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Mar 14, 2001

Opposition attacks budget on all fronts

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It happens every year with the regularity of rice and beans for Sunday dinner or Jim Reeves on Love FM. This year’s debate of the budget presented on February twenty-third ran true to form: long and contentious. Needless to say, the plan that the government found so solidly full of promise was characterized by the opposition as a recipe for imminent disaster. At newstime the debate was heading into the night, but we managed to salvage some early highlights courtesy of the Press Office.

Dean Barrow, Opposition Leader

“The first of the doctored data produced by the Prime Minister is that Real Gross Domestic Product growth last year was eight percent. Madam Speaker, according to the January 2001 Economist Intelligence Unit report for last year, Real GDP growth for Belize, was in fact estimated at four percent. The Prime Minister says that his numbers are sourced from the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank. But Madam Speaker, those that follow these things have long since noted that there has been failure of any timely release of data, certainly by the Central Bank, that would have enabled, as has been the practice in the past, observers to track the figures and monitor government’s performance. It is Madam Speaker, on the back of this sort of huge credibility gap, that the Prime Minister pulled his eight percent GDP growth figure out of a hat.”

“We look forward to the IMF Article Four consultation, scheduled I believe for next month, when government will have to defend it’s figures and its numbers to flinty eyed professionals rather than to a Belizean public that it pleases them to think is gullible.”

Ralph Fonseca, Min. of Budget Planning

“As I understand it, what the Leader of the Opposition is saying to us today, is that he wants this government to do nothing. Do not lower taxes, do not build houses, no mortgage securitization, no privatisation. He wants this government Madam Speaker, to do nothing. But this government cannot do nothing, if we did nothing, this would be a UDP government. It is the UDP government that slowed down the train between 1993 and 1998. Those are Manuel Esquivel’s words, ‘We have to the slow down the economic train’ and he was backed up by the Leader of the Opposition. Just as well articulated at that time, well articulated incompetence is what it is. The People’s United Party government is not about doing nothing; it is about lowering taxes, it is about innovating, it is about attracting investments, it is about creating jobs, it is about creating a much better Belize.”

“The DFC for 2000 had over a million dollars of reported profits, and moved from being a sixty million dollar bank in 1998, to a two hundred and sixty million dollar bank in 2000, and now keeping the commercial banks on their toes, with six thousand, six hundred and one loans since September 1998, to end 2000 with two hundred and twenty-one million dollars invested in Belizeans. The Small Farmer’s and Business Bank is also changing Belize for the better with over ten million dollars in more than one thousand four hundred loans to the Belizean men, women and youth, who are now armed with capital to join and contribute to this vibrant economy. With one more domestic and four more international banks, banking saw good growth for increased competition, that can only benefit the economy and consumers from their services. Much efforts has also gone into strengthened financial supervision consultations, one an improved and long term monetary policy with a deliberate emphasis on more competition.”

Dean Barrow

“Privatisation should be done UDP style, as happened in the case of the transformation of BTA to BTL. That is, taking over all the international operations previously owned by Cable and Wireless, and reserving fifty-one percent of the new entity for Belizeans in order to safeguard the interests of Belizeans. This sale of assets that this government is engaging in, is a criminal deprivation of the people of this country of their patrimony. What is happening now Madam Speaker, is a total sellout to foreigners with the introduction of the profit motive as the sole and only bottom line. This means, number one: that government revenue is adversely impacted, since the sale of government shares in these utilities results in the elimination of government’s annual dividends.”

Ralph Fonseca

“Privatisation is not an option today. It is not an option for a government, nor is it an option for a people. The only way that developing countries like Belize can keep up with the rest of the world, is to privatise. Is to sell the assets that the private sector will get involved with, and use the proceeds from those assets to have the humble people grow. Pass the funds from these assets, which are only being managed by some executives, and is not really owned by the people, pass it on to the DFC’s, to the Small Farmer’s Bank, to the commercial banks, for them to lend on, so that the humble Belizean can move forward.”

Michael Finnegan, Area Rep. Mesopotamia

“After two and a half years of his government, wireman license gone up from ten dollars to a hundred dollars. Fisherman license gone up from two dollars to twenty-five dollars. Work permits gone up from five hundred dollars, to a whopping fifteen hundred dollars. School text books gone up, Social Security contributions gone up a whopping six hundred percent, and National Health Insurance Tax is yet to come.”

The afternoon was dominated by Mesopotamia representative Michael Finnegan’s marathon line by line dissection of the budget estimates.


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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