Features — 21 March 2014

(The following is the FROM THE PUBLISHER column published in Amandala no. 745 of Friday, October 14, 1983)

Probably the worst thing happen to Belize in the last five years was the death in December, 1978 of the first Belizean Financial Secretary – Rafael Aloysius Fonseca, C.M.G.

Mr. Fonseca died in a traffic accident on the Western Highway days after Anglican Bishop Eldon A. Sylvestre and his wife perished in another traffic accident on the same highway.

Within the space of one week Belize lost the only churchman who was not afraid of George Price (as a Canon, Sylvestre had defied Price by blessing the first UBAD parade in 1969), and the man who stood between Belize and fiscal irresponsibility.

Within three years after Mr. Fonseca’s death, the floodgates leading to financial ruin for Belize had been thrown open by an incompetent, unchecked Minister of Finance and the nation has hovered for the last two years on the brink of bankruptcy.

We quote here from the AMANDALA eulogy published on Friday, December 29, 1979: “As the man who controlled Government’s purse strings, he was feared, rightly so, by those who did not comply with the rules, were wasteful, or failed to stay within the limits of the budget.”

Amazing as it may seem, those who feared Fonseca included the titular Finance Minister himself – G. C. Price. During Mr. Fonseca’s lifetime, he was the real Minister of Finance, and whenever Mr. Price insisted on any step involving fiscal irresponsibility, Falo Fonseca threatened to resign. Give Price credit: he was smart enough to know that Fonseca was so much more able than himself, the Finance Ministry could not operate without the Fonsecan presence.

Since Mr. Fonseca’s death, such a judgment has been proven severely accurate. Subsequent Financial Secretaries have been dictated to by Price: Mr. Price has not complied with the rules, he has been wasteful, and he has failed to stay within the limits of the budget. The facts are there, in black and white, and increasingly, in the red.

In the early and middle 1960s when the PUP was at the height of its self-government popularity (before the 17 Proposals) Price, as a result of the prodding of his Fin Sec, kept a rein on his Ministers. Belize’s finances were handled in a tight and disciplined manner.

As far as I can figure out (and I stand to be corrected), the Belize government stopped keeping books around 1971. Politics was taking precedence over economics. Put it this way. Money, for a young man, is necessary to have “fine time” with women. For a parent, money is the wherewithal to house, clothe, feed, and educate children. But for George Price, money is that with which you buy votes, control, and power.

From 1971, Rafael Fonseca was like one of these old genius mechanics you see around Belize keeping ancient machines running with wire, string, and intuition. Because he had grown along with the Belizean economy, his knowledge of it was such that he could run business even without the required national financial accountability. Water was leaking in, but Fonseca kept his finger in the dike.

In those years, because of Rafael Fonseca, Belize got good credit ratings internationally, and Price could not wait for independence to get his hands on international grants and loans.

But when independence came, Fonseca was two years dead, the financial dike broken, and Belize is exposed in 1983 all over the world as a financial disaster area.

The reason is simple. For the last five years, George Price has spent Belize’s moneys recklessly and irresponsibly: he has mortgaged away Belize’s financial future to guarantee his personal political present.

The most outrageous example is the so-called independence houses. 2 million Belize dollars to house foreign independence guests for 5 days in 1981! The contractor had to buy all materials through a Price favorite. The contractor would call for ten pounds of nails, say. The Price favorite went down to town, bought the nails, added his personal hefty commission, and sold it to the contractor. All materials were purchased like that for the independence houses, so who paid the exaggerated bills of the contractor? Me and you, Jim.

Price has still not given a financial statement on the 1981 independence celebrations. The consensus is that independence broke our treasury. The Promised Land became a disaster area. And the reason is that the Finance Minister of Belize knows nothing about finances. The real man is dead.

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