BELIZE CITY, Mon. Aug. 3, 2020– On Friday, July 31, members of the media attended a press conference at the Belize Biltmore Plaza, at which Prime Minister Dean Barrow; Minister of State in Investment, Trade and Commerce, Tracy Panton; and Minster of Food and Agriculture and Immigration, Godwin Hulse, discussed the launch of the Economic Recovery Strategy for Belize.
The plan is a collective effort on a national scale to safeguard livelihoods, provide stimulus for business continuity, support existing and new enterprises for job retention and job creation, and strengthen and diversify our local economy in spite of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The main two areas on which a significant part of the plan is focused are our tourism and agricultural sectors, which many know were Belize’s main sources of revenue and foreign exchange prior to the pandemic. After a brief preliminary address by the Prime Minister, both Minister Panton and Minister Hulse took to the podium to outline the key components of the strategy.
The roadmap highlights five pillars on which the strategy is based — supporting business recovery, creating a business climate for growth, improving government efficiencies and the conditions of doing business, strengthening of our productive sectors and growing or emerging the economy.
During the presentation of the plan, references were made to the Government’s “quick and decisive action through strong health measures and economic stimulus” which cushioned the blow of the pandemic on Belize and led government to secure $233 million of funding since the onset of COVID-19 in the country. The majority of these funds has gone into food assistance, unemployment relief and support of medium and micro businesses. $100 million of these funds is pending approval and half is allotted to social protection initiatives, while the rest has been set aside for agricultural support.
Additionally, the government plans to spend $120 million on infrastructure, $140 million on water and sanitation, $43.6 million on agricultural improvement, $30 million on government initiatives, tax administration and eGovernance, $24 million on public safety and $30.5 million in education.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the five pillars is the improving of government efficiency. This pillar lists intended actions such as creating online services through eGovernance, developing regulations to reduce corruption, unclogging the government’s system in the Lands Department, Central Building Authority, and Department of the Environment to jumpstart critical investment projects that will create jobs, etc.
There will also be initiatives to promote the formation of online sales mechanisms to facilitate the purchase of Belizean products and local farmers’ produce over the internet. Another initiative that has gotten some attention is an effort to expedite the transfer of foreign exchange during the sale of property by removing the need for Central Bank review and approval prior to the process.
One question that some media reps who attended the conference posed to the Prime Minister, however, is how the GOB plans to see these measures through in less than three months before the next general elections.
In his opening speech the Prime Minister emphasized that the Economic Recovery Strategy is not a government document but a national document which he hopes the upcoming government will assist in executing.
“You will soon see and hear from the detailed presentations that Ministers Panton and Hulse will make. That road map is very much a mixed bag. That is, some of the initiatives it contains are already in trial, others can start soon and still others are longer-termed. Of course, questions immediately arise as to that last category in view of the imminence of general elections. I therefore emphasize that this is not a political document and not even a current administration document. This is a national document produced by a national effort. It is my hope that any administration of whatever hue will bear this well in mind,” said Prime Minister Barrow.