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Budget debate 2024

HeadlineBudget debate 2024

by Marco Lopez

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Mar. 21, 2024

The last day of the 2024 Budget debate is set to take place tomorrow, Friday, March 22, after two days of what can only be described as a lopsided exercise. While ministers from the government’s side continue to give glowing reports from their ministries – the apparent “lone wolf” Leader of the Opposition, Moses “Shyne” Barrow refers to this year’s estimates as a “failed budget” filled with “lies and deception.”

Barrow said that the presentation made by Prime Minister John Briceño last week was “hollow” and has no numbers to support the “lofty promises.” He called the document, a copy-and-paste, and a betrayal of the “George Price social justice ideals.”

“Madam Speaker, what we need in this honorable House are not people who dance around statistics; we need a government that will get to the heart of the matter. Have people’s lives improved over the last three years, Madam Speaker? I think not,” Barrow said.

In his presentation, Barrow said that the budget fails to make the necessary investments the country needs to change for the better.

“This budget will not increase economic growth; it will not safeguard the health and security of our country for generations to come. This government has not put forward a budget that will ease the devastation of inflation; nothing outlined in this budget adequately alleviates poverty and strengthens the guardrails that protect the working class from being driven past the margins. This budget is tone deaf like the prime minister that presents it, disconnected is how you can only describe the presentation by a lame duck prime minister who has already checked out mentally and emotionally,” Barrow said.

He challenged PM Briceño to call the elections.

“This is a hollow budget that does not present any vision, no bold courageous policy decision, and no numbers to support all of the lofty promises made by this government; and I will say this, in 1993 the Right Honorable Said Musa won all the municipalities and called early elections*, and Sr. Manuel Esquivel thrashed him. So, I say to you Prime Minister, call the elections. You think that you are doing so well, and your budgets and policies are doing well, call the elections,” Barrow said.

On what Barrow calls “false statistics” being presented by the government, he says, “The lies and deception needs to stop. It does the people of Belize no good when the government projects these false statistics as accomplishments, rather than accept the reality, own up to where you are, your performance, and understand and appreciate that it has been less than spectacular. It has been in some instance, average, on par with what the UDP government was able to accomplish, and in most instances, less. As the next government of Belize, the UDP will not engage in this silly statistical game of deceit.”

Next to present was Deputy Prime Minister, Cordel Hyde. He reported on the work of the Ministry of Natural Resources, sharing that about twenty thousand lots have been provided to the Belizean public over the last three years. He said in his estimation that amounts to around four hundred million dollars in injection of capital with the Belizean citizenry, if each lot is priced around twenty-thousand dollars, that is.

DPM Hyde shared that by the end of this year, a total of ten thousand more lots will have been allocated to the Belizean people.

“So, the flood, the deluge of house lots will not stop, and this is the achievement that makes us most proud of the ministry. It transforms the beneficiary. It is not just about a lot to build a house. You can go to the bank and borrow money to start a business and send your children to school. If you have an emergency you can bank that lot. When you have land, you will not be poor. There are billions on this planet who work and die not owning anything. Eight hundred million people are living on less than four dollars a day. Yet, in this Jewel, twenty thousand Belizeans have become land owners,” Hyde said.

He emphasized the importance of land ownership and adequate housing for the citizenry, especially those of us living in harsh conditions.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Education, Hon. Francis Fonseca, in his remarks, said that effective 2024, the Government of Belize will assume full responsibility for the payment of one hundred percent of salaries of all government-aided secondary and tertiary teachers and support staff.

“The budget allocation will witness an increase in salary and benefits amounting to approximately fourteen million dollars, resulting in a total expenditure of two hundred and twenty million dollars for teachers in salaries and support benefits over the next five years. With this initiative, the ministry aims to incentivize quality teaching practices, implement result-based education, and ensure proper accountability among all secondary and tertiary institutions and their staff. This is big! This is something our teachers, Belize National Teachers Union, and even managing authorities have been advocating for, fighting for, and pushing for, for seventeen years; and it is this government that made the decision, not an easy decision. These are big money we are talking about,” Hon. Fonseca said.

In his role as Minister of Foreign Affairs, he gave an update on the Guatemala vs Belize and the Belize vs Honduras cases currently in front of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

On the Guatemala vs Belize case, he shared, “All parties have complied with the requirement for written submission to be delivered, and we are now waiting for the International Court of Justice to set a date for the presentation of oral hearings,” Hon. Fonseca said.

The government expects that date to be announced sometime between late this year and early 2025.

“As we have consistently said, Belize has a very strong case, and the ICJ ruling, in our view, will vindicate our long-held position that Belize has sovereignty over the 8867 square miles of our territory,” Minister Fonseca said.

Day One of the budget debate featured reports from Hon. Dolores Balderamos Garcia (Belize Rural Central), Hon. Orlando Habet (Cayo North East), Hon. Rodwell Ferguson (Stann Creek West), Hon. Michel Chebat (Cayo North), Hon. Oscar Requena (Toledo West), and Hon. Oscar Mira (Belmopan).

Today was Day Two of the debate, and report presentations from Julius Espat (Cayo South), Kareem Musa (Caribbean Shores), Jose Mai (Orange Walk South), Florencio Marin (Corozal South East), Kevin Bernard (Orange Walk East), Jorge “Milin” Espat (Cayo West), Gilroy Usher, Sr. (Port Loyola), Abner “Andre” Perez (Belize Rural South), Luis “Alex” Balona (Cayo Central), and Marconi Prince Leal (Belize Rural North) were delivered.

Hon. Shyne Barrow was the only member of the Opposition’s side for the majority of the day until late this evening, when he was joined by Collet Area Representative, Hon. Patrick Faber. He did not get a chance to speak.

The debate resumes tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. for what is expected to be its last day. The live broadcast of the sitting is being aired on the National Assembly of Belize YouTube page.

(AMANDALA Ed. Note: * In the remarks by the Leader of the Opposition, it was Prime Minister George Price, not Said Musa, who called early elections in 1993. Musa first became prime minister after PUP won the 1998 general elections.)

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