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Sep 22, 2015

PM Delivers Independence Address

Independence Day was officially celebrated on Monday in the capital Belmopan with all the traditional pomp and ceremony. Apart from ogling the “who’s who” in government and society, including foreign dignitaries invited for the occasion, the highlights are always the addresses by the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister. Over our years of covering these ceremonies we’ve seen and heard some very hostile engagements between the political opponents on the pulpit, and since this is the last such forum before general elections fireworks were anticipated. But there were no fireworks…not even a little firecracker. Mike Rudon was there and our coverage of the official ceremony starts with the address by Prime Minister Dean Barrow.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

With very little ado, just the traditional establishing of protocol, Prime Minister Dean Barrow started off with the most pressing issues facing the nation today – the settlement of the long prolonged litigation over the nationalizations of B.E.L. and B.T.L.  According to the Prime Minister, all Belizeans should laud the outcome of what he called a second sovereignty campaign…and to sweeten what government says is a sweet victory…

 

Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“Let me announce right away that Government will be offering an additional 10% of the shareholding in both companies to the Belizean – and I stress Belizean – public. In the case of B.E.L. it will mean a seat on the Board for the small shareholders, and in the case of B.T.L. it will mean a second seat for those small shareholders. Altogether then, this will give a chance for citizens to help run the nationalized entities, and perhaps even more important, for them to share in the profits that both companies are making and continue to make. We therefore think it meet and right that all Belizeans embrace this second coming.”

 

That second coming has cost Belizeans seventy-five million dollars for B.E.L. and one hundred and sixty-two million for B.T.L.  Where B.T.L. is concerned, there’s still the pending arbitration ruling on share value, meaning that Belizeans may have to pay much, much more. Still, the Prime Minister is optimistic and upbeat.

 

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“Our economy is doing well. The great growth of the first quarter was succeeded by a small contraction in the second, due to some difficulties with commodities and in particular the huge resource decline in oil. But grains will recover from drought as the inundations yesterday and today make clear, shrimp from disease, and citrus from the market conditions that saw a temporary fall in price. Meantime we are still at two point seven percent in GDP year-over-year increase, inflation is just about the lowest in the region, and unemployment is significantly down.”

 

Of course, where the drought is concerned, it’s not as simple as two days of rain fixing that problem. Belize is currently looking at a tentative loss of twenty-eight million dollars, and two days of rain won’t bring those crops back. But there is good news for the employees of the K.H.M.H. and good news for those who owe government for health services. The Prime Minister confirmed that K.H.M.H. staff will be getting a salary increase, while debts will be written off across the board.

 

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“We will therefore treat it as a buyout of the debt owed by consumers, by the Belizean public, to the K.H.M.H.  As of year’s end 2014 that total in unpaid bills amounted to around nine million dollars. Of course, in trading off these bills that people owe to the K.H.M.H., we won’t be giving K.H.M.H. dollar for dollar. We will, though, pay them enough to do two things. The first is to fund the salary increase to the expected tune of just about two million dollars. And the second is to assist with residual costs for the new, state of the art, PICU/NICU that is to be opened next month. This write-off to the public of nine million dollars in their unpaid K.H.M.H. bills, which the collection agency hired by the K.H.M.H. will now no longer be hounding anyone for, is this year’s Independence Day gift to people from the Government of Belize. For the sake of completeness, and to make that gift even greater, we will also forgive all monies currently owing by patients to all Government hospitals throughout the country.”

 

The tourism sector, where infrastructure is concerned, will also get some much needed attention – including the paving of the road to Lamanai, the paving of the road to Caracol and a new International airstrip for San Pedro.

 

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“When this next phase is completed we will sign for the last few miles to take us to the Basil Jones airstrip, which we will redevelop, redesign and expand into an international airport. I am also happy to announce that Basil Jones will be renamed the Efrain Guerrero International Airport in honour of the eponymous, recently deceased San Pedro patriot. With this, we expect a phenomenal new opening up, a veritable tourism explosion, in Ambergris Caye, which is of course already our market leader.”

 

Mike Rudon for News Five.

 

In case you’re wondering, the Prime Minister did not announce a date for general elections, though many believed that he would use the opportunity to do so.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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