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Aug 18, 2004

7 return, 3 added to new cabinet

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There’s a new cabinet tonight and while we had to wait a whole day to get it, here’s the Prime Minister in a speech that was embargoed until seven P.M.

Statement to the Nation by Prime Minister, Hon. Said Musa

My fellow Belizeans,

A year and a half ago, in March 2003, Belizeans, in an overwhelming show of confidence, entrusted the management of the affairs of this country to the People’s United Party. I was given the honour, and the task of leading our government, and it is a responsibility that I intend to fulfil with vigour and with confidence, relying on the support of you, my fellow citizens.

Confidence is critical. No nation, no people can today achieve security and prosperity in the present global climate of general instability, without the will and strength to ensure that we respond in a rational and reasoned manner to the challenges that we are faced with.

In times like these faith and trust are essential. In what do I trust?

I trust in an almighty and an eternal God who protects and preserves our beloved country. I also trust in the confidence placed in my leadership by Belizeans, and even more fundamentally, I trust that our nation is one, firmly founded in a democracy that our fathers- and mothers-struggled to give us as a proud heritage.

I have confidence that our nation is rich in those essential resources-human, economic and spiritual-as well as in national and international support, to overcome any difficulty that faces us whether territorial, economic or social, external or internal.

The true test of any democratic and independent nation is the way that the leadership chosen by the people in a free and fair election deals with issues of democratic governance when divergence and differing points of view manifest themselves. Any leader steeped in the principles of compromise and consultation need never fear dissent B it is only natural. It is human, healthy and necessary.

Public debate and freedom of expression is the lifeblood of any democracy. Its vigour demonstrates that our democracy is alive and well. False prophets of doom and gloom would have you believe that a leader should be frightened of contrary opinions and of making tough choices. In their hysteria, they want to bring about a climate that leads to the abandonment of the charge placed on the government by its people. What do these opportunists want you to fear? And why? Put in this very position, what would these cynics do? Choke dissent? Muzzle opinion?

I will never accept that this should be so. I am not made in such an image and likeness.

I have listened to the call of the people. I have considered all opinions carefully with all due respect and consideration for the rights, duties and responsibilities of those involved. My task is simple B it is this, and this alone B to do that which is in the best interest of the Belizean people and for the nation.

What I consider to be best is that we move ahead with the task you entrusted to us last year B to create economic opportunity, to generate jobs and to provide a dignified standard of living for all Belizeans. It is the duty of a responsible government to do everything in its power to eliminate poverty and to combat the social ills that plague our society.

Our nation is facing serious challenges. We must embrace the tasks at hand and meet these challenges with confidence. As a young developing country, we have been buffeted by many storms that have brought devastation to our economic and social infrastructure in recent years. We held the course. We did not weaken.

Yes, we had to borrow. Yes, we were forced to incur additional debt in order to secure funding to provide for our people in their time of great need. In such a time, we had to provide shelter for those who had lost homes. We had to attract investment capital in order to protect jobs generated by the commercial sector and agro-industry. We had to rebuild streets, roads and bridges, hospitals and health centres, schools and centres of learning. How could we not?

Today we face new challenges such as the steady escalation in world oil prices, the reduction of world market prices for our exports and the serious threat of removal of preferential access for our traditional products, in particular bananas and sugar. Despite these circumstances the national economy continues to grow, jobs are being created and our social investment in education, housing, health and water continues in fulfilment of our manifesto promise to the people.

Now we must consolidate our achievements. Whatever changes have to be made to chart the way ahead will be made. The stability of the Belizean dollar has never been in question. The international financial institutions have confirmed the solidity of our currency just recently.

My Government recognizes and appreciates the need for good governance, as well as for broader consultation, accountability and full transparency in the management and oversight of the work of the government particularly in regard to the adoption and implementation of fiscal and monetary policies. We will do that which is required to maintain full confidence in Social Security funds and public finances.

We have heard and will heed the call of our social partners who are willing to work with us on an agenda of action aimed at growing the economy and creating a more just society.

On August 12th, I outlined to the nation a nine-point plan of action, which I am committed to achieving before the end of fiscal year 2004/2005 on March 31st, 2005.

Over the next six months, my Government will work with renewed focus and a sense of urgency to restore any erosion of public trust, which may have resulted from the events of the last few weeks. I will hold public consultations with the Belizean people in each district in the weeks and months ahead and continue the dialogue with social and economic partners at home and abroad.

In recognition of the critical importance of the challenges that our nation must face, I will assume full responsibility for the Ministry of Finance as a pledge of my personal commitment to meet and deal with them effectively. Minister Ralph Fonseca will be functionally responsible to pursue the bond issue with the authority of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

I will take on the tasks ahead with your support. I maintain full confidence in all those whom I have appointed as ministers to serve in my new cabinet. Together, we will work as a team to advance our agenda of growth and development, which since 1998, has brought tremendous advancement to our beloved Belize.

The Cabinet will comprise the following:

Hon. Said Musa: Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Defence and the Public Service

Hon. John BriceƱo: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance

Hon. Vildo Marin: Minister of Health and the Environment

Hon. Ralph Fonseca: Minister of Home Affairs and Investment

Hon. Assad Shoman: Minister of National Development

Hon. Mark Espat: Minister of Tourism, Culture and Enterprise

Hon. Francis Fonseca: Attorney General and Minister of Education and Culture, Youth and Sports

Hon. Godfrey Smith: Minister of Foreign Affairs and NEMO

Hon. Jose Coye: Minister of Works

Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance

Hon. Cordel Hyde: Minister of Housing and Transport

Hon. Marcial Mes: Minister of Local Government and Labour

Hon. Servulo Baeza: Minister of Agriculture

Hon. Sylvia Flores: Minister of Human Development

Hon. Eamon Courtenay: Minister of Foreign Trade

Hon. Mike Espat: Minister of Fisheries, Cooperatives and Commerce and Industry

Hon. Ainslie Leslie: Minister of Energy and Communications


Hon: Dave Burgos: Minister of State in the Ministry of Works

Hon. Ismael Cal: Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture

Hon. Rodwell Ferguson: Minister of State in the Ministry of National Development

I thank you, the people of Belize, for the patience and forbearance that you have shown during this period of uncertainty. Now that this period has ended, I give you my assurance that the cabinet that I have named will work together with me to pursue the one goal that unites us all B to safeguard and promote the well-being of all Belizeans as we move forward, resolutely and confidently to build a better Belize.

So let’s recap.

Ralph Fonseca will remain in cabinet as Minister of Home Affairs and Investment and have responsibility for the bond issue, but the Prime Minister Said Musa is the new Minister of Finance, Defence and Public Service. Flanking him in that capacity will be Minister of Works Joe Coye and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources John Briceno as Ministers of State in the Ministry of Finance. Vildo Marin is still Minister of Health but now adds Environment to his portfolio. Ambassador Assad Shoman has been reappointed as a Minister in a Musa cabinet, this time as Minister of National Development. Minister Mark Espat keeps Tourism and Culture, but is now head of a new Ministry called “Enterprise.” Godfrey Smith lost Defence but keeps Foreign Affairs and adds NEMO to the package. The untouched are Cordel Hyde with Housing and Transport; Marcial Mes as Minister of Local Government and Labour; Servulo Baeza with Agriculture, Sylvia Flores in Human Development. Senator Eamon Courtenay remains Minister of Foreign Investment but has been removed as the Attorney General, a post which will now be undertaken by Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, Francis Fonseca. Down south, Mike Espat will have Fisheries, Cooperatives, Commerce and Industry to fill his plate while in the west, Ainslie Leslie has been promoted from a Minister of State to Minister of Energy and Communications. In that department, Dave Burgos rises from the backbenchers to assume state in Works. Rodwell Ferguson moves from Home Affairs to the National Development Ministry, but Ismael Cal keeps Agriculture.

That’s eighteen men and one woman in the new Musa cabinet.

Without a doubt, the last twenty-four hours have been some of the most politically tumultuous in our young democracy’s history. On the heels of a mass resignation in which seven members of his cabinet walked out, Prime Minister Said Musa has spent most of this week locked in negotiations in an attempt to save face and have enough of a credible administration to move forward with the business of government. Following their resignations, intense deliberations between the two camps started in the early afternoon on Tuesday and went late into the night before the talks broke down in deadlock just before midnight. But by six am today, the phones were ringing again and the dialogue continued, though this time, not in any government building, but in the private residence of Senator Eamon Courtenay on the Northern Highway. By noon, information leaked to the press was that the proposal on the table was that the seven ex-ministers had retained their respective ministries but that the Prime Minister would assume the Minister of Finance portfolio. In this scenario, two of the seven Samurai would act as ministers of state as part of the new financial management structure. And although initial indicators were confident that agreement had been reached, by three p.m., that deal had gone the dogs. We understand that the sticking point was objections from the Musa corner over which two in the gang of seven would be appointed as the Ministers of State. With the Prime Minister’s statement to the nation set for approximately four pm, it appeared that Musa had resorted to plan B. According to Press Secretary Ernesto Vasquez, the Prime Minister had taken a power nap and was working on his address, though its contents remained strictly guarded. But then a burst of optimism emerged in the dying afternoon sun as an eleventh hour proposal landed on the table. And in the midst of the information black out, Belizeans at home and abroad listened intently to their radios for word on the fate of the seven. And then it was all over. One minute after six tonight, the Prime Minister recorded his official statement to the people of Belize, outlining the new structure of his cabinet.

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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