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Feb 2, 2005

Musa defends Government?s actions

Story PictureSince the passage of the now infamous budget and its equally infamous reaction, Prime Minister Said Musa has left Government’s public relations in the hands of a small corps of cabinet ministers, primarily Godfrey Smith, Jose Coye and Francis Fonseca. But today the P.M., following a public appearance in Independence Village, sat down for a give and take with the press. The tone of both the questions and answers reflected the strains being felt by all facets of a society that, at this writing, can still engage in civil debate.

Prime Minister Said Musa
?Well I find it very strange that the unions all along have been saying that they want to dialogue with the Government. The business people said it and they have been dialoguing with the Government; the business side that is. We have remained fully engaged with the union leaders, but for now for them to set deadlines and threats of other actions, I find this very unacceptable. It leads me to believe that the agenda is other than what some have been saying it was. I thought they wanted a solution; a resolution to the problems regarding salary increase, regarding taxation and so on. But it seems that there are some in the leadership of the unions and one of them made it very clear last night that he has a totally different agenda that he doesn?t want a solution; he wants the removal of the Government. Now that is an entirely different matter. We have to treat that as dealing now with the politics of destruction and we can?t afford to go down that road. The Government clearly will not be provoked into going down that road. We want to remain fully engaged with all the social partners and that is still our position. We will be meeting later this afternoon as a team on the Government side and we will examine all the options and what possible way we can make progress to bring an early resolution to the present impasse.?

Jules Vasquez, Channel 7
?Mr. Prime Minister you reject Mr. Reneau?s statement assertion that it’s either resign, reform or now–as he sees it–be removed. You said in your speech earlier that you continue to enjoy a healthy mandate. You think if elections were called right now or within mandatory time that you would win another mandate??

Said Musa
?I don?t know. Elections are never things that I have predicted as you know, in the past. The point I was making is that we either subscribe to the constitution and uphold the rule of law and yes, people have every right to protest the decisions of Government that they don?t like. But when they are telling us now–or certainly he is–that he seems to presume to think that he has the right to call on the people to remove the Government. What he is in effect saying he is calling for a violent overthrow of a constitutionally elected Government. I don?t believe Belizeans will tolerate that or allow that to happen in our country.?

Stewart Krohn
?Prime Minister, in your remarks this morning in Independence, you asked the striking teachers and other union members who they were thinking about when they took their actions. I would like to ask you, who you were thinking about when you and your Government facilitated Glenn Godfrey in his looting of the treasury? What you and your Government were thinking about when you bankrupted DFC, when you put the Social Security Board at risk and when your Government controlled banks made large loans to political cronies? Who were you thinking about then??

Said Musa
?I have never professed to be a saint Stewart. But I can say this: that in all the actions that certainly I have conducted in public office, I have always thought of the people when I make my decisions. I think of the welfare of the majority of the Belizean people. In terms of encouraging investment into our country, whether it be by Belizeans or foreigners, clearly you are engaged in the business of risk taking. And yes, with hindsight, some of these investments have turned out bad. I don?t want to go down that road. We?ve been talking about that for months now. What I want to say is that all these allegations are being made about mismanagement and corruption and all these things. Where is the evidence? Don?t we have a system in place in our country to deal with any illegality, any wrongdoing, any corruption? Why are we not prepared to follow that process? Why isn?t the constitutional opposition prepared to examine the accounts of the Government in the public accounts committee? Why isn?t anyone prepared to provide evidence to the director of public prosecution whether it be against the Prime Minister or a Minister of Government or a chief executive officer or whoever? Provide evidence and let the process work; investigation, prosecution if there is evidence, conviction if the jury so finds. But we have to have a process. We can?t have a lynch mob dictating how we deal with alleged mismanagement or alleged corruption. That is going down a very slippery road.?

Stewart Krohn
?Prime Minister are you really trying to tell us that the bankrupting of the DFC, that mess the telecommunications industry and the Government finances are in is something that is up for debate??

Said Musa
?No, I?m not saying that.?

Stewart Krohn
?Every objective assessment comes to the conclusion that the financial affairs of the nation under your stewardship have been grossly mismanaged. Are you denying that??

Said Musa
?I am denying that because I think you have been exaggerating it consistently on your Channel 5 station. You have deliberately set out to paint the picture far worse than it is and what I am saying is let us look at the facts. You give the impression as if though the DFC is a total collapse. That is not so and the audit will show that is not so. The Development Finance Corporation we believe can be and will be restructured and the thousands of people who have benefited from DFC, you never give credit for that, whether it be in home building, low-income people who have benefited or whether it be students who have benefited from loans, whether it be the hundreds of farmers who have benefited in loans from the DFC. You try to give the impression that this bankruptcy that the Government set out to just squander the money and give it away to cronies. That is not so.?

?The Government is committed to go in after these people who owe money. They must pay what they owe even if it means going against their personal guarantee. We have to recover the money for the Belizean taxpayers; for the Belizean people. We are not suggesting that that money has gone through the window and not to ever be recovered. Perhaps we will never recover all of it but to the extent that we can recover based on the competence of the people involved. We will go after them.?

?I am beginning to think, based on what I said earlier, that it’s difficult to say the reason being that there are a few union leaders that I am convinced now that have a totally different agenda. It?s a political agenda. They want power without subjecting themselves to the people in an election. They want it by force, they want it by violence and if that is the state of play we will never have a solution if these people get their way. However, I am not convinced that they can command the support of the majority of the Teachers Union or the other unions for that matter. That is why we will remain engaged. We may have to change the mechanism of the negotiation. Perhaps its time and we will decide on that later. For the Government to step back and to look to a few independent people and say you all, look at this whole thing, examine everything you want and people that both sides can trust if you like, and you tell us what is a quick solution. That might be one way forward and we are prepared to look at that seriously. I am prepared to do everything possible to bring an early end to this problem because I take no pleasure in telling the Belizean people that we want to increase taxes; that we have increased taxes. I take no pleasure in telling the teachers please be understanding that we can?t pay everything April first, but we will do it in two years by April next year. Please, if I could accomplish both things right now, remove the taxes and pay the teachers, that?s the easiest solution isn?t it? But will that satisfy those who have a totally different agenda; those who are convinced that this is their opportunity to bring down the Government by force??

?Frankly, I don?t think the media has been fair to the Government in getting the other side across, which is our message that we?ve remained flexible in all this. All I hear on certain television stations or station is the union side, whipping it up and creating a frenzy. I do not hear the other side; the Government side, the efforts and the hours spent by our ministers in trying to accommodate, to compromise in being flexible in addressing every single concern raised by the Teachers Union, the PSU and others. But my message is that we have to settle it. We have to settle it for the good of Belize. That is my message. I will do everything in my power to bring about that settlement. And I keep an open and flexible mind about this.?

Stewart Krohn
?Prime Minister what if this dispute is not really about wages, not really about taxes, not really about reform? What if the bulk of this civic action is really about punishing Said Musa for what is perceived to be very, very bad governance? If that is really what has people bothered so badly what is the solution to the problem?

Said Musa
?If that is what has people riled up and to be honest with myself, I look myself in the mirror everyday, I don?t believe that is what has the people riled up. If I really felt that, maybe I would even consider resigning Stewart if I felt that were the case and if I felt if there was any guilt on my part in terms of any allegation of wrongdoing. I?d be the first to resign. That would be my position.?

The occasion for the Prime Minister’s visit to Independence was the official launching of the HANDS Foundation, an effort led by Stann Creek West area rep Rodwell Ferguson to improve the lives of his constituency’s children. Also on hand were Ministers Godfrey Smith, Francis Fonseca and Sylvia Flores.

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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