The UDP has been hostile toward this organization over their last two administrations, and if that isn’t sufficient reason for us to not favor them in their bid to form the next government, then there is also the fact that the 2015-2020 UDP administration has a very poor report card. The 2015-2020 UDP administration was a corrupt one, guilty of sidestepping the oversight bodies that provide the essential checks and balances that make our governance system work properly, and under their stewardship Belize’s economy has contracted for six consecutive quarters.
The new UDP leader, Hon. Patrick Faber, announced that he is against corruption in government, but he did so with kid gloves so as not to offend the outgoing leader, Hon. Dean Barrow, who presided over what has to be the most corrupt band of leaders this country has ever seen. Other administrations have had their share of dishonesty, but the number of UDP ministers who have been in the news for financial dealings with shady characters and mishandling public funds and other government property, is staggering.
The new leader of the UDP might indeed be against corruption in government, but the majority of the candidates in his party overwhelmingly chose another leader over him in a leadership convention held in February this year, and that leader had to step down because of manifest corruption. To our knowledge the new UDP leader has not told the public, not by mouth or print, how he will bell the numerous suspects in his party if they should form the next government.
The 2015-2020 UDP was very unlike the party that came into power in 1984, the first time the party held the reins of government, and the UDP that came to power in 2008. Many of the characters in the 2020 UDP team had been on their 2008 team, but sadly the anti-corruption, good-governance crusaders who took the reins then are now very much like the greedy, corrupt pigs that were living it up in Farmer Jones’ parlor.
The last UDP administration owes much of its great fortune in the 2015 general election to a deal in a private room in Miami, and exploitation of the un-fixed term. In mid-September 2015, PM Barrow returned from Miami with what he described as a “fantastic bit of good news”, that great news being that the BTL acquisition had been favorably settled. Later, Belizeans learned that they had paid way too much for BTL, about three times what they should have paid if a former owner of the company is correct, but by then the UDP had already ridden the crest of that settlement agreement wave to another five-year term in office.
In 2015, the price of oil on the world market was going down, and the funds from the Petro Caribe program and taxes from locally produced oil were drying up, but by calling the election in November 2015, 16 months before the term of the government was complete, the UDP successfully dodged the trough of rapidly diminishing oil wealth.
The UDP didn’t achieve anything much on the economic front for Belize in its 2015-2020 administration. They were supposed to build on, advance the top accomplishment of their 2012-2015 administration, the National Bank of Belize, but didn’t.
The bank, which was established near the end of 2013, was capitalized with $20 million from the Petro Caribe loan fund, and its first mission was to provide loans at an interest rate of 5.5% primarily to public employees and those in the lower income bracket who were interested in borrowing to build a home.
The National Bank was a catalyst for reduced interest rates on mortgages, but it was not alone in causing a reduction in interest rates in that area. The facts are that excess liquidity in the banking system and lack of investor confidence also impacted the financial landscape in our country.
Seven years after the National Bank came into being with such high expectations, we have to say that this ship, disappointingly, hasn’t sailed, definitely not the way we hoped it would. The apparent main reason this initiative has floundered is because the government ran out of money. If we hadn’t squandered the Petro Caribe loan funds and the taxes from BNE oil, the National Bank might have been a lot closer to its vision.
It is not impossible that the UDP was insincere. It is shocking that the government that established the National Bank was turning a blind eye to (or covertly supporting) the acquisition of Scotiabank Belize by the Belize Bank, a merger that would have created an entity that controls 50% of the banking system in our country. Some things that have happened under the last administration really make you wonder.
The UDP 2015-2020 made a number of costly, suspect decisions. The UDP throughout its administrations has focused on infrastructure — roads, bridges, and buildings — and that is a good strategy; however, a country like Belize must prioritize, must make sure every penny is wisely spent. There are countries in this world that can build roads to nowhere and buildings that are little used because they produce all the materials that are used to build roads/buildings at home. When Belize builds a road or a building, it must have great purpose.
It’s hard to justify borrowing over $150 million to upgrade the road to Caracol, as it extends beyond the service of the farmers and other business folk in San Antonio, Georgeville, and El Progresso (Seven Miles). Borrowing 34 or so million dollars to construct the not so urgently needed John Smith Link Road was frivolous when we desperately needed money to help our farmers who lost their crops because of the drought, or to drain and fill the swamps in areas of Belize City where people live in the worst of conditions.
The UDP is accused of borrowing for infrastructure that isn’t essential because it is the easiest way to get fat contracts into the hands of favorites of their party. The UDP 2015-2020 was cozy with corruption, it abused our governance systems, and its economic performance was very poor. The UDP 2015-2020 failed the Belizean people, and for that the party is desperately in need of a vacation, to give it a chance to renew itself.