Headline — 20 March 2019 — by Rowland A. Parks
PM Barrow presents $1.2 billion budget

The Prime Minister said that the work would continue on the UDP’s “fabled infrastructure narrative”

BELMOPAN, Fri. Mar. 15, 2019– Today was budget presentation day on Independence Hill, and Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Hon. Dean Barrow, presented his 12th appropriation bill to the House of Representatives under the title “Moving Ahead With Strong and Steady Economic Growth; Expansion of Opportunities for Business and Personal Advance; And Rededication to Basic Social Protection.”

A large chunk of the 1.2 billion dollars allocated for the fiscal year 2019 to 2020, which begins on April 1, will be spent on the government’s continued infrastructural improvement programs for the construction of new bridges and roads around the country.

“How Government spends monies and allocates resources in these upcoming 12 months of the new financial year is driven by one central preoccupation, one sacred mission: to benefit the citizens of our nation, those that inhabit, make their way and organize their lives in our villages and towns and cities and open countryside,” Barrow said in his introduction.

The Prime Minister noted that there has been a slight increase in the unemployment rate.

He also said that liquidity conditions had tightened, but had remained well above statutory requirements.

According to the Prime Minister, Belize’s financial sector is in good health, and there has been an increase in borrowing from the commercial banks.

Belize has an outstanding external debt of 2.556 billion, or 66.4 percent of GDP, Barrow announced.

He said that his priorities for 2019-2020 are to continue to provide resources for investment in roads and bridges, for education and health, and for the provision of  better services to a growing population.

Barrow said that the UDP’s pro-poor program is non-negotiable. With that, he listed a number of programs, which include food pantries, subsidies for high school, and the apprentice program, among others.

179.2 million dollars is being allocated for government’s capital projects, which include the construction of roads and bridges. That allocation represents a slight increase over what was previously spent, said Barrow.

The Prime Minister said that the government will not be borrowing any money for funding their capital projects, but will rely on the existing multilateral agencies.

“Madam Speaker, it gives me particular pleasure to announce that we have received a commitment from the Government of Taiwan for funding the upgrading of the Corozal Town to Sarteneja Road to paved standards. The funding also includes the construction of two new bridges to replace two existing ferries along what we should now call this highway. The funding is for a total of US$50 million dollars,” said Hon. Barrow.

He further announced, “In addition, Madam Speaker, I also announce that our friends from the Kuwait Fund have preliminarily agreed to the financing of the Orange Walk Town to Progresso Road upgrade.”

“Apart from Corozal Town to Sarteneja and Orange Walk Town to Progreso, there is the Airport Link Road, the Coastal Highway and the Caracol Road. And before the end of this term, we will have replaced the country’s three most crucial bridges: the Hawkesworth, the Haulover and the Kendall,”  he said.

“In this same vein, we are also replacing what has been necessary, for so long, all the narrow bridges along the Hummingbird. And all this is in addition to rebuilding the two most trafficked stretches of the George Price Highway and the Philip Goldson Highway: those between Ladyville and Belize City and between Belmopan and Santa Elena,” he went on to say.

Notwithstanding its social and capital spending, the government is still expecting a slowdown in the economy next year.

“Going forward, the Central Bank projects that the pace of Belize’s economic growth will decelerate slightly to 2.8 percent in 2019,” Barrow said.

“In commending this Budget for consideration and passage to the House, it is impossible for me not to feel pride at the spectacular prolongation of UDP fiscal and economic probity,” Barrow declared.

“Once again, this administration configures a budget for the new fiscal year that ticks all the right boxes: the attainment of another impressive primary surplus; the augmentation of the services and salaries of the public sector; the funding of an ever-expanding envelope of strategic capital investments; the rightsizing of the debt obligations placed upon this and future generations; and above all, the constraining of the cost of living and maintenance of the strength of the Belize dollar. And we do all this without any increase in taxes,” the Prime Minister said.

Barrow said that the government will spend some $226 million for capital 3 projects, in what he donned as “the continuation of the fabled infrastructural narrative of this UDP government.”

The budget will be debated on Monday, March 25, and Tuesday, March 26, at which point the Opposition PUP will have its say.

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