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Mar 25, 2019

Budget Debate Kicks Off to Little Fanfare

Day-one of the budget debate got underway this morning and will continue on Tuesday, Government has a week before the end of the financial year on March thirtieth and the start of the new on April first.  The estimates were presented on March fifteenth by Prime Minister Dean Barrow, giving the other side of the House under two weeks to get the debate going.  The hallmark of the budget is massive spending on infrastructure.  Leader of the Opposition, John Briceño was first to make his presentation. But Briceño was not impressed with the hundreds of millions for roads and bridges.  Calling it a Kick Back Budget, Briceño says that the U.D.P.’s economic policy is simply to spend millions for concrete, so they can hustle millions in kickbacks. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The budget debate preceding the beginning of a new financial year on April first, is off to a lackluster start since the boisterous supporters in the gallery, heckling and mocking political opponents from their seats are gone.  In their place is a detail of police officers keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings.  It’s a breath of fresh air that brings with it a sense of maturity to the arguments being put forward on both sides of the floor.  Kicking off the first round of an open, two-day discussion on the 2019 fiscal plan is Leader of the Opposition John Briceno.  He likens the administration of the ruling party to a suffering that has caused Belizeans a great deal of pain.


John Briceño

John Briceño, Leader of the Opposition

“So terrible is this affliction that the U.D.P.’s economic policy is simply to spend millions on concrete so they can hustle millions in kickbacks.  This budget then is designed solely to mislead and mask the common corrupt intent of this U.D.P. government and the harsh realities that the people of this country face every day.  Almost forty years after independence, our national priorities should be a nation where families can prosper; where every Belizean family can have a proper roof over their heads.  Where all our children can go to good schools and receive relevant, quality education and where our people can live healthy lifestyles which will see them content in their golden age.  Where our social and economic programs ensure that each year we lift thousands of Belizeans out of poverty and into prosperity.”


As it is presented, the budget for the upcoming fiscal calendar emphasizes continued infrastructure development.  That financial plan is chided as one which focuses more on physical structures, including roads, bridges and buildings, than it does on human development and addressing the ever-increasing cost of living.  Responding to the opposition’s criticism of the annual budget is Belmopan Area Representative John Briceño whose place in Cabinet is Minister of National Security.


John Saldivar

John Saldivar, Area Representative, Belmopan

“You don’t go questioning our figures, Leader of the Opposition and to say about inflation that this di go up and dat di go up and di other di go up.  I don’t know if he understands how you arrive at your inflation figure, but inflation is an average of prices and average means that some went up and others went down, but in the general scheme of things it was about 0.3%, so you can point to fuel going up, you can point to electricity going up.  But we can also point, as the prime minister did, to rice going down, to meat going down, to seafood going down, to cheese going down.  There were many items going down.  That’s how you arrive, that’s how you arrive at your inflation rate.”


In speaking to the present state of the economy, Briceño continued by stating that the financial affairs of the country remain stagnant, particularly where the primary sector is concerned.


John Briceño

“Now the primary sector, the mainstay of our mixed economic model, only accounts for ten percent of our national income.  Que desgracia!  The sad truth is that the economy is not really growing and these so-called investments in infrastructure which are all government-driven are no more than special vehicles for U.D.P. cronies to have access to taxpayers monies for kickbacks.  Ten days ago, the prime minister went to some lengths to try and make a comparison between P.U.P. borrowing and P.U.P. debt to U.D.P. borrowing and U.D.P. debt.”


That juxtaposition was met with harsh scrutiny and criticism by the People’s United Party; however, it was bolstered by Saldivar who proceeded to use the state of the oil industry as the example by which things are strikingly different.


John Saldivar

“What he fails to tell this nation, Madame Speaker, is that in their era 2008, oil production, oil production stood at over two hundred and thirty-six million.  So when he’s talking about what they did back in 2007/2008, oil production accounted for two hundred and thirty-six million.  Today, oil production is down to twenty-four million or so.  Is that some fault of the United Democratic Party?”


And since Briceño’s position has always been about improving the quality of life for the poorer class of Belizeans, he was sure to delve into that discussion


John Briceño

“We know that achieving pro-poor growth requires a lot more than what this government is doing with poverty alleviation.  We believe we can build upon the pro-poor initiatives by properly implementing the small pilot projects they have started.  I believe we can develop a strategy that can help the pro-poor to lift themselves out of poverty.  It has been done in Asia, in places like Taiwan.  Let us work with our international friends and learn from their focused resilience to turn things around.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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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