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Jan 24, 2005

Espat/Hyde budget would hit businesses, beer lovers

Following their prepared statements, Hyde and Espat spoke to the press.

Stewart Krohn
?Can you describe a scenario that would see you back in the Cabinet and see the present political impasse broken??

Cordel Hyde
?I can?t say at this point Stewart. That would be hypothetical and I would have to speculate and I think we are far away from that at this moment. I think a lot of things would have to be done in the immediate particularly as it relates to this budget. I see no reason why we have to take on this budget in its present form. I think if we are serious about consultation, then we should be willing to sit down some more with the social partners and listen to the people of Belize. As we saw this morning, people are still not happy. In years passed and in times passed once the budget is passed in the House of Representatives that would have been it whether we were uptight or whether we were dissatisfied. But this is a different time and I think our people have had enough.?

Stewart Krohn
?Have you been in close contact with Prime Minister Said Musa and do you have any specific advice that you would like to give him??

Cordel Hyde
?No, I haven?t been in close contact with the Prime Minister. The only contact we?ve had was by way of a letter. We informed him last Thursday that after looking very carefully at the budget and after consulting our constituents and listening to the social partners we respectfully could not support the budget in the debate and we so informed him. But other than that I have had no formal contact with the Prime Minister other than when we meet at the House of Representatives.?

Stewart Krohn
?Do you have any specific message for him at this time??

Cordel Hyde
?Just listen to the people.?

Stewart Krohn
?Following that up, do you have anything to say to the other members of the G-7 who did not follow your part? What would you have to say to these colleagues who obviously at this time must be suffering some kind of crisis of conscience??

Cordel Hyde
?Stewart, it?s not about any of us. It?s not about the members of G-7; it?s not about me; it?s not about Mark; it?s not even about the Prime Minister really. It?s about the people of Belize and we have to get with that programme or else we will perish; I believe.?

Adele Ramos, Amandala
?For those who have been saying all of sudden you and Minister Espat finally have this stroke of conscience, why didn?t you do this long ago? Why is it that you sat there for so many years supporting the budget, supporting the Government and now all of a sudden you are against what is being proposed? How do you respond to that??

Cordel Hyde
?Adele, you don?t get there overnight. You don?t just enter the Cabinet and within a month or within a year you are willing to walk away. I think it?s once said you don?t really have power until you are prepared to walk away from it. It took me six years to get to that point. We in the past, tried to speak up individually at all different times, within all mechanisms of the party and the government. But after a while instead of just knocking at the door side quietly and hoping that they open the door. After doing that enough times you realize you have to break down the door to get in and you have to scream if that is needed for them to listen to you. So that was the point we reached in August. It took us a while for us to get there but I think we are only human and as I said I take full responsibility for whatever decisions that were made in those six years; those decisions that were cabinet decisions not individual decisions but those decisions that were cabinet. I take full responsibility for that. But I also believe that if we had stepped out a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, four years ago, there would still be people who would say why didn?t you step out before that. But I think the point is we are doing it now and we are trying to serve our constituencies to the best of our ability.?

Mark Espat
?I really believe that this budget is not good for Belize. I had the opportunity in the last four months to serve on the Public Finance Committee with the Prime Minister as one example; I made clear my views in those community meetings about any possible new revenue measures. I also made my views clear as far as cutting costs and I made my view clear as far as borrowing and my general feeling about where the economy is heading. So I make my recommendations and my suggestions as a reflection of what my people in Albert are telling me and as a reflection of the information that I have and make them in all sincerity and with the hope that the Prime Minister will reconsider the road upon which he has now embarked.?

Stewart Krohn
?Do you ever considering yourself rejoining a Said Musa Cabinet??

Mark Espat
?That?s a decision for the Prime Minister. I will work tirelessly for my people in Albert. I will work on the backbenchers as I said on Friday and I will try to do the best I can and try to continue as many of the programmes that we have started in Albert.?

Stewart Krohn
?Mr. Espat, looking at the remarks made by yourself and honourable Cordel Hyde today, your plan for tax revenue seems to be let?s raise taxes on beer drinkers and business people. What is you message tonight to beer drinkers and business people who under your plan, would face some radically higher taxes??

Mark Espat
?Well as far as the excise taxes go, as I think you know, the proposal to charge twelve dollars per gallon is what we were charging in 1998. As far as the business people go and no we did not say we wanted to raise tax on business people across the board, I said that I feel that in the same that there is a special corporate for BTL as one example that there are companies, that there are establishments in the country that are generating wealth and they should pay a corporate tax that is reflective of the wealth that they are generating. I stand against those excise a taxes, those taxes on the sales tax, the business taxes and all of that will be passed on to the people.?

Stewart Krohn
?We understand that Mr. Espat. But the message that we heard today from yourself and Mr. Hyde was that the taxes as it stands today is one that lacks equity.?

Mark Espat
?It does.?

Stewart Krohn
?You are not the first one to say that, the Honourable Joe Coye said that, the same thing the other day all I?m asking is if you got your way and made the tax system more equitable. What do you have to say to those people who would bear that burden??

Mark Espat
?Well Stewart, if you are asking me whether paying the right stamp duties on a transaction for example; if you are asking me whether getting fifty percent exemption instead of a hundred percent; if you?re asking me whether a company in an export processing zone should enjoy tax free status for twenty years when they are making money from year two or three. Certainly, I don?t think anyone in good conscience while our children, many of them are starving can say that we should continue to offer those exemptions and I make no apology for that.?

Stewart Krohn
?So you don?t see changing the system fundamentally beyond that??

Mark Espat
?No, I sighted specific examples where individuals who are working who are earning a wage are taxed immediately while others refuse to pay their taxes and have a lot more wealth that they can pay it on.?

Stewart Krohn
?So you are suggesting that for example reintroduce the corporate income tax for example??

Mark Espat
?I did not make that specific proposal. I think we would have to look at it. As you may know one of the reasons why that was decided against back in 1998 and 1999 was because the accountants and the lawyers of the private sector in many instance our manoeuvre the officials at the tax department. But I believe there are sufficient exemptions. There are sufficient loopholes. There are sufficient new taxes that would not be able to be passed on to the working poor and the middle pass that we can reduce the deficit and that we can ensure that we present a much more balanced budget.?

According to our calculations, the rise in excise tax on beer proposed by Espat and Hyde would result in a retail price for Belikin of between three-fifty and four dollars per bottle. The current neighbourhood price is around two-fifty.

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