“I say the wages of poverty is everywhere …in every run-down house … in the faces of poverty … in every barefooted child we see on the streets during school time,” said Hon. Cordel Hyde.
BELMOPAN, Mon. Mar. 25, 2019– The 2019-20 General Revenue and Appropriation Bill debate got under way in the House of Representatives this morning, following the introduction of the Tax Administration and Procedure Bill 2019, which was introduced by Prime Minster Dean Barrow. This bill was deferred to a later date, and another bill, the Amendment to the Customs and Excise Bill, in accordance with the economic partnership agreement, was also introduced by the Prime Minister and also deferred to a later date.
The first member of the House to open the debate was the Hon. John Briceño, member for Orange Walk Central and the Leader of the Opposition, People’s United Party.
In his opening remarks, Briceño said that the Prime Minister, in his trademark fashion, introduced a budget which will spend more money. Briceño characterized the Prime Minister’s remarks in the introduction to his budget as “mindboggling.”
Briceño said that our biggest industry is not tourism, but crime. Briceño also said that the 3 percent growth that the Prime Minister boasted about is a figure that is questionable. The Belizean economy grew more under the PUP than under the UDP, he said.
The numbers are painting a picture of lies and deceptions, he continued, adding that the government has squandered a billion dollars per year.
Briceño made reference to the 1.3 billion dollars that government spent without the authority of the House of Representatives.
Briceño described the productive sector as crippled, and said that growth has stagnated.
Briceño charged that the sad truth is that the economy is not really growing; these infrastructure projects are just for UDP insiders to have access to tax payers’ dollars.
Briceño went on to castigate the government for the 180 million dollars that will be spent on the Caracol Road. A caring government would have invested this money for schools and roads where people live, he said.
Briceño pointed out that the government has changed the price of fuel six times, so the pronouncement that there are no new taxes is a big fat lie.
175 thousand Belizeans are not able to eat a proper meal each day, said Briceño.
Government spent 3.5 million dollars last year on food pantry in Belize City, but spent 0 dollars for food pantry in Stann Creek, Cayo and Toledo Districts. Watch how much will be paid out in land compensation in Cayo and along the Coastal Road, Briceño explained.
Government will spend 21 million dollars in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs compared to a little over 8 million dollars in the Ministry of Agriculture; where are our priorities, Briceño asked.
The Lands Department has been described as a hotbed of corruption by our Prime Minister. We will fix it all, he said, adding that Stamp Duty is an archaic practice and a throwback to our colonial past.
Briceño also explained that the Auditor General’s office staff will be reduced by 10 percent. “We need more staff, not less,” he said.
Briceño said that all government bloated contracts will be investigated and ministers who squandered the people’s money will be held accountable and who must go to jail will have to go to jail.
Never before have the Belizean people seen such obscene corruption, Briceño said. For all these reasons, we on this side, cannot, will not, support this kick-back budget, he said.
The next member of the House to make his budget presentation was the Hon. John Saldivar, member for Belmopan.
Saldivar, however, squandered his time to traffic back in the past, cataloguing PUP misdeeds and never really got around to highlighting and explaining the government’s expenditures.
Saldivar said that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) accused the PUP government of “cooking the books at the Belize Statistical Institute.”
Saldivar said that he was sorry that he did not bring his list of failed PUP projects, on which they spent 1.1 billion dollars.
By the time Saldivar finished his presentation, Madam Speaker was taken aback and remarked, “That was quick, Honorable Member.”
Hon. Cordel Hyde, the member for Lake Independence and PUP National Deputy Leader, spoke after Saldivar.
I no wan follow-up the Member for Belmopan, I only wan ask him, if giving Brads our Boledo is doing right by the people of Belize, Hyde began.
“I would a wan know da weh part the member from Belmopan buy dem groceries, because ordinary people know the cost of groceries the go up, even the price of Ramen gone up,” Hyde said, adding that ‘That’s very difficult to comprehend how he said the prices of everything gone down.”
“Madam Speaker, they say the wages of sin is everywhere, I say the wages of poverty is everywhere,” Hyde began, “In every run-down house, in the faces of poverty…in every barefooted child we see on the streets during school time.”
Hyde said that is the disappointment and tragedy of this 12th UDP budget, more of the same… “The death sentence of poverty is more glaring, long on rhetoric and short on substance.”
Hyde said that the UDP have to make sure that they and their cronies are set, how else can you explain spending over 300 million dollars on two roads and having the audacity to champion that?
How else do you explain a budget that would spend 12 million dollars on land acquisition, but not a red cent on the food pantry in Cayo, Stann Creek and Toledo Districts.
They say if you heard one of the Prime Minister’s budgets, you’ve heard them all.
Hyde took the government to task for spending 8 million dollars on one mile of road on Fabers Road that he said is only second to the tragedy that is Lake I Boulevard.
Hyde said the system is rigged for skullduggery; how else do you explain that the budget for the Contractor General is cut. The same thing happened last year. In fact, we are still without a Contractor General for a whole year, how can you get away with that in a modern democracy?
Take the case of the lady Kristy Mastry and BIL (Belize Infrastructure Limited) formed in 20-12 to undertake government construction contracts. There has been no audit for seven years, Madam Speaker, Hyde lamented.
Most of the contracts under BIL have been gifted to a certain company, that company is called International Environment Limited, Hyde said. You are talking about millions and millions of dollars in contracts.
A statutory body was created to spend millions of dollars without due tendering. Hyde went on to explain that the office of BIL is located on the Matalon Building on Coney Drive that is owned by Arguelles brothers.
BIL has been awarded contracts to build a number of structures in Belize City, including the Belize Civic Center.
Kristy Mastry surfaces on Lake I Boulevard and was paid four hundred and something dollars for consultancy fees. That road was completed two years ago and they still have to spend over 700 thousand in this budget to repair that road, Hyde said.
You would think she wouldn’t want to be back in that area, but she’s back, Hyde said.
She is heading a project with 50 acres of land west of the boulevard. No consultation took place with the residents in the area. They had to see it on TV.
Hyde said every year the government spends a measly 3 million dollars on the youth support services. He urged the government to spend less on new vehicles and more on people. He explained that in the case of sports, it’s the same sad song. It’s the same budget for youth and sports for the last eleven years.
A budget for 1.2 million dollars, but we don’t have any budget for our youth. No budget to help our youth, so youth poverty continues to spike. Brads makes 30 million dollars a year off boledo, he said.
“Madam Speaker, do you know that only Chinese can sell Boledo?” Hyde said. He explained that it is the people of Belize who should be benefiting from the sale of boledo.
Elections and Boundaries have spent over 7 million dollars on re-registration and over 2500 Belizeans have been disenfranchised. To be told that “rat eat your record or that your record cannot be found is unacceptable.”
Hyde said on this ground alone this referendum should be put off. Most of these Belizeans were registered before. Re-registration should not be to disenfranchise people. Voting is a right not a privilege. This thing is critical, it has to be addressed sooner rather than later, he said.
Foreign Affairs has spent over 2 million dollars under Cap 2, and I assume that it is for the ICJ education campaign he said, adding that “we have a moral duty to speak out. I regret not speaking out earlier.”
This struggle to go to the ICJ necessitates that we ask ourselves who we are; are we the children of the nationalists George Price and Philip Goldson? Are we committed to the doctrine of “not a grain of sand, not a blade of grass, not one square centimeter,” or are we prepared to risk everything we have for the elusive dream of a final settlement?
“I dare say, I am a child of our national heroes and I am duty bound to say no,” Hyde declared.
That means we would be forgoing our right to decide as a people whether we are accepting a proposed final solution. We would be going to the ICJ blindfolded, whatever the ICJ decides would be binding, and we won’t be able to scream bloody murder then, it would be too late and too bad, because we cannot appeal the ICJ ruling, he said.
That’s not what our national heroes envisioned when they said the people will decide. It’s not for the people to decide to forfeit their rights to a court, it is for us to see the solution before hand and pass judgment on that as a people. That’s why we should have proposed an advisory opinion at the ICJ and then we get to see after that ruling yea or nay, Hyde said.
That would have been more respectful of our people. And a case of us being more honest with them, right now we are deluding them. They are taking the right to decide out of the hands of our people. We don’t even know what is at stake. The Special Agreement is allowing for any and all legal claims from Guatemala, an incredible unprecedented situation, he argued.
In the end Madam Speaker, it is way too risky. We have everything to lose and nothing to gain. These people are claiming the richest, most pristine part of our country. Some say they are claiming the entire country, either way we cannot be sure what the final outcome will be. Anybody who tells you what the final outcome will be must have the judges in their back pocket. How else can you be so sure? You can be confident, but you cannot be absolutely sure,” Hyde explained.
At that point, Madam Speaker said, “Member can you please get back to the budget?”
Hyde explained that we have spent millions on the ICJ education campaign and there is no mention in the budget about the moneys that were gifted to Belize for the ICJ education campaign.
How much these NGO’s are getting, how much has been spent on these billboards all over the country. I have been in politics 25 years and I have never seen anything like this, Hyde said.
“Madam Speaker, We have not received any money that allows us to buy ads, that allows us to put up billboards, that allows us to put on television commercials. We have not received any of that money. The only opportunity I will get to speak to my people is right here in the National Assembly,” Hyde declared.
Hyde continued, “If we have such an ironclad case, we should not be going to court. I have a responsibility to talk to my people. I have a responsibility to tell them what’s up. They will say to us that the judges are above reproach; they will say they are perfect; they are next to God. But another news flash, Madam Speaker, the judges are humans; they make mistakes; they have need for stuffs. Sometimes they get it wrong and if they get it wrong, the people of Belize will suffer eternally. Because you people are not being honest with the people of Belize. You people have the people of Belize believing that we cannot lose. The truth of the matter is that once you go to court you can lose. But unno alright,unno set, because if anything go wrong, unno could go so and go so, but ordinary people can’t. The people from the south, weh dem gwine, weh dem gwine?” Hon. Hyde wanted to know.
At this point, the Member for Collet, Hon. Patrick Faber interrupted Hyde and appealed to the Speaker, who urged Hyde to get back to talking about the budget.
Hyde then cited the example of the 16-year-old boy who was killed in the Chiquibul in 2016 and the Guatemalan reaction to it when it was determined that Belize soldiers were not responsible for the boy’s death.
“The member for Collet can be emotional with me, but I am not allowed to be emotional about our country,” Hyde responded.
Hyde said that the government should give some lands to BDF soldiers and that should deter the Guatemalans from coming across.
In closing Madam Speaker, I feel duty bound to say two things: one is the matter of the minimum wage. No one should be working full time and not be able to pay a little bill. I am asking the relevant stakeholders, the churches the trade unions, to join us to make the minimum wage a living wage.
Hyde then turned to health care, saying that we need a national discussion on health and mental health care.
I can’t help but wonder about this new found love that the British have for us. They are spending a lot of money on the Coastal Road. We can’t let them buy us out. Tell them to give that money to Guatemala and tell Guatemala to leave us alone, Hyde told the House.