On December 15, Belize’s new Prime Minister, Hon. John Briceño, introduced an Economic Recovery Advisory Team whose mission, he says, is to rescue us from the mal-administration of the former government, take us out of the grip of the pandemic which has caused the collapse of tourism, and help us to survive weather-related shocks.
The recommendations and strategies coming from this new economic advisory committee will not be the first put forward since the pandemic began. In August, former Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow, presented an Economic Recovery Strategy, put together by a high level team of local experts. At the presentation, a few months before the last general election, PM Barrow said he hoped a new government would draw from all the excellent work that was put into that recovery plan, and build on it.
Belize’s economy is doing poorly, not only because of the pandemic, but also because a number of our main exports have not been doing well for years. Farmed shrimp briefly became Belize’s top domestic export around the turn of the century, but the industry has been struggling since it was infected by the taura and white spot viruses, and EMS (Early Mortality Syndrome).
For many years citrus has been one of our top two earners, but over the last decade the industry has been decimated by the Citrus Greening disease; while the industry remains an important foreign exchange earner for Belize, the farmers are barely covering their expenses.
The glory days of sugar are well in the past, because we no longer have a preferential market with the main importer of our product, the European Union. The industry has been a top earner since we became a self-governing country, and it still is, but our cañeros are not doing nearly as well as they did in earlier years. In recent years, the farmers have barely been able to cover their expenses.
Our oil industry, which was our number one foreign exchange earner just ten years ago, has dried up. The Statistics Institute of Belize reported that we made only one shipment of crude petroleum in the first ten months of 2020, and earnings from the industry in that period was down to $4.9 million.
Tourism, which has been the backbone of our economy in recent years, has collapsed since the pandemic began, leaving hotel and boat owners struggling to maintain their properties on little or no earnings, and the thousands of workers in the industry in the unemployment lines for small stipends and food rations.
The impact of so many important industries underperforming has had a severely negative effect on all other businesses in Belize, except maybe the BPOs. To compound our economic woes, our small farmers, our artists, small business persons in general, have never received the attention they deserve, so that they can flourish.
It will be no easy task to “recover” our economy, and to make it grow so that all of us win. The team the new government put together is a veritable who’s who of success stories in Belize’s private sector, and their recommendations and strategies should help determine how well we survive during the remainder of the pandemic, and how quickly we recover and hopefully expand after it is over.
It is a strong team, and it would have been stronger if all our sectors were represented. We note that the big agricultural industries have two representatives, and the small farmers don’t have any.
Needed: special fund for Belize’s sick/disabled kids
You can tell a lot about the humanity of a people by looking at how they treat their sick or disabled children. Belizean families are to be applauded, because they go the extra mile to get the best treatment for their precious children; however, the sad truth is that the government does not do nearly enough to support them.
This pandemic is giving the rest of us a taste of what it is like for parents with children who are chronically ill, or have disabilities. The pandemic has only been affecting Belize since March, and already we are financially and emotionally drained. This reality is the day-in, day-out, year-in, year-out experience of parents with children who are suffering from sickle cell anemia, leukemia, and other chronic diseases.
All stages of life have beauty, but childhood is the most glorious because of its innocence, because it is so much like a flower opening its petals for the first time in the morning sun. Children who are hampered by ill-health and disabilities are restricted from joining other children in the daily frolic outdoors, and we absolutely have to give every effort to make life the best we can possibly make it for them.
In last Friday’s edition of the Amandala, Rudolph A. Neal wrote about little Tiara Smith, a special child who is confined to a wheelchair and is in urgent need of specialist care, specialist care that her family can’t afford. A week doesn’t go by in Belize without a family asking for donations to help pay for the healing that their sick or disabled children desperately need.
There is some good news about the treatment of sickle cell anemia, a disease that predominantly affects people of African descent. Marion Renault, in an article published by the Associated Press on December 5, 2020, says 10 patients who received special gene-editing treatment some months ago no longer need regular blood transfusions, and they are also free from pain. Near to us, Cuba, the USA, and Mexico are well-advanced in research to treat children with leukemia and other cancers.
Unfortunately, many families cannot pay for the specialized care. Our sick or disabled children deserve the best, and their families deserve all the help we can afford. Belizeans from end to end of our country want to support causes such as these, but because the majority of us are not well-off, we are limited in the amount we can contribute.
Alas, going to the bank to deposit a dollar or two is not feasible. We might be able to cross that hurdle if the government established a special fund, and sustained it by collecting a very small tax off a few items designated for the raising of funds for our kids with special needs.