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PM presents 2024/2025 Budget

HighlightsPM presents 2024/2025 Budget

Photo: Prime Minister, Hon. John Briceño 

The national budget proposals for this fiscal year project BZD$1.51 billion in Total Revenue and Grants, and BZD$1.604 Billion in expenditure 

by Marco Lopez 

BELIZE CITY, Wed. Mar. 13, 2024

Education and Healthcare are two key features of the national budget for this coming fiscal year. An expansion of the free schooling program to 12 institutions to target an additional 6,000 secondary school students, and an injection of funds into the National Health Insurance of 35 million dollars in this new budget were highlighted in Prime Minister Briceño’s presentation last week Friday. 

The PM, in his podiumed presentation, said that the recent International Monetary Fund Article IV Consultation report “provides independent verification” that the Plan Belize manifesto of the PUP is yielding “unprecedented results” for the Belizean people. 

He shared that the workforce in Belize is stronger than ever, with unemployment declining from 14% in 2020 to 3.4% in 2023. “In other words, for every 100 persons seeking a job, between 96 and 97 have been able to find some form of paid work,” according to PM Briceño. 

He shared that at present, the public debt stands at 66.3 % of GDP. 

As of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2024, the PM notes, total revenue and grants are projected to come in $29.7 million higher than estimated – at around $1.43 billion. Recurrent revenue accounts for $1.418 billion, while Capital Revenue and Grants were around $6.2 million and $14.1 million, respectively. 

Total expenditure for this year’s budget came in at $1.49 billion – with recurrent revenue accounting for $1.12 billion. Capital expenditure was recorded at $378.2 million, while amortization payments of $126.8 million were made. 

A total of $186.9 million was needed to finance the 2023/2024 budget. A primary surplus of $75.3 million was recorded, while the overall deficit stood at $60 million.

Prime Minister Briceño said that his government is projecting that the rate of inflation will level off, or at least not outpace increases in wages. Three-fourths of the price increases Belizeans endure come from imports, according to a study recently conducted by the government, the PM noted. He stated that they are combatting their lack of control over the cost of flour, fertilizer, fuels, and steel by “putting more money in the pockets of Belizeans,” – pointing to the increase in minimum wage to $5.

The recent crackdown on unscrupulous merchants’ practicing price gouging across Belize will continue, the PM said in his presentation, noting that as recent as 28th February, 35 businesses in San Pedro and Caye Caulker were handed citations by the Supplies Control Unit for price violations. 

“This campaign will continue, as will our campaign to buy Belizean products to make this country more self-sufficient,” he said.

With the recent buy-back of the Port of Belize, domestic debt rose to $1.508 billion dollars. External debt at the close of 2023 stood at 2.832 billion. The government paid $101.1 million in interest payments and $100.7 in principal payments during this fiscal year.

Central Bank reserves were recorded at $947 million at the end of 2023, an amount that the PM said exceeds over 4 months of imports.

PM Briceño emphasized that no new taxes were in this budget. Total Revenue and Grants of $1.51 billion is projected. This comprises $1.387 billion in tax revenue, $95.29 million in non-tax revenue, around $6 million in Capital Revenue, and $30 million in grants. 

Total Expenditure in the 2024/2025 budget is proposed at $1.604 billion. With recurrent spending to cover wages, pensions, goods, and services, subsidies, transfers, and debt services interest covering the majority of spending, around $1.1 billion. 

During this new fiscal year, $430.7 million is programmed for Capital Investments, while $146.5 million will go toward Capital 3 funding from loans and grants already approved. 

Amortization payments are projected at $130 million. The projection for this coming fiscal year is a primary surplus of $30.6 million and an overall deficit of $85.842 million. 

During the PM’s presentation he noted, “In effect, 73 cents of every dollar simply keeps the machinery of governance running, leaving 27 cents of every dollar for programs and projects.”

A total of 19 major projects, accounting for around $430.7 million dollars in capital spending, are being included in this year’s public investment program. The PM shared that provision within the space of Health and Wellness is the highest priority, with funding acquired for the modernization assessment of hospitals in Punta Gorda, Orange Walk, and Belize City. This needs-assessment exercise is to be followed by finance to implement the modernization projects. 

This fiscal year, the NHI Committee proposes expanding the program to the North Side of Belize City where an estimated 65,000 citizens will be eligible for services. The $35 million allocated to the NHI programs will allow for the expansion of services across the country. 

On education, the PM said that the recent extension of the compulsory school age “aligns seamlessly with the Ministry’s objective of broadening access to education, particularly through initiatives like the Education Upliftment Project: Together We Rise.” The program currently targets nine government-owned secondary schools catering to approximately 3,174 students.

“In the budget 2024-2025, the Government plans to add 12 more secondary schools to the Program, increasing coverage to a target of 6,000 additional students,” the PM said. Funding for education will also provide for the increase of the Healthy Start Feeding Program to target an additional 50 primary schools. 

Other House business

At last week’s sitting of the House of Representatives, the Government also conducted some housekeeping matters, particularly in regard to past legislation required for its importation of refined white sugar that took place at the end of last year. He shared that the delay in the start of the sugar grinding season resulted in the shortage of sugar experienced in December 2023, and as a result, the government granted approval to BSI for the importation of 250 metric tons of sugar. 

As a member of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), the country is required to get approval from the Council of Trade and Economic Development (COTED), which it sought and received. 

This legislation amends the Customs and Excise Duty Act to vary the rate of duty on white sugar for the period of January 2024 – July 2024 – at which time those rates will revert back to the previous level. This bill was taken through its stages and passed. 

Also presented to the House was the bill to recognize and acknowledge the formation of Finance Belize LTD. This non-profit organization was created to promote Belize’s financial services sector. The organization, whose advisory body is made up of members from the Belize International Financial Services Associations, the Financial Services Commission, a Non-resident/resident registered agent, the Bar Associations, the Belize Chamber of Commerce, and the Institute of Chartered Accountants, developed a strategic plan in early 2024 which led to the formal incorporation of the organization. 

Finance Belize LTD’s mandate is to promote and market Belize’s financial services sectors and foster investor confidence. A board of directors and chairman of that board should be selected and announced shortly, the PM shared. 

Minister Francis Fonseca also rose to deliver the first reading on bills related to criminal litigation reform. 

The next House meeting is set for Wednesday, March 20, at 10:00 AM, when the full budget debate is expected to take place. 

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