Highlights — 01 August 2014 — by Adele Ramos
New Haulover Bridge and   4-lane highway in the works

With multi-million-dollar infrastructure projects in full swing in the commercial capital, Belize City, residents across the other municipalities have been asking when the road-building crews will make it to their corner of the country.

At a press conference held at the Biltmore Hotel in Belize City today, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow detailed a program of works for the country, making reference first to works for Punta Gorda.

Barrow said that they had completed West Street in PG and had started on Olivia Santino Street and Cayo Street, but a PG resident contacted us to say that only half of West Street had actually been concreted to date, and that resident raised concerns that the steel frames being used to buttress City streets had not been used in the project on West Street.

Apart from the program of works for the country’s southernmost municipality, other works are also planned for places like San Ignacio, which will see a new roundabout near the police station as well as concrete road works. Barrow said that the town’s mayor was hoping to have the rehabilitation program, tabbed at $400,000, completed before Independence celebrations in September.

Works were also outlined for San Pedro, which should be benefiting from the establishment of a new 24-hour polyclinic, and the paving of over 3 miles of road from the bridge to Coco Beach Hotel.

Up north, 1.5 miles of the San Antonio Road will be resurfaced and works were outlined for Ecumenical Drive and Ramos Road in the southern town of Dangriga.

According to Barrow, “Tenders [will be] going out in [a] few weeks for the new Haulover Bridge.”

He also said that a 4-lane highway will be built to the outskirts of Belize City from the Haulover Bridge.

The Prime Minister said that they are just about to sign a contract for the construction of two roundabouts, one where Chetumal Street meets the Philip Goldson Highway, and the other where Fabers Road meets the George Price Highway. The works would cost roughly $3 million.

Apart from road works, there are also works programmed for sporting facilities across the country. Christy Mastry, general manager of Belize Infrastructure Limited (BIL), detailed a program of works for the various municipalities, among them the $25 million facility at the Belize City Center, and facilities in the districts billed at $5 million each.

Barrow said that BIL is being asked to have PG’s project “jump the cue.” He said that his CEO, Audrey Wallace, had said to him that “people are still feeling very hard done by” because it appears to them that Government’s infrastructure initiative is concentrated elsewhere, other than PG, and they continue to be neglected.

Barrow contended that this is “not true,” and added that apart from what they have been doing with respect to streets, they will give priority to works on the multi-purpose complex near the airstrip, which he said will be completely remodeled.

He also said that the Government is fast-tracking employment creation initiatives, focused at training up to 2,000 Belizeans for new call center jobs.

Currently, the sector employs 2,600 employees, and daily there are new expressions of interest for the business outsourcing field, for which, he said, Belize has a comparative advantage.

“The people who are coming don’t want to do the on-the-job training for those seeking jobs, so Government will train a cadre of Belizeans,” he said.

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At the end of today’s press conference, the CEOs for the Ministry of Trade and the Ministry of Education, Michael Singh and David Leacock, signed a memorandum of understanding which will govern the use of the ITVET building for the new Call Center Training Institute.

Barrow said that they are aiming to start training the first cohort in October, and the initial 100 persons will attend the one-month training free.

“The idea is that we will transform a portion of the ITVET campus on Freetown Road into what we call the rapid training institute. The idea being that we will go out, seek at least 100 Belizeans per month, put them into the training, certify them in call centers and at the end of that training we will go through a recruitment drive with the centers, so they will come in and directly interview and hire people,” said Singh.

While training will be initially provided in Belize City, there are plans to roll out training to the districts. Singh also said that decentralization in the sector is “happening on its own” with new centers opening up in Orange Walk, Benque, the Commercial Free Zone in Corozal and possibly in Punta Gorda.

“Clearly it is easier for somebody to go to work where they live rather than to have to commute,” he said, pointing to Cayo residents who are bussed daily to Ready Call in the Belize District for work.

Singh said that they expect that call centers will require 2,100 new employees over the next year or two. He expects that the institute would train 1,000 persons within the first year, and a total of 2,000 within the 2 years.

Barrow acknowledged today that the Government needs to restart the Centers for Employment Training (CET), which would provide skills training for persons who have graduated from primary school. Since the ITVET only accepts high school graduates, the private sector has suffered from a lacuna of skilled persons and has at times had to import labor from overseas. He said that Belizean businessman, Lascelle Arnold, has pointed out the need to resurrect the training centers.

Singh also shared the results of a survey conducted at last week’s Business Forum, hosted by the Office of the Prime Minister, at the same venue. That survey, said Singh, indicated that employers are looking for IT persons and engineering grads.

“What that tells me is that if we don’t put focus on employment training, we will be left behind,” said Singh.

Senator Joy Grant, Minister of Energy, Science & Technology and Public Utilities, announced plans to create a technology institute, which she said must meet the demands of the country. She said that they would like to reach out first to the Diaspora to see how many Belizeans they can attract back to assist with what she described as a very important initiative for the economic development of the country.

She said that Korean officials, who are in-country assisting with the project, should have the plan done in less than 10 months.

Grant, who is also the chair of the National Bank of Belize, announced that starting September 2014, they would begin taking cash deposits as well as issuing debit cards. We understand that one major client of the bank will be Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL), the government-owned phone company. Government is also planning on providing a further $10 million infusion to the bank, since the initial capitalization of $20 million has evidently already been committed, $12.6 million of it to teachers and public officers.

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