BELMOPAN, Fri. June 26, 2020– At one of his early press conferences, when the country was just getting ready to do battle against the novel coronavirus, Prime Minister Barrow assured the nation that “we have millions of dollars in our coffers.” “You will begin to see spending like you’ve never seen before,” he said. That did not happen. In fact, shortly after making that prime ministerial declaration, PM Dean Barrow told the country that “government revenue sources had dried up.” The government was broke.
It is against that backdrop that Prime Minister Barrow plunged Belize into $60 million worth of debts with four loan motions that he introduced and swiftly sailed through the House of Representatives today. The motions are now on the way to the Senate, where they can only be delayed for minor adjustment or clarification, but cannot be voted down because they are money bills.
In the debate phase of the loan motions, the government side came under sustained, blistering criticism. The PUP’s National Deputy Leader, Hon. Cordel Hyde (Lake Independence area representative) was unsparing in his contribution to the debate.
Hon. Hyde said that if indeed we have to reach out to the IMF (International Monetary Fund), then this government will have to be held accountable for the last 12 years.
“How it is with all that money we have ended up with more people in poverty than ever before; with more people looking for work and can’t find work than ever before; more people dropping our of school than ever before; more children going to bed hungry than ever before?” Hyde questioned.
“How we got here? Something went terribly wrong, Madam Speaker. We got here because the government put their party before the country. We got here because they invested all their money in their party, instead of looking out for the people.” Hon. Hyde said.
Hon. Hyde referenced the government’s many infrastructure projects, and he remarked that the monies from these projects made the families of the “other side” happy. but that none of that money was invested to help end poverty or to assist farmers or small businesses.
‘They did not put away a single dollar for a rainy day. They took $560 million dollars and paid it to Mr. Ashcroft for BTL, a company that some say is valued at a quarter of that amount. They paid the man so much that the man has been snooping all around the country looking for opportunities to invest this money…Yu si whey we have to come and borrow today, $60 million,” Hon. Hyde said.
“The big land owners got $90 million. If you didn’t do that you wouldn’t have to deh all over the place di borrow money. We wouldn’t have to di beg all over the place for masks and hand sanitizer. We have to beg fu money fu food. We didn’t have to be here, mein,” Hyde lamented.
Hon. Hyde continued his excoriation of the government by referring to the fact that the country owns the utility companies, but that “in our greatest hour of need those utility companies could not come to the rescue of the people of Belize.”
“All over di world governments di try give dem people wan lee break, but only in Belize light bill gone up, you know. Ih gone sky high and no come down at all, but we own it dem sey,” Hyde said.
Blasting the government’s COVID-19 employment assistance program, Hon. Hyde said, “They will tell you that tens of thousands of people got it, but what they will not tell you is that 40 thousand did not get it.”
Hon. Hyde pointed out that, “We are borrowing $60 million today, but we cannot be sure if those 40 thousand who did not get help will get help now. We cannot be sure that they will open the online portal so that those who qualify and really need the help will get it now.”
“What we know for sure is that a lot of people are not getting three square meals a day; what we do know for sure is a lot of people are stressed out about how they are going to get books for their children this summer. What we know for sure is that a lot of people are not able to pay their rent every week or every month. What we know for sure is that the government will try to maximize every opportunity out of that 24 million for their party,” Hon. Hyde added.
Comparing what governments in the Caribbean are doing for their people with what is taking place in Belize, Hyde commented, “Boy, inna Belize we inna big, big trouble.”
“When COVID came with 18 cases we were broke, we were bankrupt, because we didn’t put a dollar aside for a rainy day,” Hon. Hyde finally said before thanking the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Laura Longsworth-Tucker.
Hon. Kareem Musa (Caribbean Shores area representative) spoke next, saying that the government needs to hear from the Opposition side of the House, because “we have vulnerable populations too.”
Hon. Musa added, “I support what the Member for Lake Independence said —we have to go back and look at history, how we got here.”
Hon. Musa went on to say that this is a humanitarian crisis. “We should put the handling of these funds through the Red Cross or the BDF to distribute to every needy Belizean. It should not be just for UDP’s,” he said.
A Caribbean Development Bank loan to assist farmers was also tabled by PM Barrow. This loan is labeled, “Enhancing Sugarcane Famers’ Resilience to Natural Hazard Events Loan Motion of 2020″.
The US $1 million loan is to assist cane farmers in the north who suffered from the drought last year.
The PUP’s shadow Minister for Agriculture, Hon. Jose Mai (Orange Walk South area representative), said that the money is inadequate to assist the 5,400 cane farmers.
Hon. Mai characterized the paltry size of the loan as “a shame and disrespect to cane farmers.”