BELMOPAN, Fri. Feb. 5, 2021– During the sitting of the House of Representatives which took place on Friday, February 5, 2021, area representative for Mesopotamia, Hon. Moses “Shyne” Barrow, posed a question to Prime Minister, Hon. John Briceño, regarding the Government’s plan to continue the Covid-19 food assistance program. Minister of Human Development, Hon. Dolores Balderamos Garcia, had told members of the media that she could not say what would be the fate of the program for the new year, only that Government was committed to provide for the “poorest of the poor.” At the time, she had given a commitment for the upkeep of the program until the month of March.
In his response to Hon. Barrow’s query in the House, the Prime Minister announced the rollout of a new COVID-19 cash transfer program that should benefit twenty-one thousand Belizean families for the next 6 months. “Next week, Madam Speaker, next week we will start to roll out the Belize COVID-19 Cash Transfer Fund. This program is being funded through the World Bank and will provide assistance for the next six months to about 21 thousand households,” Hon. Briceño said.
In providing background information prior to introducing the new cash transfer program, the Prime Minister also said that an audit would be conducted into all the funds spent through the COVID-19 relief program controlled by the former United Democratic Party. “The Minister of Human Development just disclosed to me that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent from the Ministry that has been unaccounted for,” he said.
“What that audit is going to reveal, Madam Speaker, is that Ministers were hooking up with their favorite vendors to fleece the pantry program … that they were giving out the food baskets to Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse. Some houses, you have three, four people inna the same house getting pantry. It will reveal that cronies and special friends were given debit cards with thousands of dollars that was supposed to go to poor people but went to UDP campaigners and their special friends,” Hon. Briceño revealed.
Even more outrageous was the fact that the money that was allegedly squandered, was borrowed — taxpayers’ money, Prime Minister Briceño said. He further noted that the funds which were depleted before his administration got into office was supposed to have lasted until March 2021.
“They squander all ah the money that when we got into government on November 11, all of the money that was supposed to be there for food assistance was gone, spent, all disbursed. They left the pantry broke.” Prime Minister Briceno said.
Recently, Government passed a supplementary appropriation bill in order to sustain the assistance program until the end of the fiscal year. “As we speak, Madam Speaker, grocery bag supplies are rolling out. This week grocery bags are being given out to thousands of needy Belizeans,” the Prime Minister said.
As mentioned, these “grocery bags” will continue to be distributed until the end of March.
The new COVID-19 cash transfer program is expected to run up until June of 2021.