General — 29 November 2013 — by Adele Ramos

“These rains have really played hell with us,” Prime Minister Barrow says, but “Immediate help is on the way…”

Rains caused $2.6 million in damage; GOB announces $78 mil in road works, $200 mil total in infrastructure works

No district in Belize has escaped major infrastructural damage due to the recent weeks of battering rains, and the headline issue at Wednesday morning’s briefing hosted by Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow—who has about six weeks to go before he can get back to his regular duty after major back surgery—was to announce nationwide infrastructure works which will be implemented over the span of the next three years. Barrow called it “an extremely muscular plan… a plan on steroids.”

He said that “the menu of projects” that Government plans to finance “will for sure amount to 200 million dollars or not too much below,” and noted that the timeline for implementation would take them very close to the time for the next general elections.

Those works have become necessary as a consequence of what Barrow described as “absolute devastation that has been wrought by a period of almost unceasing rain”—and the damage estimate following the weeks of rain is in the millions.

Immediate relief announced

Barrow said that humanitarian assistance will be provided for affected families. In Crooked Tree and Santa Elena, 100 families are to receive $3,000 per family, and 20 families in Stann Creek are to receive $3,000 per family.

“We will be replacing household items for these families in addition to the food – such as fridges, stoves, mattresses, washing machines…” Barrow announced.

With respect to road works, Barrow said that the Ministry of Works has done a costing with respect to the most severely affected roadways, areas where access has been cut off and movement of people and goods severely impaired. The Ministry has since provided the Ministry of Finance with a budget for immediate remedial works at an estimated cost of $2.269 million.

Barrow said that the Finance Ministry should have already made the first tranche of $962,355 available, and the balance would be disbursed as soon as the call is made by the Ministry of Works.

Sugar road crisis

“Very deplorable roads” are also a major culprit for the inability of cane farmers to start the crop year—this apart from a pending legal dispute between farmers and the factory.

Barrow today announced that, apart from the umbrella estimate of $76.72 million for road works, “Government is prepared to spend additionally on sugar roads.”

However, Barrow said that in light of a decision by cane farmers to not deliver cane for milling unless a revenue sharing agreement for bagasse power generation is reached, he will have to prioritize; and if the cane farmers don’t intend to deliver cane, sugar roads won’t be treated as an immediate priority.

Crop damage estimates

The Prime Minister shared a preliminary crop damage report, following what he described as “a catastrophe with respect to these rains,” which, he said, are not yet over.

Barrow reported that the country has lost roughly $2.6 million in value, including 800 acres of soybeans and 350 acres corn; and 50% of vegetable farmers were negatively affected by the rains. If the weather persists, all vegetable farmers will be affected, he said.

“We can’t pay them for the loss of earnings, but we can certainly help in terms of doing things like providing funding for seeds so that they can replant,” Barrow said.

He added that the ministry’s estimate is for $223,000 in assistance to farmers, to help them restart their crop.

As for livestock damage, the estimate stands at $404,000, and Government is being asked to provide $122,750 in assistance to the livestock producers.

Barrow said that Government’s aim is to “put people back in a position to pick up with their lives and, in fact, employ their resilience to get back to where they were—to find themselves even better off than where they were before the rains came.”

$78 mil billed for infrastructure works

Immediate remedial works both in terms of the countrywide road network and municipalities will be done immediately, as fast as contractors are able to carry out the work, the Finance Minister said. This should be followed by a larger rollout, which will cover the major highways and secondary road works, he added.

Lennox Bradley, Chief Engineer in the Ministry of Works, detailed a two-phase implementation over a span of 3 years.

Bradley said that $2.2 million will be spent on immediate remedial works, excluding works at the municipalities. Then, phase 2, a $76.72 million program, will span a three-year period.

The first year will require preparatory works to be completed, such as project design, and implementation should be completed by the end of three years.

Works on the Central American Boulevard would be done with funding by the Kuwaiti Fund (OPIC), under the Southside Poverty Alleviation Project. Bids are expected to be issued next month and a contractor chosen by the end of January, so that works could start in February.

Meanwhile, Government will provide funding for interim works to patch up the road, Barrow said.

Breakdown by district

Information supplied in a media packet gives an updated breakdown of the spending plan: $10.25 mil for Corozal, $2.92 mil for Orange Walk, $10.95 mil for the Belize District, $6.3 mil for Cayo, $8.63 mil for Stann Creek, and the largest allocation – $15.61 mil, for Toledo.

Highway renovation

Barrow also announced works for the two major highways: $16.73 million for the Philip Goldson Highway and $5.3 million for the George Price Highway.

The Hummingbird Highway is going to be improved, but that will be funded to the tune of $26 mil with financing from the Kuwaiti Fund (OPIC) and local sources, he said.

Also, the Coastal Road repairs are estimated at $60 million, and the Government does not yet have a commitment for funding for that project.

Barrow said that they want to completely redo the Old Northern Road, and they will spend $1.7 million immediately for remedial works.

Urgent works in Old Capital

Barrow spoke of the program for the concreting of 105 streets in Belize City, as a part of a beautification plan for the Old Capital. He said that Belize City Mayor Darrell Bradley has immediately identified some hotspots.

Included in the City works is a plan to rehabilitate an area between the Lord Ridge Cemetery and Partridge Street. Government will fund works for $346,316.52 there, $148,229.80 for repairs at the Flag Monument, $118,243.84 for works near the Mahogany Street stop light, and $377,400 for works along the stretch of Princess Margaret Drive which spans the Marion Jones Sports Complex, near Landivar Street, to Newtown Barracks.

The grand total for those works, he said, is $990,190.16.

Barrow said that Central Government will pay for the works needed to complete the concreting of Baymen Avenue and the portion on Princess Margaret Drive from the Princess Hotel and Casino, to its intersection with the road leading to Hummingbird Elementary School.

“I have to pass there every morning to take my daughter to school, so I know why people are howling bloody murder,” Barrow said.

Whereas there have been substantial works to concrete Belize City streets, area residents have complained that the street works have worsened drainage problems. Barrow said that the Mayor has identified 21 of those streets which require drainage and Government has agreed to provide $2.5 million in funding. He added that they can talk sometime next year about the second phase of concreting additional streets in Belize City.

More works needed in the Districts

Up north in Orange Walk, Government intends to disburse $2.5 million for works in the Town and on the San Antonio Road – one of the most important sugar roads which are now in dire need of repairs.

In other jurisdictions, such as San Ignacio and Santa Elena, as well as Dangriga and Punta Gorda, the program of works is to be carried out by the Ministry of Works, Barrow said.

“Again while we need to talk to those two mayors [of Dangriga and Punta Gorda] to come up with the amount that Government will spend, I can commit now that there will be significant Government assistance to help municipalities through their problems in terms of what the rains have done,” Barrow said.

Works are due to commence with Cayo, in places like Arenal, Santa Elena-San Ignacio, and Yalbac. Barrow said that the Government has earmarked $6.342 million on village roads in Cayo.

In the Belize District $10.95 million is earmarked for bridges and road resurfacing.

Long-term works

Barrow said that there are plans to bring the national road network “to a point where it will be able to pass inspection and where Government will be able to say with absolute justification that they’ve by and large provided for serviceable infrastructure countrywide.”

The Government announced a national budget of $76.72 million, which has since been revised to $78.41 million, for road works alone. Of that, $55 million is to be spent in the second year; $15 million in the first year. The funds would come from the national budget, Barrow indicated.

“The program is designed not just to put the infrastructure back to a position it was before recent rains, but to carry out a program of improvement that is perhaps now overdue but for which we never earlier had the finance. So when this program is done, infrastructure in this country will be visibly seen to be in the best condition ever,” Barrow commented.

Other works, to be funded from other sources, include projects to be undertaken by Belize Infrastructure Limited (BIL), and the commitment for $5 million signature community/sporting development facilities in each municipality; $35 million for the Belize Civic Center, and further financing for works to connect Chetumal Street in Belama to the Lake Independence area, along with the construction of a CDB-financed drop-in center/sporting complex, and new headquarters for the National Bank of Belize and the Development Finance Corporation and a new national bus terminal.

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