Features — 27 March 2013 — by Adele Ramos

The National Assembly announced on Friday that there will be a special sitting of the Senate on Wednesday, March 27, 2013, in the National Assembly Chambers in Belmopan.

The main matter to be deliberated by the Senate will be the 2013/2014 National Budget, with $934 million in overall spending, approved by Parliament on Friday, following two days of debate by elected officials of the House of Representatives.

The proposed budget, presented by Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow, assumes growth in the Gross Domestic Product of about 3% over the fiscal year, which is concluding; $934.3 million in total spending; and total revenue and grants of $871.7 million.

The budget also calls for an overall deficit of $62.6 million, or about 1.9% of GDP and $64.5 million for loan amortization, leaving a financing gap of $127.1 million.

Barrow said that his budget strikes two high notes: that the super-bond has been tackled and tamed; and that there will be “absolutely no new taxes and no overall spending cuts….”

The criticisms from the other side of the floor of the National Assembly have been sharp. Opposition Leader Francis Fonseca said at the start of the budget debate that, “For the sixth budget in a row, Belizeans have been treated to a full menu of chest thumping, and whining and empty, hollow rhetoric…. It is a budget disconnected and divorced from the Belizean reality.”

Ex-prime minister Said Musa, area representative for Fort George, said more people are poor, people are losing their jobs, businesses are closing, and property owners are frequently facing foreclosures. The GDP figures quoted by the Barrow administration, Musa said, must not be real.

Julius Espat, Opposition Member for Cayo South, who is also chair of the Public Accounts Committee, spoke of the many foreclosures he said are flooding the newspapers, as a demonstration that the economy is in bad shape.

“I took clippings from the month of March just to show you [the] foreclosures, and it is alarming! Every single page…” said Espat, rolling out several feet of newspaper articles taped together. “Orange Walk: foreclosures, Belize City: foreclosures, San Ignacio: foreclosures, Dangriga: foreclosures, San Pedro: foreclosures—and don’t even talk about Toledo and Dangriga, because it goes on and on… This is ridiculous!”

He also said that familiar Belizean businesses have shut their doors.

“Downtown Belize City alone — Majul Sharma, King Street: closed down…; Big Daddy’s Diner at Commercial Center: closed down; Macy’s Cafe on Bishop Street: closed down; El Centro Restaurant… Venus Records, King Street and Albert Street… A to Z on King Street… Venus Photo Studio… Excellent Diner… Mr. Speaker, I don’t want to go on, because this is just one, two streets, and it gives you an idea.”

A ruling party member of Parliament noted that whereas some Hindu establishments have been closing, it is due to competition in the market, because the Asians are building and expanding their enterprises.

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