BELIZE CITY, Mon. Feb. 13, 2017–“Make no mistake about it, Government is broke. This UDP [United Democratic Party] government is broke,” said leader of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), John Briceño, at a press conference held in Belize City today, Monday.
According to Briceño, “Government has conceded to a $200 million budget deficit shortfall for 2016-2017.”
However, in Amandala’s telephone interview with the nation’s Financial Secretary, Joseph Waight, he told our newspaper tonight that the deficit stands at around $100 million and is expected to be financed by domestic as well as external borrowing from agencies such as the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank.
At his press conference, Briceño told the media that, “Government has also conceded that they have another $300 million funding gap which they plan to cover by raising taxes and retrenching public officers.”
However, Waight told us that the gap stood at $100 million and would certainly cause an increase in taxation, but he could not share the exact figures. He also added that there would be no retrenchment, but a cut in expenditure for goods and services.
According to the Opposition leader, as a result of financial shortfalls, the Government of Belize has been considering an initiative to combine the recently nationalized institutions such as the Belize Electricity Limited (BEL), Belize Water Services Limited (BWSL) and Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) and put them under one company or in a trust for sale.
“It has now come to our attention that this government is plotting to sell off our utilities to cover their unsustainable spending while UDP insiders collect huge sums in facilitation fees,” Briceño charged.
“As we speak, they are out there peddling the shares of BEL, BWSL, and BTL to different wealthy Belizeans and financial institutions, including using the people’s money from Social Security,” he warned.
Waight confirmed that the Government of Belize (GoB) has interests in selling off some of its shares in these institutions. He told us that the Constitution of Belize allows for the government to hold a 51 percent majority ownership in these institutions. However, GoB has ownership of well beyond the amount constitutionally prescribed, Waight told us.
Briceño claimed that GoB is trying to raise $200 million by selling these shares to Belizeans. However, Waight could not confirm this figure, as he was not in office at the time he spoke with our newspaper.
In his press conference, Briceño claimed that no ordinary Belizean has $200 million in pocket, and insinuated that maybe Lord Michael Ashcroft would purchase the shares.
“It would be interesting… What would happen if Mr. Ashcroft would want to come and buy these shares, because he is a Belizean…because who have $200 million in their pocket?” Briceño asked.
According to the PUP Leader, “The Government is desperate for money.”