BELMOPAN, Wed. Jan. 13, 2021– The members of the upper house of Parliament debated the fifth Supplementary Appropriation Bill put forward for the fiscal year 2020. With two months left until the start of the new financial year, the Government of Belize is seeking the allocation of additional funds to various ministries so that it can meet the expenses of the remaining months. A number of the senators representing the Opposition and the social partners, however, expressed concern about the lack of details on the specific spending in each line item. Those senators, during the Senate debate, emphasized that they want to know exactly how the money will be spent.
“Madam President, when I look at this bill, I am extremely shocked to see that the Government is doing exactly what they crucified us for when we were in government, and what several members who were non-governmental used to cry about when we get these appropriation bills,” lead opposition senator Michael Peyrefitte declared, at the start of the debate.
Peyrefitte did admit, however, that these bills are a permitted means for GOB to cover its expenditure under the law, and he was reminded by Senator Eamon Courtenay, lead government senator, that his former maximum leader, the Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, was found in breach of the Finance and Audit Reform Act by the then Chief Justice of Belize, Kenneth Benjamin, for unconstitutionally spending almost 1.5 billion dollars.
The majority of Senator Peyrefitte’s presentation was centered on his request for more information about how the sums allocated to the various ministries would be spent. The same query was made by his colleague, opposition senator Sheena Pitts, who went further to call on the lead government senator to end the culture of non-disclosure within the Senate between Government and the Opposition.
Senator Osmany Salas, a social partner member representing the country’s NGO’s, made various calls to the previous administration during his time as senator for the then administration to provide a detailed breakdown of the information in its proposals, budgets and bills. He called Senator Peyrefitte’s presentation hollow, since he (Peyrefitte) was on the opposing side of the same argument just months ago. “I implore the new administration to please don’t follow in the footsteps of the previous administration, and provide us with more details.” Senator Salas said.
Senator Chris Coye rose to give some clarity on the proposed spending plan in the Supplementary Appropriation Bill #5. But before getting into the details of the spending, which will take place within the next two months, he told his fellow senators that the additional allocation of funds is only necessary because of the “poisoned chalice” they inherited from the last administration.
“This new administration inherited an economic crisis; the gross domestic product, the income of this country, by the end of 2020 has shrunk roughly 17%. Unprecedented in a generation. The debt to GDP is over 134 %, again unprecedented; never before has it even passed 100% — we’re already approaching 150%. The debt is unsustainable. But probably most egregious, is unemployment: the unemployment rate alone in the last labor force survey is roughly 30%, with an underemployment rate of roughly 38%. That means roughly 68% of our labor force, that would put us to 130 to 140 thousand persons in our labor force are actually looking for work,” Senator Coye shared.
He also addressed the lack of a detailed breakdown in the document by stating, “The draft of this bill is an inheritance in its own right of the practice, so I would say that respectfully the effort going forward is to provide in the document itself more particulars.”
Senator Coye then proceeded to explain how the allocated funds would be used in each Ministry. He outlined that the $396,000 allocated to the Ministry of Home Affairs and New Growth Industries would be used to cover the expenses connected to police intake 95, and that the Ministry of the Blue Economy is to receive $142,000 to secure an office space, purchase equipment and hire personnel for the new Ministry.
Senator Coye further mentioned that the seemingly small sum of 10 million dollars allocated to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development is not the sole amount that will be allocated for economic support. He shared that at this time, this is the amount being put forward, but that given the current economic position of Belize, and the country’s level of indebtedness (to the tune of almost 4 billion dollars), it would be impractical for the Opposition to suppose that this allocation would be the sole amount.
The Ministry of Health and Wellness, said Senator Coye, will receive 15 million dollars to secure testing equipment and human resources for the various healthcare facilities. To date, 2 million dollars from this sum has been spent, Senator Coye told the members of the Senate. An additional 4.3 million will be spent on human resources for hospitals; 6.6 million dollars is scheduled to be spent on surveillance and testing; and an additional 2 million dollars will be allocated to purchase medical supplies and pharmaceuticals; additionally, 1.7 million dollars will be spent on other equipment and $337,000 will be allocated to risk communication and community engagement, said Coye.
The Ministry of Sustainable Development has spent almost half of its allocated 4.7 million dollars on humanitarian assistance rising from the historic floods which ravaged the country last year. The Government of Belize is expecting to receive at least 1.8 million dollars in reimbursement from grants.
Senator Coye also mentioned that a total of 9.43 million dollars is being allocated to the Ministry of Human Development, Families, and Indigenous Peoples Affairs, mainly to carry out the Food Assistance Program. A portion of the funds was spent in December to provide special relief to all consistencies across the country. The remainder will be used over the coming months to meet the expenses of the program.
Senator Coye additionally outlined that 12 million dollars would be spent on repairing the roadways that were damaged by last year’s floods. Also, a portion of the sum will be allocated for some remedial work on the sugar roads. To date, a total of $250,000 of that amount has been spent so far.
The Government is expected to receive at least $510,000 from various donor organizations over the coming months and will allocate those funds based on the conditions set out by those international financial institutions.