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Jan 3, 2018

P.M., Opposition Leader Trade Barbs over New Year’s Addresses

John Briceno & Dean Barrow

The tradition of the New Year’s Address is fairly recent. It gives the government an opportunity to boast about accomplishments, to replenish national resolve, or to announce new strategies and ideals. For the Opposition, it’s a chance to present their alternative view and make a case for a change in leadership or strategy. Prime Minister Dean Barrow and Opposition Leader John Briceño’s first clash of 2018 provided helpings of both. News Five’s Aaron Humes searched the combined twenty minutes of speeches to see what, if anything, both men agreed on.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

To listen to the dual New Year’s addresses of Prime Minister Dean Barrow and Leader of the Opposition John Briceño – stop us if you’ve heard this before – one would feel like we are living in two Belizes. The Prime Minister cited increased exports, a rebounding agriculture industry, a steady inflation rate and falling unemployment. But the Opposition Leader asks, has the standard of living really improved?

 

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“2017 was certainly an improvement over 2016, not least in the fact that the year just past saw a return to all-important GDP and economic growth. Exports were up an impressive thirteen percent in the first nine months, and a historically low year-over-year inflation rate, pegged at just one point two percent continued. The importance of this in preserving the purchasing power of the Belize dollar, helping to fight poverty and growing the middle class, cannot be overstated. We had a bumper sugar crop, increased our access to export markets in the non-traditional areas of chicken, grains, processed meat and even ice cream. And tourism continued its magnificent star turn as the highest flyer of all. Indeed, as at the end of November 2017, overnight tourism had increased by nine-point-five percent over the same period for 2016. And cruise calls went up by three-point-seven percent, netting both an overall increase and, for the second year running, topping the one million visitor mark.”

 

John Briceño

John Briceño, Leader of the Opposition

“I think it would be fair to say that 2017 was not a good year for Belize. We saw so much go wrong: our economy grew by only half a percent. That means that the better year for our productive sector that we wished for did not happen. Overall, our economy suffered major shocks, as our government had to pay out hundreds of millions in compensation because of bad decisions in a number of legal cases. What this means is that we start the New Year with the understanding that the Government, led by Prime Minister Barrow, has put the Belizean economy on the brink of crisis. As a result of their mismanagement, too many Belizeans who want to work still cannot find a good job.”

 

Both leaders had their chosen themes for the address. For the Prime Minister it was infrastructure, starting with his own personal experience while driving the Philip Goldson Highway between Belize City and the Haulover Bridge, which is now under reconstruction. There are too many projects listed for mention by the P.M., although he mentioned the coming second international airport on Ambergris Caye very briefly while the Opposition Leader referred to the allegations of fraud surrounding the development company I.A.A. But the Prime Minister preferred to speak about the forty million dollars confirmed for the Caracol Road by international lender OFID.

 

Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“We had thought we would need several partners to fund a project of this magnitude, which will greatly add to the overall tourism vision and open up the natural and environmental wonder of that entire area including Mountain Pine Ridge. We are very thankful that OFID has come through on its own. And we think the private sector will be especially excited at the potential now for attracting tens of millions of dollars in new investments for the construction and development of lodges, villas and properties in a section of the country currently still largely untapped. There are, of course, also positive security implications for this Caracol Road project.”

 

For Opposition Leader Briceño, it was the upcoming municipal election, preceded by the party’s national convention at the end of January. He challenged Belizeans to make their decision in March based on which political party shares their ideals and visions.

 

John Briceño

“My friends, the upcoming election is about more than just streets and drains: it’s about people. It’s about you! It’s about which of our parties share your values, or care more about the issues that are of importance to you, like good jobs, safer communities, more transparency and better accountability. These are the core values for the P.U.P. That’s why our agenda is people-driven, and our message is about service. We want the opportunity to go to work for you, and for the betterment of our cities and towns countrywide. I have been in politics long enough to know when people are dissatisfied with their government. Today, Belizeans are very dissatisfied with their government, and you have every reason to be.”

 

So whose 2018 will be happy? The next three hundred and sixty-plus days will tell the story. Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

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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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