“Bogus” 2017 Budget Shredded by Opposition Leader
The House of Representatives met in Belmopan today with passions running high for the second reading of the General Revenue and Appropriation Bill, otherwise known as the Budget, which is typically debated for two days. Though slightly less antagonistic than usual, members of the lower chamber held nothing back, especially the Opposition, which has been emboldened by repeated scandals in the Government and a sluggish economy. Other bills were introduced which we will tell you more about later, but we first go to the formal response by Leader of the Opposition John Briceño. His sixteen-page, sixty-one minute long address was a combination of excoriation of the Government’s plans and promotion of the People’s United Party as the “Government-in-waiting.” In this “bogus budget,” Briceño argued that the Government’s figures did not add up, and in some cases were made up to satisfy the fantasy that all is well, or at least not as bad as it seems. More importantly, he said, the Government’s lack of imagination and planning has been exposed. Aaron Humes has a report.
Aaron Humes, Reporting
Is the budget real? Leader of the Opposition John Briceño doesn’t seem to think so. As a matter of fact, his response in the House of Representatives today established two Belizes – incredible wealth, spending and riches in one; abject, sprawling, oppressive poverty and fear in the other. There is a significant divide, Briceño said, between the figures put together by the Government and the reality on the ground – exemplified by a recent case in San Pedro.
John Briceño, Leader of the Opposition
“In the last two budgets we were told about funding for the upgrade of the San Pedro Health Center to make it a full service twenty-four-hour facility. This project first appeared in the 2015 budget; in fact it was on page sixteen. It was introduced a second time in the 2016 budget on page eighteen. This year it is gone, conspicuously absent from the 2017 budget. Is this because the task has been accomplished? Well, obviously not; San Pedranos can attest to the fact that they have the same inadequate facility. This was highlighted recently with the unfortunate passing of young Miss Jordanie Olivera.”
Briceño claimed that the standard of living had actually fallen by sixteen percent over the past eight years, after a high tide under the Said Musa administrations from 1998 to 2008. It is a given that the primary sector of agriculture suffered setbacks in 2016, but tourism has proven to be the saving grace – or maybe not, if a key statistic used by Briceño from the Tourism Board’s own figures is considered.
“Hotel occupancy, which is a key indicator on how the industry is performing, fell by a whopping twelve percent, from a country average of forty-two percent to thirty-seven percent for 2016 when compared to 2015. You know deputy, Dan Silva di tell me this long time, you know; memba? Dan always di tell wi – Wi no di feel di tourism! You only di feel it da San Pedro and Placencia, but the rest a di country no di feel di tourism. It is perplexing that the B.T.B. can state that overnight tourism grew from approximately three hundred and forty-one thousand to three hundred and eighty-five thousand, a growth of over forty-thousand tourists, yet hotel occupancy fell by twelve percent.”
But the presentation was not all doom and gloom: Briceño did promise cooperation with the Government on major issues from crime to Guatemala. He also delivered a show-stealing line promising to do what the current administration has so far been unable to do: jail those involved in illegal and corrupt acts, from the top to the bottom.
“To show just how serious we are about good governance, and about ending corruption, one of my very first acts as Prime Minister will be to bring legislation to the National Assembly (Applause) which calls for a full audit of every government ministry. And – listen – and I say it in this place on this day: whomever is found to be involved in any illegal or corrupt act will be arrested and charged… (Applause) And if found guilty, they will go to jail. (Applause)”
If Belize is to truly work for everyone, Briceño said, there are five priorities that must be worked on.
“First, every Belizean should have access to a piece of land. (Applause) With land we immediately create opportunity for uplift and personal growth. Second, that Belizeans are able to own a decent home. The seventeenth century jurist and politician Edward Coke in speaking on human rights said: “A man’s home is his castle.” Every Belizean in 2017 should expect such an entitlement, whether they live on Bokotora Street or on Sea Shore Drive. Third,…Ready, member for Collet? Third is education, every Belizean should be given the chance to go to school from kindergarten to junior college. (Applause) We have to make education free from pre kinder to junior college. If we will give our young people a chance at success, it must start with a good education. (Applause) Fourth, basic health care, which means every Belizean should be enrolled in the National Health Insurance Program. (Applause) If we can invest forty-two million dollars in a basketball stadium in Belizean, then we should be able to produce basic health services for all. (Applause) Fifth and most important, the driving force behind it all is jobs.”
Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.