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Mar 19, 2020

The 2020 Budget Debate That Wasn’t, Thanks to COVID-19

In Belmopan this morning, the Leader of the Opposition John Briceño responded to the budget for the new financial year.  There was no debate since the threat of COVID-19 is affecting just about every sector, including the House of Representatives where the rule of social distancing is being observed.  The gallery was also devoid of supporters that normally attend the House proceedings. Briceño, who is a co-chair of the Oversight Committee on the novel coronavirus, pointed to government’s reckless spending, the high level of crime, poverty and the economic fallout economic. Here is News Five’s Isani Cayetano.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The calling off of the 2020 budget debate amid the looming coronavirus threat undermined what would have otherwise been a protracted exchange on both sides of the floor in the House of Representatives.  While a number of bills relating to measures being taken to address the approaching outbreak were passed, gone was the fiery back and forth among parliamentarians.  Sole presenter for the opposition was party leader John Briceño.


John Briceño

John Briceño, Leader of the Opposition

“In times of national crisis our response cannot be a P.U.P. or U.D.P. response.  It cannot be us against them or our side against those on the other side.  To appropriately deal with the onset of the coronavirus in our country, everyone must now come together the way we do when one of our national teams takes the field, it must be one effort for team Belize.  For sure we will only be able to negate the health, social, as well as the economic impacts that this crisis will bring about if we work as one people.  So I join in thanking all those partners for agreeing to participate in the COVID-19 National Oversight Committee.”


Following an acknowledgment of all those involved in the concerted, bipartisan effort to fight COVID-19, Briceño shifted his attention back to the General Revenue Appropriation Bill 2020.


John Briceño

“All of us were ready to make the case that after three terms in office, the current U.D.P. administration has accumulated a report card that would indicate that for sure over one billion dollars in revenues from oil and from Petrocaribe funds were recklessly squandered.  For sure, in twelve years our national debt has been doubled.  For sure, the last twelve years have been the most violent years in our nation’s history.  And for sure, the last twelve years have seen an alarming rise in poverty in Belize.  Madame Speaker, we on this side believe that a budget should be a vision for the future, that good budgets should be ambitious like our Belizean people are ambitious.”


Without supporters in the gallery cheering on the leader of the People’s United Party, or members on the other side of the floor jeering at every turn, the presentation admittedly fell flat, not so much for its content but more so for the lack of fanfare.


John Briceño

“As we deal with the healthcare crisis, we must at the same time address the dramatic shock to the Belizean economy.  In his budget speech, the prime minister explained that the region’s growth last year was twenty percent of IMF’s projections.  Last year, our economy performed eighty-six percent below our projections.  The preliminary growth rate is estimated at zero point three percent for 2019, compared to a projected two point one percent for the same year.  We are in the throes of a deepening recession, the facts are that the economy declined zero point eight percent in the second quarter, followed by a full fall of zero point four percent in the third quarter and an accelerated decline of two point eight percent in the last quarter of 2019.  These are not our figures, these are from the Statistical Institute of Belize.”


The economic outlook, notwithstanding the grim picture being painted by the opposition, does in fact appear to be dismal.  Under any other circumstance, however, that point of view would have been refuted.  Given the existing state of affairs, there was no response from government and the prime minister subsequently proceeded to wrap up what ultimately turned out to be a one-sided event.


Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“Madame Speaker, the Committee of Supply has considered the General Revenue Appropriation 2020/2021 Bill and passed it with amendment.  I know move the third reading of that bill and I want to express my sincere gratitude to the Leader of the Opposition and the members of that side of the house for attenuating the debate, actually for not having a debate so that we do not show the nation our claws when we have all agreed that this is a time during which we must be entirely united regarding the coronavirus plague.  So I put on record my sincere appreciation.”


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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