The United Democratic Party (UDP) has controlled government for over 12 years, and on Thursday, March 5, the Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow, who has been the leader of government during his party’s three terms of office, made his last budget presentation to the nation. As we have become accustomed to in the last 12 years, the budget presentation was a platform for the Prime Minister to berate/blame the past administration for almost everything that is wrong in our country, and talk about how much his administration cares about/has done to uplift the marginalized in our country, when it doesn’t/hasn’t.
The budget calls for more investments in road infrastructure and collection of sufficient taxes to meet the wage bill and run the various government ministries. The budget will, like all the budgets in the last dozen years, lift no family out of poverty. There is no serious housing program for the have-nots, not for anyone. There are no serious programs to help young adults who don’t qualify for a job in the police force or tourism, the only available employment in the country. All the poor get, again, is crumbs from the pantry.
In his presentation, the Prime Minister spoke of an economic contraction, and warned that the new coronavirus could cause an economic collapse in our country if it “evolves into a worldwide pandemic.” The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new coronavirus a pandemic on Wednesday of this week, so there will be more slowing down of the world’s economy and increased pressure on a number of Belizean businesses that will have to batten down the hatches if they will survive until the disease is brought under control. The best case scenario is that within a month things will be back to normal in the world.
The outbreak of the new coronavirus is recent, so it cannot be blamed for the present state of our economy, which is not too good. The only areas that have registered economic growth under very uncreative UDP governments are tourism and call centers. All other sectors are down, and we are left exposed, extremely vulnerable to shocks, such as hurricanes, drought periods, and diseases like the new coronavirus, and dengue.
There have been times when our reserves had more funds, those times being when our agriculture and marine sectors were firing on all cylinders, when we were collecting a tidy amount of taxes and royalties from locally produced crude petroleum, and when we were rolling in Petro Caribe funds, but today those wells have dried or are drying up, so we are living in lean times.
Times are tough for most Belizeans, and getting tougher, and while blaming the PUP for all or most ills in the country may help the UDP in the next election, it won’t uplift the people in our country who have the most needs in these desperate times. The stewardship of the UDP has not been spectacular, but there have been small victories. At a later date when we look at the numbers in this budget we will try and find the rays of hope for fiscal year 2020/21.
These UDP administrations, three of them since 2008, they found us in difficult times and they didn’t do enough to make our lives better. Sometimes when we look at their arrogance, their disrespect for our governance systems, their corruption, their insistence in putting their party above our country, we wonder if at any time the road on which they led us was paved with good intentions.
We don’t have the answer to that, but what we do know is that we ended up paying too much for BTL, way too much; we ended up bloating the debt for the UHS; and when we consider the pie they inherited to work with, our oil taxes and royalties, our agro and marine industries and the Petro Caribe, and all our borrowing, we see clearly that they invested way too much on infrastructure and way too little on uplifting the people in our country, especially those who need help the most.
Preliminary report on helicopter crash condemns GoB
The preliminary report on the loss of four top BDF soldiers who were in a helicopter that went down near to Gales Point, Manatee, points to pilot error. In the dark before dawn, in blustery winds and rain, without equipment to aid night vision and with questionable communication tools, the men were sent out on a dangerous mission involving the interception of a plane from South America that was believed to be carrying cocaine.
Brigadier General, Steven Ortega, said that the BDF command has made yearly requests for essential equipment. Our government didn’t have the resources to properly equip the army because it spent excessively on aesthetically pleasing projects, and on numerous bloated contracts that escaped scrutiny either because some oversight bodies were not in place or because the contracts were placed before the House of Representatives long after they had been implemented.
Where there is corrupt leadership or leadership without vision, the people perish. In the best of conditions, accidents do happen; the facts show that under the conditions this was a daring exercise, and while our soldiers must have exhibited the capacity to execute missions like these before, we set them up for failure. Our political leaders are guilty of gross negligence.
Civic and business organizations tired of the UDP’s poor governance practices
The National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), a grouping of ten workers unions in Belize, has had enough of the present government’s corruption and their trampling on all the check-and-balance systems that are essential to good governance, and they have made their position clear. The NTUCB listed six points that they want the government to immediately address, and to make sure the government understood how serious they were about their demands, the unions marched through the streets of Belize City a couple weeks ago.
The UDP has run over the check-and-balance arms of government since coming to power in 2008, and the NTUCB is insisting that this abuse of the system come to an end. The NTUCB is demanding that our critical oversight bodies no longer be in the control of the party that has the majority of seats in government.
While the NTUCB has been applying that pressure on the government, one of their member unions, the Christian Workers Union (CWU), last week issued a notice of intention to strike to the owners of the Port of Belize Limited (PLB). The CWU says that for years the ownership/management of PBL has been disrespectful to their workers, and they will protest until they have a “proper, signed agreement that reflects commitments” made by PBL at a meeting on March 4.
The NTUCB is not the only organization that is exhausted by the UDP and its dictatorial management of the people’s finances. The Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) has also had enough and at a meeting last week the organization passed three resolutions, two of them directed at governance.
The BCCI says it demands that the appropriate government authorities thoroughly investigate allegations that local officials had been bribed by an accused fraudster who is presently on trial in the United States. The BCCI is also demanding that the government urgently introduce a Campaign Finance Bill.