BELMOPAN, Mon. July 27, 2020– On Friday, July 24, the House of Representative met to debate several papers, bills and motions, but the main motion was a loan for ten million US dollars that will be used to strengthen the Government of Belize’s Food Assistance Program (FAP), which came into being as a result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on many Belizeans’ ability to feed their families.
The loan, which will be repaid over a period of 20 years, is set to come from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries Fund for International Development at the request of the Government of Belize and will enable the government to extend the Food Assistance Program for another 6 months.
While the boost in funds for the program was met by an air of approval from both sides of the House, certain aspects of the program were criticized by the Opposition, especially Opposition area representatives who represent the more rural areas of Belize.
The most prominent of these, Hon. Oscar Requeña (Toledo West), challenged the Minister of Human Development, Anthony “Boots” Martinez, on the efficiency of the program. He pointed out that the program is not reaching the nooks and crannies where it is most needed, which includes the villages where there is little access to partnering grocers; little access to the internet, by means of which applications can be submitted; and decreased access to transportation during the most stringent phases of the State of Emergency that was brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hon. Martinez’s response to the criticism was equally fiery. Martinez said that his ministry reached out to every village of the south, which, in error, he called the Punta Gorda District, to make sure that every family got the assistance needed.
His cabinet colleague, Hon. Wilfred Elrington, while approving the motion, had a sort of on-the-fence stance during the debate. His stance was that the loan will function as a respite and is not a sustainable model for food security. He believes the focus has to be on an effort to enable Belizeans to grow their own food, and said that such efforts would provide the momentum necessary to realize Belize’s dream of truly becoming the breadbasket for the Caribbean and Latin America.
Elrington pointed to increased resources flowing to the University of Belize’s Central Farm, and also to the revival of a 1976 program called the Rural Education and Agriculture Program (REAP), which constitutes a blending of theory and practice in the educational curriculum.
While Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Cordel Hyde, did not speak directly about the loan motion, he commented on the exclusive license granted to the Brad’s Gaming Group Limited on the House adjournment. The boledo contract was tabled in the House, but the government did not allow debate on the matter.
Hyde criticized the granting of such a profitable contract to a company for a decade, extending across two election cycles. He said that we continue to grant companies the opportunity to make millions off the back of Belizeans and then continue to borrow and put that burden on the backs of Belizeans.
Hyde’s point was that the government wouldn’t have to be in the House approving a 10-million-dollar loan if it had managed its finances well.
The approved loan funding will be used to (1) finance an increase in the coverage of the ongoing Food Assistance Program, (ii) widen the range of goods supplied in each basic basket under the Program, (iii) implement effective campaigns for mass awareness and education of the population to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and (iv) strengthen the network of suppliers to the rural areas nationwide.