BELIZE CITY, Mon. Feb. 6, 2017–Officials in the Ministry of Finance are due to meet this week with organizations representing the private sector as well as the unions, for consultations on the upcoming budget cycle, as curiosity lingers over what austerity measures will be implemented to stem the hemorrhaging of public finances, partly due to unmanageable debt, amid an ongoing recession.
Amandala is reliably informed that consultative meetings are planned with the private sector—the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) and the Belize Business Bureau—on Thursday, and with the unions under the umbrella of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize on Friday. At those meetings, Government officials will make presentations to the social partners, which are expected to also have their recommendations and/or positions to put on the table.
Mr. Nikita Usher, president of the BCCI, has confirmed that the private sector is due to meet with Government officials on Thursday, but in advance of that meeting, the BCCI will hold a meeting with its membership tomorrow.
“You enter a battlefield with all your arms,” Usher said.
He told us that there are some priority areas that will be addressed in their meeting with the Government: the billion-dollar super bond, the foreign exchange situation, as well as cost-cutting measures needed to help balance the national budget.
“It is easy for the Government to look at [increasing] taxes, but the business community cannot afford another dollar of tax,” Usher told us, saying that it impacts adversely on the competitiveness of Belizean businesses.
Usher spoke of the need to “curtail fat,” and while for some that may hint to a need to cut the wage bill, the unions had already made a concession with the Government last year, after Hurricane Earl, to defer the final tier of their salary adjustment until this year, 2017.
Usher said that the unions and the business sector may disagree on that front—the issue of the wage bill—but he added that there is a need to look at things comprehensively.
He told us that he does not see the situation as “doom and gloom” and he is confident that Belize is blessed with people with the intelligence to work out a solution.
The BCCI president did underscore that any measures which are put in place ought not to further slowdown the Belizean economy. He noted that every sector, apart from tourism, continues to struggle.