“But it is also a recession from which, I must say at once, we will absolutely recover.”
– Right Honorable Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech in Belmopan on Wednesday, September 21, 2016
It was, after all, a week in which the Financial Secretary, Joe Waight, had recited, in the wake of the legal teleconference arguments in front of the Caribbean Court of Justice by the attorneys for the Government of Belize, on the one hand, and the Ashcroft group, on the other, the litany of financial woes which Belize faced. The total BTL arbitration award in favor of the “Belize-loving” Lord Michael Ashcroft had been upwards of $550 million, in the first instance, and Ashcroft was demanding it all in US dollars, which would have the effect of breaking the Belize dollar.
There was the eternal Superbond, hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars owed at commercial rates, Belize’s deficit wreckage from the excesses of neoliberal growth economics. And Mr. Waight was telling us about three additional pro-Ashcroft rulings against the Government of Belize in the United States Court of Appeal, which would add up to $150 million more in debt if Belize had to pay. But, Belize was appealing to the Supreme Court of the United States. A skeptic may have asked, in relation to the U.S. Supreme Court appeals, so what? It seems we have passed this way before, and the verdicts have been more pain. All the FinSec’s recitation of doom and gloom in Belize’s public finances, always in questionable shape because of large chronic excesses of imports over exports, was intended to represent a clinching argument in the Belize Ministry of Finance’s case to defer the 3 percent promised to the teachers of Belize.
Yes, it had been that kind of week when the Belize Prime Minister, the Right Hon. Dean O. Barrow, stepped to the outdoor podium in Belmopan on Wednesday morning, Independence Day, to deliver his state-of-the-nation address. Few could have predicted the gushing, almost lyrical bombast which followed. It was mostly about streets, bridges, roads and buildings (SBRB), the focus of this ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) having been extremely infrastructural for years. Money would be flooding in from the IDB, the CDB, and OPEC/OFID. There was even a $40 million grant from the United Kingdom. (Incredible! The British never do this sort of thing for Belize.) Mr. Barrow became so enthused with his own rhetoric he referred to the Caribbean Development Bank’s having “given an initial grant” for the two Cayo bridges. As we understand it, banks give loans, not grants. Still, perhaps we are being picayune. (Incidentally, it was a day when the late Edward Percival Yorke, Sr., was not given credit for his magnificent poem. And that, beloved, is not picayune.)
Certainly, however, we are positive in our description as “bombast” when we refer to the Prime Minister’s predictions for the Belizean economy and for his own projected heroic demolition, as it were, of the Superbond. We quote. “My confidence, then, is for a full return, by the start of the next fiscal year, to GDP growth and financial system normalcy. But this confidence is marred by one thing: fear of that other hurricane called the Superbond. So I will say just this. If it’s the last thing I do before I leave office, I will solve once and for all that problem. And it will not take anything like the four plus years I have left on my constitutional mandate.”
For the sake of the suffering Belizean people, would that Mr. Barrow had the kind of credentials and record in public finance and economics which would justify us having faith in his glorious predictions of September 21, 2016. In fact, we wonder if there is anywhere in the world that a human being lives with the credentials and record which would have us accept what amount to guarantees by Mr. Barrow for a Belizean economic miracle. To be truthful, and sad to say, the Prime Minister’s rhetoric sounds like a smoke-and-mirrors job coming from a master impressionist or illusionist.
There is this huge difference between the public sector, the world inhabited by the Right Honorable, and the private sector, where the rest of us try to make a living. In the public sector, they routinely and carelessly waste money, because to replace it, all they have to do is tax, and tax more. Today’s reality in the private sector of Belize, where entrepreneurs, business people, and industrialists watch every dollar, is the reality of an economy which has been shrinking and losing jobs for several years. The tax regime in Belize is onerous, and those who prosper are those who are beating the system.
At the same time the private sector is struggling, and the same time that the Government of Belize wants to defer payments to its employees, the waste of public funds on the UDP newspaper, radio, and television propaganda organs continues unabated. They drive new vehicles into the salty sea and appear always to be wasting millions of dollars on flashy replacement vehicles. The public sector corruption stinks to high heaven, and in the private sector we have a good sense of smell. We also have pretty good memories. We do remember the fancy “whiff of corruption” man.
The long and short of Wednesday morning’s speech is this. The European, British, American, and Canadian (EBAC) powers are providing multilateral financial liquidity for the collapsing Belizean economy. The salve and ointment for our wounds, then, would not be coming from Belizean self-reliance, sturdiness, and iniquity. Salve and ointment are coming from the EBAC nations, and you can probably throw in Taiwan for good measure. These international sources of multilateral financial liquidity are the homes of the same transnational companies which come to the Government of Belize for tax-free concessions in sugar production, cruise shipping, offshore oil exploration, and the like. These are the foreign investors who can dictate terms to the elected politicians of Belize because it is their home countries which continue the financing of Mr. Barrow’s infrastructure.
Again, Mr. Barrow speaks of a “full return” to “GDP growth and financial system normalcy.” We would surely like to know precisely when such “GDP growth and financial system normalcy” were last in good effect. We say this because on the Southside of Belize’s old capital/population center, a bloody civil war has been raging for a quarter century. If GDP growth and financial system normalcy were in good effect at any point during those twenty five years of civil war, then there were many citizens, especially younger ones, who were not benefiting from the said growth and normalcy. Hence, these youth fought and killed each other in a struggle to survive.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too, Mr. Barrow. Things are either good, as you said Wednesday morning, or they are bad, as your Financial Secretary explained the day before. We don’t see how it can be both at the same time. On second thought, however, we suppose it actually can be good for the elite and bad for the masses at the same time. Amongst that elite, you must number yourself, if we are to judge by the optics.
At this newspaper, we include ourselves amongst the Southside masses. The economics ain’t working so good down here. Belizeans saw on Monday in Belmopan that the teachers of Belize feel the same way. There are people who have become fat and bloated in your Cabinet, Mr. Prime Minister. Elsewhere in The Jewel, there is a “lean and hungry look.” You figure it out, big boy.
Power to the people. Remember Danny.