairs and damage controlling.
We respect the art of the politicians, because it is through electoral politics that we Belizeans choose the leaders in our parliamentary democracy. The ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) has won all the municipal and general elections held in Belize since 2006, so it is clear that the UDP leaders know what they are doing politically. It is just as clear that there is some kind of a problem within the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) why they have been on their prolonged losing streak.
There is a fundamental difference between the public sector of our economy, as run by the Government of Belize, and the private sector, as represented by our various businesses and industries. The difference is that the Government of Belize has the power of taxation, enforceable legally and forcibly, in order to cover any and all financial shortfalls they may experience. The private sector does not enjoy such a privilege as that of taxation, although they can raise their prices. The private sector, except for those very big boys who are in a monopoly or cartel situation, becomes vulnerable to the marketplace every time it raises prices. Belize’s public sector is never vulnerable, except in the streets.
In the market economy, such as Belize’s, it is expected that the public sector political leaders should be solicitous about the welfare of the private sector, because it is the private sector which creates jobs, thus sparking growth. In a political emergency, the public sector can create jobs, such as what the incumbent UDP did with Petrocaribe loan funds in the months leading up to the November 2015 general election. Such economic activity induced by the public sector, however, is not sustainable, as we saw after the general election. All those hundreds temporarily employed for election purposes have returned to the ranks of the unemployed. And, to make matters worse, with the public sector having increased choking taxes on the private sector in order to pay such loans as the Petrocaribe loan, and with the specter of more taxes for the private sector coming in two weeks’ time, the private sector has been shedding jobs and will shed more when the 2017/2018 budget is read.
Belize has been benefiting from the safety valve represented by the United States economy for more than a century. But, it is at this precise moment when the Belizean economy is perhaps in its worst shape ever in the modern era, that the greatest threat ever to our work force in the United States is taking shape with the immigration policies of the new Donald Trump presidency. Thousands of Belizean workers could be deported home shortly, where they would enter an economy which is on life support.
In his last two major addresses to the nation, his Independence Day address of September 21 and his New Year’s Day 2017 speech, the Prime Minister has not addressed Belize’s growing crisis. These speeches have been almost bombastic in their extolling of infrastructural projects nationwide. The P.M. went as far as to encourage Belizeans to “feel the rush.”
On Sunday afternoon at the Philip Goldson International Airport, P.M. Barrow refused to concede that not delivering Belize’s scheduled superbond payment on Tuesday, February 21, will constitute a default. Instead, he referred to a “30-day grace period.” As children, we were taught that “a stitch in time saves nine.” As far as we can see, not much stitching is being done in Belmopan.
Politically, inside the ruling UDP Mr. Barrow is in full control and, while there is no doubt silent discontent in Cabinet at recent anti-corruption initiatives, the UDP’s middle level generals continue to have the time of their lives. And the UDP base is happy: the PUP does not appear to be a real threat.
The UDP, however, is in denial. There is suffering taking place amongst Belizeans, apart from anger at UDP corruption and arrogance. This is why the teachers of Belize recently succeeded in bringing the Barrow government under check. The politics of Belize is no longer the classic UDP and PUP dichotomy. With no indication that the economic situation here is about to improve, the streets will only become more and more volatile. Yes, there are more police vehicles cruising than ever before, and the weed arrests keep piling up. But the question that needs to be asked, real talk, is: what about the hungry and unemployed brigade?