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Budget Debate 2024 closes 

HeadlineBudget Debate 2024 closes 

Photo: Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize

Hon. Moses “Shyne” Barrow and Hon. Patrick Faber were the only Opposition members to make presentations at the 2024 budget debate; they both argued that the positive indicators lauded by members on the Government side are deceptive.

by Marco Lopez 

BELIZE CITY, Tues. Mar. 26, 2024 

Prime Minister John Briceño closed the 2024 budget debate with a clear declaration that no early elections will be called. ”You will have to wait, and you will have to punish until 2025 when we call the election,” were the words of the PM. 

The mostly one-sided three-day debate ended on Friday, March 22, 2024, with final presentations from members of the National Assembly on the Government side and an extended presentation from UDP Collet area representative, Hon. Patrick Faber. 

Minister of Tourism, Hon. Anthony Mahler was the first to give his presentation – a report on the performance and economic potential of the tourism industry. 

Minister Mahler said tourism is linked to every aspect of Belize’s economy. As such, he outlined that the sector sustains the economy when managed properly. 

In presenting records on tourist arrivals – which have significantly bounced back since the COVID-19 pandemic – Minister Mahler pointed out that this year’s recovery is expected to surpass pre-pandemic levels. Minister Mahler said overnight arrivals are expected to grow by 16%, and that a resurgence in cruise tourism is reinforcing the need for a proper berthing facility in the Belize District. 

“We cannot expect to take advantage of these opportunities in cruise tourism without a berthing in the Belize District. The longer we take, the more the larger ships will continue to bypass Belize, as they do now,” Minister Mahler pointed out. 

Despite the headwinds facing the cruise tourism sector, Hon. Mahler said that air travel is still the lifeblood of our tourism sector. He shared that the country continues to participate in regional and international efforts to increase Belize’s tourism product. 

Hon. Patrick Faber, the member from the Collect Constituency, spent almost three hours in his attempt to debunk the PUP reported statistics. Speaking on the almost unbelievable unemployment statistics lauded by the PUP – Hon. Faber shared that a revision of measurement indicators allows the Government to paint the “rosy picture.” 

On the debt-to-GDP ratio statistic, he shared that the Government also paints a false picture, noting that while the macroeconomic statistics indicate growth and prosperity, the microeconomic realities on the ground depict a continually rising cost of living for the population. 

Hon. Faber also spoke at length on housing, criticizing the current housing policy of the Government. On education, he spoke at length about the work he did during his time as the head of the Ministry of Education and the UDP’s record in that area. 

On tourism, Hon. Faber shared that Minister Mahler spoke of the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) as if he were the “minister” of that statutory body – pointing out that the minister should not have that level of perceived financial control over the BTB. 

Hon. Faber called on the Government to address a growing issue of residency within the Krooman Lagoon. The reserve is a water catchment located in Belize City, but many families have made the “swamp” their home – constructing London bridges to connect their homes to the streets. 

Hon. Faber fears that the continued occupation of the area, which is within his constituency, will inevitably lead to a disaster, and calls on the Government to address it.  

Also making a presentation was Hon. Henry Charles Usher of the Fort George Constituency. Interestingly, he did not deny that the measurement indicators currently being used to determine the rate of unemployment and other multidimensional areas of poverty lower certain thresholds, thus increasing positive outlooks, but only said that it was instituted by the UDP.

On Education, Hon. Louis Zabaneh, area representative for Dangriga and Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, shared that the ministry is receiving the largest budget in its history this fiscal year. 

This should fund the increase in the free education program across more government schools, provide meals, and transportation, and cover the full cost of Government teacher salaries. 

While Hon. Faber criticized the National Curriculum Framework which features competency-based education as its core principle, Minister Zabaneh shared that it is well on its way to implementation. 

In wrapping up the debate, Prime Minister Briceño spent significant time responding to the presentation made by Opposition Leader Barrow and Collet area representative Faber. 

He shared that there is much more work to be done by his Government – outlining that they want to continue the work – but despite their endorsement from the electorate in this recent municipal election, they will not call an early election. 

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