BELIZE CITY, Mon. Sept. 21, 2020– Belize celebrated its 39th year of independence on Monday, September 21, 2020. The celebrations started off with the Official Flag Raising Ceremony, which was held at the newly refurbished Government House in Belize City.
The ceremony was carried out virtually on Sunday night and featured a cadre of local Belizean music and pre-recorded messages from mayors and other officials from across the country. This event was streamed online and only top dignitaries were in physical attendance, such as Belize City Mayor Bernard Wager; Acting Chief Justice Michelle Arana; chairman of the National Celebrations Committee, Minister of Education and Leader-Elect Hon. Patrick Faber; Senator Isabel Bennett, representing the Opposition Leader Hon. John Briceño; Governor General Sir Colville Young; and Prime Minister Dean Barrow.
This was the same for the Official Independence Day Ceremony which was held in Belmopan at the footsteps of the House of Representatives. The traditional inspection of the guard and introductory formalities preceded the speeches delivered by the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. John Briceño; Leader-Elect of the UDP, Hon. Patrick Faber, and the farewell address delivered by Prime Minister Dean Barrow.
In his remarks, Patrick Faber, speaking in the capacity of Chair of the September Celebrations Committee, outlined the challenges faced by the Government in responding to the coronavirus pandemic; he commented on the “strides” made that is allowing GOB to respond effectively, but outlined that the dependence on Government in this way could not become a norm.
Faber said, “While our Government has made great strides to fill the income gap by providing unemployment relief, small business support, and fiscal adjustments to allow our financial sector to support affected business in this trying time, this temporary reprieve cannot become the norm of our future.”
He also outlined the importance of investment in science, technology, the creative and cultural industries, and called for increased transparency in government to avoid the continuance of the culture of corruption.
“The old style of closed government must give way to a government that works for the people, and where equity is favored and the special interests of the connected few are rejected. The open government that I envision means that secret deals and large sell-offs can no longer be tolerated, and it means that a true partnership between labor, enterprise, government, and civil society has to be forged and maintained.” Farber said.
Leader of the Opposition, Hon. John Briceño, also outlined the importance of an end to political corruption and the unjust enrichment of political officials.
“For nearly 13 years, Belizeans have witnessed unprecedented corruption, cronyism, nepotism and mismanagement of the economy and our precious resources. A small group of well-connected UDPs has plundered the treasury, stolen the people’s lands, and prostituted Belizean nationality; the record of this UDP administration is one of betrayal, scandal, and mismanagement, but we already know this, and what we must do to correct these wrongs, we must vote.” Briceño outlined.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow gave his last Independence Day address at this year’s ceremony. His “swan song” focused on the recent efforts by his administration to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in Belize and he expressed the firm hope that future leaders will rescue Belize.
“So for me, I leave with the certain knowledge that we can do it, that we will prevail because our leaders-political, and spiritual and social – are all united in their love for Belize, their will to rescue our country.”
Barrow said that the country has been able to tap into local and international funds since the start of the pandemic in order to execute various relief efforts. He said that 39,129 households have received food assistance.
“This has been at the cost of 20 million dollars, and with another 20 million coming from OFID, we are doubling the amount of beneficiary families” he said.
Barrow also mentioned the 75 million dollars which were borrowed from the Central Bank to carry out phase 1 of the Unemployment Relief Program (UPR), which reached 40 thousand persons.
Barrow said,” Phase 2 of the URP has now started and Government has made an even greater commitment. On the basis of funds left over from Phase 1, plus what has been secured from the IDB and what is to be had from CABEI, we will be able to assist another 50 thousand unemployed for an additional period that should last through December.”
In his speech, the Prime Minister spoke about the 16 million dollars being allocated to the agricultural industry, which was announced in late August, and the 10 million dollars which were set aside for loans, grants, and subsidies to the small businesses.
He announced the imminent roll-out of the Belize COVID-19 Cash Transfer program, or BOOST 2.0, which will add 10,500 more households to the stipend program for 6 months.
The Prime Minister said, “Perhaps most important of all, 20 million dollars has been approved by the IDB for procuring additional health sector supplies, refurbishing facilities, taking on more personnel, and paying the promised bonus to healthcare workers.”
In closing, Barrow said, “Belize’s ultimate triumph will depend most on Belize itself. Our recovery, our tourism and agricultural and manufacturing, and services will rebound, will oblige us to work harder than ever, make more sacrifices than ever.”
He added,” Whoever comes next, then, will surely operate on the basis that it is vision, dedication, and faith in Divine Providence that will bring us to safe harbor.”
Readers would recall the announcement of the resignation of the Rt. Hon. Said Musa from electoral politics in early September as well; these two political giants have been at the helm of Belizean party politics for the past 22 years, and have served in many capacities across Government and within their parties.
Their departure clears the road for either a Briceño or Faber administration to lead Belize for the next 5 years.