BELMOPAN, Fri. Sept. 21, 2018– The official ceremony to mark the lowering of the Union Jack and the raising of the blue, white and red flag of Belize on Belize’s Independence Day 37 years ago, on September 21, was held at Independence Plaza in the city of Belmopan this morning.
A number of leaders of government, local and foreign dignitaries, and special guests attended the ceremony, which featured a number of speeches, by the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Belize, Lawrence Nicasio; the Mayor of Belmopan, Khalid Belisle; the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, the PUP’s John Briceño; and the Deputy Leader of the governing party, the UDP’s Patrick Faber, who deputized for the Prime Minister, who is convalescing in Cuba after a surgery.
At the beginning of the ceremony the Belize Defence Force (BDF) Honor Guard was inspected by the Governor General of Belize, Sir Colville Young, and the BDF Band and the Louisiana Army National Guard Band played spirited music.
A little later on, during the presentations at the ceremony, there was a modest flyover by the BDF’s two helicopters and two planes, the Defenders.
The celebration of the anniversary of Belize’s independence is an occasion for our leaders to comment on the state of the nation, how far we’ve come since 1981, and where we are going, but this year the moment was charged with focus on a date not quite as important as that of our independence, but of such consequence that it is encompassed in this year’s celebration theme: “Belize da fu wi, Now and Forever, 8867.”
After the first item on the agenda, the inspection of the BDF Honor Guard, the director of ceremonies, Anne Marie Williams, presented Bishop Nicasio, for the invocation.
Bishop Nicasio, after invoking God’s blessings on Belize, thanked all those Belizeans who have gone on before us, and Belizeans of today, who worked to make Belize a better country. He called for “a united ‘we’ in love with peace and love and justice … and a we who live with self-control.”
Next on the podium was the mayor of Belmopan, Khalid Belisle, who delivered the welcome address. Mayor Belisle said he considered the occasion a time for stocktaking, a time for “sober reflection on things that are happening and that are yet to come.” He said we should be proud of our peaceful elections and our vibrant democracy, and he called on all eligible Belizeans who are not yet registered to vote, to do so.
Mayor Belisle spoke about our date with history, April 10, 2019 (the date on which the referendum to decide if Belizeans agree to go to the ICJ will take place), and the “gravity of the decision” before us. Mayor Belisle advised that it is a personal decision, one that we must make on our own. “Belize da fu we,” he said, “and we must decide.” He said he has given the decision much thought, but he is “undecided” about how he will cast his vote.
The Mayor congratulated Belize’s women’s volleyball team, which won silver in a recent Central American tournament; he congratulated Rowan Garel, who was named the Adventure Ambassador of the Caribbean in 2017; and he congratulated Diana Alford, who would not be denied by Guatemalan Armed Forces when they tried to stop her from reaching the shores of Sarstoon Island.
Leader of the Opposition (PUP), John Briceño, said that independence was our greatest achievement, and the vision of the Father of the Nation, George Price, was that we live in peace with our neighbors, and that our hearts be filled with social justice. He said that what we have achieved since independence is a tribute to our first generation of leaders, but our present leaders have not lived up to the vision. He asked, “Are we better off than our parents were 37 years ago?” And he answered that we are not. He said, that there have been “many missed opportunities,” and we are “not living up to 1981.”
Briceño spoke about our weak response to the Guatemalan threat in the Sarstoon, our many broken institutions, the poverty of 142,000 Belizeans, children dying in the streets in Southside Belize City, women not receiving equal pay for equal work, our many unemployed youth, and a government “more known for corruption and incompetence.”
The PUP Leader said that Belizeans don’t want policies that are “guided by partisan politics”; instead they are ready for “creative policies that will invigorate” our country. He promised that a new government would invigorate economic activity, provide quality health care for all, increase educational opportunities, improve wages, ensure safer neighborhoods, and secure a fair justice system, and better distribution of the tourism pie. Briceño promised a new era of social, cultural, and economic advancement for the nation.
Deputy Prime Minister, Patrick Faber, who spoke on behalf of PM Barrow, who is on convalescence leave, said that despite the many challenges our democracy is intact, our economy remains strong, our educational system is improving, and our infrastructure has never been stronger. He said we have regained our national assets, our foreign reserves are strong, and our banking system is stable.
DPM Faber shared a “glimpse into the future”, which showed a country prioritizing on service delivery, national security, economic growth, infrastructure, and strengthening of the social fabric, all while maintaining respect for our environment.
DPM Faber said that BTL will provide infrastructure that will allow Belize to take greater advantage of technology. He said that technology will allow for improvement in the way the Cabinet carries out its business, a better land management system, and generally improved services across the country.
DPM Faber got cheers when he said that his government will clamp down on small groups of men who insist on criminal activities, because “the safety of law-abiding citizens is foremost.” He said the government will expand social intervention through the Boost and other government projects, and that there will be more investment in the security forces, and strengthening of the prosecution branch and our forensic capacity.
Our economy showed “steady improvement in the second quarter of 2018,” DPM Faber said, and there are “no signs of crisis in the foreseeable future.” He said new multi-million dollar investments at ASR should translate to better payments for farmers, that new technological inputs should cause a rebound in shrimp production, and we should expect more from tourism, an industry which has produced double digit growth every year over the past three years.
DPM Faber pointed to a new four-lane highway being constructed between Belize City and the PGIA (Philip Goldson International Airport), and the start of construction of a road to connect the PGIA with the George Price Highway. And he spoke of plans for the major highways, the construction of a new Haulover Bridge, and rehabilitation slated to commence on the Coastal Road mid-2019, as the major infrastructural improvements on the horizon.
He said that Belize can look to major investments in health and education, the expansion of the high school subsidy program to three districts, automatic subsidy for rural students at primary schools, and “two treatments per week” for 100 persons who receive hemodialysis treatments in Belize.
On the environmental front, DPM Faber said that Belize will continue to do the kinds of things that earned us praise from UNESCO, which recently removed Belize’s Barrier Reef Reserve System from the list of World Heritage Sites that were in danger. Belize will “ban Styrofoam” and some plastics, the Deputy Prime Minister said, and there will be new policies “for cutting mangroves” and for land utilization.
DPM Faber ended his presentation with a salute for youths who had excelled for the country over the year, and for foreign countries that continue to contribute to the development of Belize.
At the conclusion of the speeches, the guests at the ceremony, and the nation listening and viewing on television, were treated to a song by the All Saints Praise Team, and a song, “Belize Our Home”, written by Frankie Reneau and done in acappella by a group consisting of Leon Banks, Rojani Perriot, Tremett Perriot, and Chenelle Parks.
Photo: Belmopan September Celebrations FB