Data on our economy compiled by the Statistical Institute of Belize (SIB) shows that our productive sector has shrunk immensely over the past decade of United Democratic Party (UDP) rule. In 2012, the value of our merchandize exports was $678.6 million, and in 2019 it was only $411.8 million, down about 40%.
While our exports have been falling, our imports, in contrast, have been rising steadily. Our gross imports increased by almost $300 million, from $1.68 billion in 2012 to $1.97 billion in 2019.
Belize’s merchandize exports are primarily agricultural and marine produce, and this is an area where we are supposed to excel. We are a country that many expect to be self-sufficient in food and have a hefty surplus for export. From the inception of CARIFTA (the Caribbean Free Trade Association) in 1965, and CARICOM (the Caribbean Community) in 1973, Belize was looked at as one of the countries that could supply food, and thus be one of the breadbaskets for the region.
Incredibly, our food imports eat up almost three-quarters of the money we earn from our merchandize exports. The SIB report for 2019 says that we imported more lard, milk, cream, and margarine, and those increases pushed food imports in the “Food and Live Animals” category from $219.7 million in 2018 to $230.2 million in 2019; more imports of cooking oil pushed the value of the “Oils and Fats” category to $19.6 million; and increased imports of alcoholic beverages and supplemental nutrition drinks pushed the value of imports in the “Beverages and Tobacco” category to almost $40 million.
The value of imports in the above-mentioned three “food” categories is about $290 million, and our total merchandize exports for the year amount to only $411.8 million; that means we only come out with about $122 million after we deduct our import bill for food from all the hard-earned dollars we make from agricultural produce. Belize is selling sugar, citrus and lobster so that Belize can buy corn flakes, cooking oil, and condensed milk.
We have a huge import bill. In an editorial earlier this month, we noted that Belize bridges the tremendous difference between our merchandize exports and our gross imports through tourism earnings, BPOs (call centers), foreign injections of cash to our religious and other non-profit organizations, foreign investments in local industries, grants from the European Union, loans, and some underworld activities.
The report card says the UDP built on the tourism industry, hustled a few ends in the BPOs, and everything else lagged. Clearly we are not productive enough; and our compassionate UDP area representatives and standard bearers just told us that they have to engage in disappointing begging from foreigners to assist the many people who can’t make ends meet. This begging went down a peg when one of our compassionate leaders allegedly tapped into funds from persons who conduct much of their business under the table.
What has this government done to make us a more resilient people? How much of the produce of our small farmers, the potatoes and onions and vegetables and fruits, rot in the fields each year because our government programs are insufficient and our people don’t have the financial resources to store or to process them to extend their shelf life?
The truth is that the UDP has not increased the wealth of our country. Either they expended too much energy blaming Belize’s failures on the PUP 1998-2008 administration for our woes, or they weren’t capable.
We don’t hire people to beg for us, or worse, consort with underworld types. We hire leaders to develop and introduce programs to increase the goods and services in our country, and build up the institutions that give us confidence in our governance. Enough of those things haven’t happened under our present government.
The compassionate leader must also have capacity
Some of the politicians in our country who have been tried by the public and have been found guilty of corruption say they do/did what they do/did because they have compassion. The best that can be said for such politicians is that their graft would have been worse if their purpose was direct self-enrichment.
Most people believe that compassion is embedded in the DNA of human beings, and that it is one of the qualities that separate us from the beasts of the field. The Holy Bible and the Holy books of the Muslims, the Baha’i’s, and other religions are filled with stories of a compassionate God, and the need for us to have compassion, especially for those persons who have urgent needs.
There are secular stories about the not-exactly-above-board dealings of certain heroes who shared their winnings with the poor people. Robin Hood, a mythical figure of English lore, is a hero because he robbed from the rich to give to the poor when the area where he lived was under tyrannical rule.
The Lord knows that because of the failures of our governments, many Belizeans are dependent on compassionate political leaders, the compassionate well-off in our midst, and the compassionate masses who give from the little they have because it is part of our culture to take care of each other.
There are persons who exhibit very little compassion, and it is to be hoped that such people never accede to leadership, because that is an area where love of one’s brothers and sisters is most needed, especially love of those who are not making it in the system at the time. The especially compassionate leaders are preferred, but compassion is not the only attribute that is necessary in leadership. The good leader has compassion and also has the capacity to increase wealth, especially for those who have less in the society.
Corruption, which the Oxford dictionary describes as “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery”, is not a good option for the compassionate leader seeking to acquire the goods to deliver to the people, and that is because corruption always ends in failure.
The compassionate leader must have the capacity to increase wealth for their people. They must have energy and creativity, and vision, or their tenure as leader will amount to wasted time, and possibly ignominy. The compassionate leader who has little capacity will invariably become corrupt, and no good can come of that.