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UDP No Show

HighlightsUDP No Show

Photo: Eamon Courtenay, Lead Government Senator

Save for a brief appearance by UDP Senator Hon. Antonio Herrera, no member of the Opposition was present in the Upper House of parliament for the debate of the General Revenue Appropriation Bill 2024/2025

by Marco Lopez

BELIZE CITY, Tues. Mar. 26, 2024

A balanced budget, in the best interest of the Belizean public, is the description given by Lead Government Senator Hon. Eamon Courtenay, of the General Revenue Appropriation Bill 2024/2025. The Senate met this morning for what was to be the debate of the budget in that Upper House of parliament, but the members of the UDP were a no-show.

The hostilities within the UDP’s leadership came to a head, again, this past weekend when Senator Beverly Williams was seemingly terminated from that post by Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Moses “Shyne” Barrow. This is following her alleged attendance of an ad-hoc meeting conducted by the John Saldivar-led UDP faction, Caucus for Change.  

The “crickets” on the UDP side of the House were comparable to the silence also seen in the House of Representatives during the three days of the budget debate in the Lower House last week.
Senator Antonio Herrera was the only member of the UDP to show his face at the day’s sitting, but stayed for just a few minutes after not being allowed to give reasons as to why his colleagues were absent. 

The debate, or lack thereof, was extremely weighted in favor of the ruling People’s United Party. Lead Government Senator Courtenay went as far as to say that the absence of the other side of the House was a “stain and disgrace.”

He went on to give a relatively brief presentation on the economic performance and projected indicators highlighted in Prime Minister Briceño’s budget speech. He argued that a prudently managed country has resulted in an increase in tax revenue without the need to add any new taxes.

He outlined that the substantial capital investment featured in the budget seeks to support infrastructure, key industries, enhance healthcare, expand the free education program, and meet the country’s energy goals.

Senator representing the business community, Hon. Kevin Herrera had a more surgical analysis of the budget projections presented for this year. He sought to compare the numbers projected for this year, with what was spent in the previous fiscal year. He started by outlining the need for the timely production of funds spent and accounts from previous fiscal years, in order for proper auditing to be carried out.

He shared that for the past 10 years or so, no data have been forwarded to the Auditor General’s Office; and as a result, no audits on the budgets for those past fiscal years have been conducted.

He shared that that data should be sent from the Financial Secretary’s office to the Office of the Prime Minister, and eventually to the Auditor General’s office, which is tasked to carry out the audits.

Senator Herrera said that since 2015, governments have been breaking the law, since the Finance and Audit Reform Act mandates that those accounts be produced at least 3 months following the end of the fiscal year.

“Let us use this year to develop creative solutions and build a sounder future for all the citizens of Belize, because I think that this budget and future budgets will present us with an opportunity to go after projects and programs and initiatives that can improve people’s lives,” Hon. Herrera said.  

Senator Elena Smith rose to give her remarks on the 2024/2025 budget, in what is expected to be her last presentation inside the Senate, for the time being at least. The representative for the NTUCB has straddled two governments, despite her firebrand status as former head of the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU).

Not surprisingly, she started on education. While recognizing the decision to pay the government schoolteachers full salaries and benefits, she reminded senators not to forget that the stalwart work of the BNTU is the driving factor behind that success.

She shared that before she leaves office, she has to recognize this advancement, but reminded the House that teachers often pay for training and professional advancement out of their own pockets. She also shared that resources will be critical, as the school system embarks on competency-based education. To ensure that students flourish and do well, significant resources will be necessary.

On the issue of budgeting for increasing numbers of school counselors, Senator Smith said that it was very critical for educators. She shared that the increase in funding to cover the cost of counselors over the coming years will not be sufficient, given the quantity and scope of challenges facing schools.

She also commended the rollout of the Internet across schools, and called on the Government to ensure that all the necessary equipment was provided to the institutions.  

Senator Janelle Chanona spoke on the importance for Belizeans to see themselves as a part of the budget preparations process. The empty aisle on the Opposition side of the House magnified her statements, which focused on encouraging the collective action and effort needed to create a better future for all Belizeans.  

She pointed out that if 73 cents of every dollar, or nearly 75% of government spending is used to power the state’s machinery, then we need to ensure we are getting action and accountability for that cost being footed by taxpayers. With the remaining 27 cents per dollar, we must ensure that we are getting the right “bang for our buck”, the senator pointed out.  

Considered by many as the fiscal tzar of the PUP – Hon. Chris Coye said that Belize is in a far better position when compared to our neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“I’d like to say that it really is unfortunate that we did not have the benefit of the Opposition senators on the debate, but I am certainly very thankful for the time and the insight shared by the social partner senators,” Hon. Coye pointed out.

The full hearing can be found on the Government of Belize’s National Assembly YouTube channel.

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