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UDP “boycotts” House meeting 

HeadlineUDP “boycotts” House meeting 

Photo: Eddy Webster receives plaque of appreciation for long service as Clerk of the National Assembly

by Marco Lopez 

BELIZE CITY, Mon. July 1, 2024 

At Friday’s sitting of the House of Representatives, the long-awaited Disabilities Act was finally read into law. This legislation is aimed at promoting, protecting, and ensuring full rights for persons with disabilities—equal to the rights enjoyed by persons without disabilities. For the first time, the full sitting was delivered in sign language. 

“It has been a historic day on more than one level, but the sign interpretation has allowed the House meeting, the full House meeting, to reach Belizeans who simply would not have been able to follow today’s proceedings,” Speaker of the House, Valerie Woods said. 

The representatives of the Opposition UDP were, however, not present for the “historic day”. The Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Moses “Shyne” Barrow, sent correspondence to the Speaker voicing concerns over the late notice given for this meeting. In response, Speaker Woods pointed out that the requisite one-week notice period was sufficient.

The long-awaited Disabilities Act was passed.

The National Commission for Persons with Disabilities will support objectives laid out under the newly enacted Disabilities Act. The body will have public and private sector representation. 

The Commission will oversee the implementation of the policy, make recommendations to the government, coordinate and monitor the implementation of policy, monitor compliance with UN Conventions, and do monitoring and evaluations, recommend changes to existing laws, develop support programs, and much more.  

Fiscal Incentives Amendment Bill 2024 

During Friday’s House meeting, Prime Minister, Hon. John Briceño, also introduced a bill to amend the current fiscal incentive regime. This legislation comes following the controversial concessions granted to Portico Enterprise Ltd. in its botched Definitive Agreement. This new bill requires that entities invest US 250 million dollars or above in order to benefit from the incentives afforded through the act.

“To ensure that everything can be done above board, to avoid these definitive agreements, to avoid passing laws for special investments, our government decided for us to set a minimum amount of investment needed in order to get the other incentives,” PM Briceño said. 

He shared that his administration feels that setting the bar at half a billion Belize dollars, will make it easier to attract investors.

This initiative, Hon. Briceño said, is aimed at attracting several flagship investments for the country and fast-track private sector investments. 

“Projects such as the Caye Chapel Four Seasons, among many other investments — the cruise ports that we are still trying to have a terminal built in Belize, all of these investments that were allowed to languish prior to 2021, now we are seeing that it will be able to move forward,” PM Briceño said.  

Loans for Health and Northern facelift 

The Leader of the Opposition also had nothing positive to say about the almost BZD$48 million in loans tabled by the Briceño administration during this House sitting. One of the loans, being accessed from the International Development Bank (IDB), is earmarked for urban development in the northern districts and Ambergris Caye — a total of USD 10 million.

A second, for a total of USD 14 million, will be allocated to improve the efficiency, quality, and breadth of access to the health system in Belize.  These funds will go towards increasing patients’ access to long-term care. Through the funding, the Ministry of Health and Wellness will provide training to improve patient satisfaction, finance scholarships for doctors and nurses, revise the health care delivery model, roll out mobile health clinics and telehealth programs, and finance infrastructure improvement for four health facilities. 

A grant component, providing some “free money” for these initiatives, is also attached to these loan terms. 

SOE extended by two months

During the House meeting on Friday, Minister of Home Affairs and New Growth Industries, Hon. Kareem Musa, announced that the State of Emergency (SOE) enacted on June 24 would be extended by two months. He shared that they have arrived at a point where swift and certain decisions must be made to ensure that Belize remains safe. 

“We cannot do that in a country where a few feel that they have the power and the impetus to wreak havoc on our streets. Planting seeds of fear in the minds and hearts of hard-working and law-abiding citizens of our country,” Hon. Musa said. 

He shared that they are certain they will not allow any pocket of the country to fall into a state of normalized lawlessness. 

“Opening fire on a mother and child exiting their vehicle, or the elderly men riding on their bicycles is not normal. Blazing bullets in the dead of night at a police station is not normal. And most certainly, shooting a barrage of bullets into the home of a senior public servant, the Commissioner of Police, no less, is not the Belizean way,” Hon. Musa expressed. 

The SOE declared for parts of the Belize City and Cayo Districts remains in place for an additional two months. 

A National Security Council established

With the passing of the National Security Council Bill 2024, a new National Security Directorate is being established. This body will govern the internal and external response to security threats in Belize, and prepare for potential issues that may arise.  

Commerce Bight Port to be reopened.

A bill to grant an exemption on taxes and duty for the development of the Southern Deep Port Facility, also known as Commerce Bight Port, was passed during Friday’s House sitting. 

The port has been dormant for over two decades, despite being an asset of great value with significant potential for job creation in the area. The reactivation of this port will pump much-needed revenue into southern Belize as the citrus industry continues to free-fall. 

Eddy Webster retires 

Eddy Webster, having served diligently as Clerk of the National Assembly for over 40 years, spent his last day in the House on Friday. He was honoured by the staff and parliamentarians for his unwavering and professional contribution to the legislature over the years. 

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