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Jan 21, 2005

Opposition critiques budget

Story PictureToday the Opposition get its chance to critique the budget which government had proposed last week…and they did not waste the opportunity. News 5′s Patrick Jones has a recap.

Dean Borrow, Leader of Opposition
?The nation by this budget is being forced to swallow the bitterest medicine imaginable.?

Patrick Jones, Reporting
With that opening salvo, Leader of the Opposition Dean Barrow began his rebuttal of the Prime Minister?s budget speech, read one week ago in the House of Representatives. Mr Barrow opened by saying and the estimates are reflective of an economy in shambles that the Prime Minister is in a state of denial.

Dean Barrow, Leader of the Opposition
?Madam Speaker, another flagrant falsehood in the budget was the declaration in the speech that the UDP fifteen percent V.A.T.(Value Added Tax) was replaced by the PUP with an eight percent (8%) sales tax. The Prime Minister, without blinking an eye sailed completely over the fact of the twelve percent (12%) sales tax on fuel alcohol and tobacco. No mention of that. And of course there is also no mention of the fact that as of now, because of the increase last year, the sales tax is nine percent (9%) and thirteen percent (13%).?

Turning to the proposed increase in Environmental Tax, Barrow says it is a deception by GOB simply to get more money into the treasury.

Dean Barrow
?It is important Madam Speaker, in fact I think it is critical that people understand it is not as some seem to misapprehend a plastic tax, or in fact a tax having anything to do with the environment. It is a tax that is imposed on every single imported item and has nothing at all to do with the environment and everything to do with the government?s greed for additional money on the backs of the poor working people of this country. So what does it all mean in terms of the Prime Minister?s budget Madam Speaker, all the imported items in the thirteen percent (13%) sales tax category will now pay sixteen percent (16%), higher than the V.A.T. ever was, and all the items in the nine percent (9%) sales tax category will pay twelve percent (12%), the very twelve percent (12%)recommended, prescribed by the IMF that the Prime Minister tells us falsely that he has rejected.?

Regarding the deferment of salary increase for pubic officers, Barrow said:

Dean Barrow
?I was personally astounded Madam Speaker, that in announcing this hammer blow to our civil servants the Prime Minister made no apology for the breach of government?s legally binding obligation. Instead he poured salt in the wound by implying that the public officers were undeserving and that even the December two percent (2%) would be depended on their mending, the way I understand it, their shiftless and unproductive way. Some sort of merit system he said would be introduced and that was necessary because of what I understood him to be accusing the public officers of some culture of shiftlessness and laziness. It is in that sort of context, Madam Speaker, that there is the strike by the public service and by the teachers yesterday and today.?

At one point, Barrow admonished the Prime Minister to confront the future instead of bringing up past transgressions of the UDP.

Dean Barrow
?Well the fact is Madam Speaker, they have been the government for six years now. People are tired of hearing about what happened and did not happen under the United Democratic Party. They were elected with a mandate to go forward. They were elected with a mandate to lead. They were elected with a mandate to improve the quality of living for the people of this country and it is they that have failed so massively.?

But just as Barrow was hitting his stride, he, and the proceedings of the House were interrupted by the noise of protestors outside. The Speaker suspended the sitting until the situation was defused.

When the House resumed an hour later, a visibly upset Prime Minister again appealed for calm and he was joined in the call by the Leader of the Opposition.

Prime Minister Said Musa
?Once again that we appeal for calm, that people have every right to peaceful protest. People have a right to demonstrate peacefully. People do not have a right to throw missiles at the police. The police have a duty to maintain law and order and I wish to inform this honourable House that as far as this side of the House in concerned we have already advised our people to go home peacefully and they have been doing so. And I appeal once again for calm so that the democracy that we practice in this country can flourish, thank you.?

Dean Barrow
?With respect to the wish of this side of the House, for calm to prevail and for further incident to be avoided, we ask that the sitting be suspended. It is a matter for the Speaker, but as soon as we attempted to resume a missile was flung that hit the louvers upstairs. Madam Speaker, I wish that our people would exercise some restraint, but in the circumstances it seems perfectly clear that that is not going to happen. I have to wonder at the wisdom of continuing in such a climate.?

But nonetheless the debate continued, even though Barrow said he was toning down his speech so as not to further inflame tensions. Barrow said that the budget, presented over two months ahead of the start of the financial year, cannot be accepted as authentic because it is based on statistics that are incomplete.

Dean Barrow
?The reason of course is to soak us with the tax increases for a full two months over and above the April first new fiscal year, but it is also to allow for the sorts of estimates that can sustain inflated claims, exaggerations and downright distortions with respect to the numbers. For example Madam Speaker, the estimate for GDP growth is given as between four (4%) and five percent (5%). Of course you know in the current climate there are unstoppable leaks with respect to the public service. And we in the Opposition were able to obtain a draft of the Prime Minister?s speech two days before he gave the speech last week. In that draft, GDP growth had been estimated at three to five percent (3.5%) to four percent (4%). By the time the Prime Minister read the speech a day later he said between 4 and 5%. So madam speaker I don?t know how things could have changed from one day to the next.?

Barrow ended his presentation by calling on the government to heed the call of the unions to reform their ways.

Dean Barrow
?Madam Speaker, the Prime Minister and his government are clearly unwilling to change. You know that is why the famous words of Oliver Cormwell to the romp parliament in 1654 apply so forcefully today and I quote: you have sat too long here for any good you have been doing lately. Depart I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God go.? But they won?t, Madam Speaker, they won?t. Nevertheless it is an ill wind that blows no good. The agitation, the standing up, the militancy on the part of people, means that this country will never be the same again. The government might not resign but form this day forward, they will be forced to become more transparent. They will be forced to become more accountable. They will be forced to become less corrupt. And that is no gift from them Madam Speaker. That is being wrung from them by the cry and the righteousness of the people of this country. I and the Untied Democratic Party salute those people.?

Patrick Jones for News 5.

In a press release this morning and speaking at the end of today’s session Prime Minister Musa stated that a review of the budget would be undertaken at the middle of the financial year with an eye to refine the tax measures. A full review of the tax system will also be undertaken to examine its efficiency and equity. The final budget vote was nineteen to ten, with PUP representatives Mark Espat and Cordel Hyde voting against the bill. In an interview following his vote Hyde explained that the budget did not adequately consider the needs of Belize’s poor.

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