General — 17 December 2016 — by Adele Ramos
Opposition criticizes motion to raise ceiling of treasury bills and notes to $1.3 bn

BELIZE CITY, Fri. Dec. 9, 2016–Belize’s domestic debt, which the Government has reported at $746.2 million as of September 2016, could exceed a billion dollars by next year, with the further issuance of treasury bills and notes by the Government of Belize in the months ahead.

Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber on Friday introduced a money motion in Parliament to raise the ceiling of treasury notes and bills to $1.3 billion, which would allow the Government of Belize to settle next year’s compensation bill to the former owners of Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL), a group of companies controlled by British billionaire Michael Ashcroft, to the tune of another $180 million, for a total exceeding half-a-billion dollars.

The issuance of a new batch of Government paper, which is mostly taken up by domestic banks—and potentially Ashcroft’s own local bank—was strongly criticized by Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) leader, Johnny Briceño.

He said that what the Government is asking Parliament is to “allow them to be able to print money through the Central Bank so they can continue their insatiable appetite to spend money…”

The approval, he said, would be like giving the Government “a blank check” to write up to $1.3 billion, Briceño added.

Earlier this year, the ceiling for treasury notes and bills was raised almost two-fold, from $450 million to $850 million, and it was later revised upwards in August to 1.05 billion dollars. The net effect of this most recent approval would add $250 million to the ceiling.

United Democratic Party member for Belmopan John Saldivar said, in deflecting Briceño’s criticism, that when the PUP was in power, “they [the PUP] never bothered to come to the House to get approval. They used to force the Central Bank to lend the Government above the limits that were approved by this House.”

Saldivar said that Friday’s approval by Parliament does not mean that the Government will borrow the money immediately; but it would ensure that when the Government needs the money it would be available.

Apart from approving the Treasury Bills (Amendment) (No.3) Bill, 2016 in Friday’s sitting, the House also approved the General Revenue Supplementary Appropriation 2016/2017 (No. 2) Bill, 2016, to provide for $167,000 in funds for the Special Senate Select Committee; and the Income and Business Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2016, to provide for changes in the classification of tax levies on fuel imports.

Three money motions were also passed in Friday’s sitting: a US$11.78 million loan for the construction of a road to connect Western Paradise at Mile 8 on the George Price Highway with the Philip Goldson International Airport in Ladyville in the Belize District from the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID); a US$984,000 loan from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) for youth resilience and inclusive social empowerment, aimed at crime reduction in Dangriga and San Ignacio; and a $250,000 motion to fund the rehabilitation of the Crooked Tree Causeway.

The bills are expected to be passed up to the Senate when it meets on Thursday, December 15.

A total of 4 other bills were introduced but not passed: the Private Pensions (Amendment) Bill, 2016; the Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters (Amendment) Bill, 2016; the Referendum (Amendment) Bill, 2016; and the Non-Governmental Organisation (Amendment) Bill, 2016.

Absent from Friday’s proceedings were Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who was overseas seeking medical attention; Orange Walk North member for the UDP – Gaspar Vega, who recently resigned from Cabinet in the wake of a series of land scandals; and Cayo South member for the PUP – Julius Espat, who has been suspended and threatened with arrest if he was seen trying to enter Parliament for the day’s proceedings.

The meeting was adjourned after 4:00 p.m.

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