Headline — 24 March 2018 — by Rowland A. Parks
PUP trashes Barrow’s $1.83 billion budget

“Things dread under the red,” said PUP Party Leader

BELMOPAN, Thurs. Mar. 22, 2018– It was anticipated that the budget presentation of Lake I’s PUP area rep, Hon. Cordel Hyde, would have been powerful, and indeed, it was.

Hon. Hyde was replying to the BZ$1.83 billion 2018-2019 budget speech presented by Prime Minister Dean Barrow on Friday, March 9.

Before Hon. Hyde rose to address the House, however, PUP Party Leader Hon. John Briceño began the party’s attack against Barrow’s budget, which the party characterized as a budget that had very little for the poor and the needy.

Hon. Briceño said the domestic debt has gone from 321 million dollars in 2007 to over one billion dollars which is an increase of over 318 percent. He said that the government has no plans for growing the economy. This budget is a farce, because the numbers simply do not reflect any of the priorities …, he added.

Belizeans will tell you that things dread under the red, he said.

The UDP inherited an economy that was growing around 5 percent. Hon. Briceño said that under the UDP, growth is around 2 percent.

“This administration spent millions on cement streets and stadiums … the people can’t eat streets and drains, Mr. Barrow.,” Hon. Briceño said.

Today, this government has collected more taxes than any other government since independence … and yet they’ve added 1.3 billion dollars to our national debt. Do not listen to the nonsense that there will be no new taxes; every day they suck more and more taxes at the fuel pump, the Party Leader said.

Hon. Briceno took issue with the Prime Minister for wanting to increase the fuel tax on kerosene. This tax will have a direct impact on poor people, especially our rural Belizeans. The agricultural sector, farmers, use kerosene to help them dry their beans, and by taxing it, once again they are raising the tax on the workers. And we on this side could never accept that, he said.

Hon. Briceño also took the government to task for its GST tax on data purchases. Increasing the cost of data, means increasing the cost of information, he said. Small business or big business, rich or poor, data is indispensible in this increasingly information-driven world. This measure puts all of us at a disadvantage. Is this advancing growth, he asked.

In his budget presentation the Prime Minister said that BTL is worth one billion dollars, and will earn billions more over the years, Hon. Briceño said. He invited the House to look at the numbers as they relate to BTL.

“Let us look at what the Belizean people really paid for a portion of BTL. This nationalization resulted in years of costly litigation until a settlement between the Prime Minister and Ashcroft. The government paid 467 million dollars for the acquisition of Ashcroft shares of BTL. The PM also nationalized a US 20-million-dollar loan that BTL made from the British Caribbean Bank.”

That same loan, Hon. Briceño explained, went up to 97 million Belize dollars. In 9 years of litigation, we paid 15 million dollars, another 5 million dollars for traveling for the PM and other government officials. The sum total of what GoB paid for BTL is 585 million dollars, he said.

“Indeed the Prime Minister did sell 23 million dollars shares to Belizeans; these amounted to two entities, the Social Security Board and the Central Bank,” he said, adding that government has invested a total of 424 million dollars for 73 percent of BTL, which is only valued at 224 million dollars, and that BTL has paid 63 percent of its profits as dividends. Government’s 73 percent of BTL is only worth 90.5 million dollars, said the Party Leader, and we lost 333.5 million dollars on the acquisition of BTL.

With an average earning of 20 million dollars per year, Hon. Briceño broke down the figures and said it would take BTL 49 years to earn the one billion dollars that the Prime Minister boasted about.

“Madam Speaker, it serves no purpose for me to continue looking at a budget that has failed the Belizean people in every possible way. The Belizean people are better served by our recommendations for moving this nation forward. We desperately need to ensure that Belizeans can prosper. In looking ahead, our party’s priority begins with education. “

Hon. Briceño said the UDP administration came into power on a platform of zero tolerance for corruption and is going out as the most corrupt administration ever. They have become the very thing that they once mocked in the public square — corrupt, corrupt, he said.

In referring to Guatemala, he said, “We desire to live in peace with all our neighbors, but let me say again, there can be no compromise in our resolve. We will never surrender one square centimeter of our Belizean territory.

The Leader of the Opposition told the government side, if they are tired of governing, they should quit, and if they want to call the elections, “let’s bring it on.”

Following the Leader of the Opposition’s presentation, the member for Belmopan, Hon. John Saldivar, who was appointed last Sunday to head the newly formed Ministry of National Security, made his presentation in support of the budget.

Saldivar noted that the budget for the defense ministry has increased by 2.9 percent from 56.9 million to 58.6 million. Saldivar explained that the increase will go toward ramping up the operations relating to the deployment of the BDF’s air assets and marine assets of the Belize Coast Guard.

Saldivar also discussed new crime fighting measures that will be read a second time after the budget debate.

Next in the lineup was the PUP’s National Deputy Leader and Lake Independence area representative, Hon. Cordel Hyde, whose presentation LOVE TV and Radio, the only media that has national coverage, reportedly cut off. For some reason, Wave Radio and TV, United Democratic Party organs, also reportedly cut off a small portion of Hon. Hyde’s speech; perhaps things were getting too hot too soon.

Hon. Hyde placed a human face on his budget presentation, while not supporting the government’s expenditures for the fiscal year. He pounced on the latest contract that the government signed with a foreign owned company for the management of the Belize Civic Center, comparing it with the foreign management of Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL).

The Lake I rep said that under Michael Ashcroft, BTL only had about 2 foreigners, but after it was privatized by the UDP administration, owned and supposed to be run by Belizeans, BTL now has over a dozen foreigners.

“The same thing di happen da Civic. We have 15,000 some say, 17,000 public officers. Some of them trained at the world’s best universities,” he said, adding that they paid about 35 million dollars to build the Central Bank building, and they never bring in a foreigner yet to manage that place.

 Hon. Hyde explained that the construction company, Belize Infrastructure Limited, recommended that the building be run by some management team. It will take $850,000 to manage this thing at 60 percent capacity. That works out to almost $4,000 per day to operate the facility.

“I want to know who da den people weh wan pay $4,000 per day for 221 days out of the year. I wan know who da dem people deh, because I no know nobody weh wan do that,” he said.

Hon. Hyde touched on the boledo business, which was privatized under the UDP government.

“This explains why we have to tax the people. This explains why we people have so much poverty. Because we di give up money to people. Da poor people buy boledo,” Hon. Hyde explained; “Dat da poor people’s vice, how we wan give Mr. Brads dat [money?]. Inna every adda country, they use the receipts from things like boledo fu teck care a social problems. We have wan devastating crime situation and dem bally ya cant find money fu tek care a everybody an deh give weh di money. Something wrong with dat and we need fu fix dat,” he said.

“If da 20 million dollars a year, da 8 years, dat da 160 million. You know weh da 160 million dollars, you know how much pickney could go da school, everybody could go da school fu free.”

“Where could a young person go to start a small business?” Hon. Hyde asked.

He went on to explain that the Petrocaribe money could have been given interest free to young people to start small businesses. We dream of landing a big tuna, instead of focusing on creating a thousand small businesses. Some of these small business don’t need a lot of money to start up, and each may end up employing people and reducing di poverty level and increase the self-respect a wi people,” he said.

 Hon. Hyde explained that it cost about $50,000 per year to go to law school, but some parents have to take their children out of high school, because they cannot afford it.

 “If you give anybody da break deh, dem wan be successful. Only a handful of people de get da opportunity deh.
“We have to get more mature. We have to get wan bipartisan commission pan crime. Dat da weh I mi wan hear the Prime Minister seh!”

The budget debate continues tomorrow morning.

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