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Aug 27, 1999

P.M. reflects on first year in office

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On the morning of August twenty-seventh, 1998 thousands of Belizeans headed to the polls to vote. Many people wanted a change, but no one could have predicted the People’s United Party’s margin of victory of twenty-six to three seats. This sweep represented a rejection of the previous administration and placed an awesome burden on the shoulders of the new government. Earlier this week News Five sat down with Prime Minister Said Musa at his Belize City office while dozens of citizens waited outside for their chance to speak with the man who has been charged, in his words with “transforming Belize”. We asked him how he felt the day after the General Elections, how he feels about the progress of his government so far and the work that lies ahead.

Said Musa, Prime Minister

“What was in my mind, the daunting challenge ahead and the realization that expectations were very high and as a result this would put a tremendous pressure on myself as the new Prime Minister and indeed the entire government to deliver and to deliver in a very decisive way on the promises we had made.”

The Economy

Said Musa

“Clearly on the economic front, I feel very happy that we were able to reverse the decline, to stop the stagnation and to get things moving again in the sense of restoring confidence. I think this is the biggest problem that Belize is facing: a crisis of confidence. As you will recall at that time the IMF had predicted that if the present trend had continued that we would have been facing very serious economic problems with a possible devaluation of the dollar, tremendous pressure on the foreign exchange, credits were very high, liquidity were very poor; there was not an access to credit. Things were just stagnant and not moving.

I would say one of our encouraging developments has certainly been that we have turned that around, reversed that decline and the economy is once again beginning to hum, beginning to move. Clearly not as fast as many of us, as all of us would want it to move but at least things are moving; we are seeing growth.”

Housing and Education

Said Musa

“I would say that a lot has been put in place in the sense that we’ve got the housing construction going which is a major undertaking that we undertook to build ten thousand homes in this five-year period. And now we have that in place. We have been able to secure a hundred million dollars line of credit from Taiwan, twenty million dollars already received this year and twenty million every year for the next four years. So that is moving.

We have the Cuban technology in place with the Housing Department; the Development Finance Corporation, the building societies. So that is definitely on the move and I am sure we’ll be able to meet target.

In terms of the public sector, I think people still expect better services from the Public Sector and we still have to work at that, in terms of providing a more quality service to the Belizean people.

In education I would say we have begun to make some major strides. Already sixty new classrooms have already been built. The Minister has been able, with his officials, to tackle the truancy problem and we see already five hundred, or is it eight hundred kids that would otherwise not be in school will now be in the school system. We are now expanding opportunities for the high school system like introducing the shift system at two of our high schools.

We’re expanding tertiary education. We’re moving from a five percent trained tertiary level to fifteen percent in this five-year period. It’s a very ambitious goal. These are the kinds of things that really give me a great deal of comfort and satisfaction.”

Public Sector Reform

Said Musa

“From policy making to execution is not as easy as some people think in the sense that it’s a great challenge that we’re facing. That certainly has been one of my disappointments. Things are not moving as fast as I would want things to move in the public sector.

We have to do a lot of retraining in the public sector. We have to do a lot of motivational work. A sense of urgency is lacking, a sense of total commitment to providing quality service to people and also a lack of initiative. This is something that I believe has been developing over the years, where many people want the Minister to decide everything or the Prime Minister. And the bureaucrats from the highest senior level to the lowest wait instructions or even have to be prodded in order to take a decision. That clearly is one of the areas that I believe we will have to work on: build up their confidence that they can make decisions without feeling insecure about it.”

Crime

Said Musa

“In terms of dealing with the rapes, the child abuse, the indecent assaults and even the crimes of violence we have a long way to go. There is no doubt about it. We are determined to tackle it, to fight crime and even the root causes of crime. Because this is not something that we can have the biggest police force and have the Belize Defense Force join in and that is still not going to solve the crime problem. The crime problem will only be solved and reduced significantly once we come to terms with tackling the serious social problems facing Belize.

Community policing is important and community involvement and this is where I think we’ll have a problem. The police have still not been able to win that confidence and support from the community. We need to examine the reasons for this. Is it a question of lack of leadership? And I’m not talking about ministerial leadership. Or is it a question that the police have not been able to work with the community, that the community does not trust the police? You hear for instance that people would come to me even as Prime Minister and say I know of so and so happening but I am scared of going to the police because one of those police might turn around and report me. When you have that kind of crisis on your hands or lack of confidence, you have a problem and you have to get over that.”

Future

Said Musa

“When you examine what we have been able to accomplish in the last twelve months as we approach now the anniversary of our coming to office, I would say, being very objective about it and I’m being very dispassionate here, that a lot has been accomplished. The whole team has been working very hard, we have been pushing very hard.

When you look at what we have done in terms of political reform, appointing the Ombudsman, appointing the Contractor General, getting the housing construction going, dealing with the tax situation, reducing taxes and yet maintaining the economy going with a healthy foreign exchange situation, a private sector that’s eager and ready to work with the government and investment. We have a lot of people now talking about major investments in tourism. Tourism is up. I mean there are far more arrivals coming in now, whether it be in the cruise ship area or actual arrivals at the International Airport. So clearly there’s a bright future ahead for tourism, eco-tourism.

There’s also a bright future for new industries that people now see Belize as ideally poised for. Whether it be in electronic data processing or whether it be in the services sector generally or whether it be in finding new products for the export market, whether it be cocoa yams. There’s a new market for that in Florida and we have a big project going on that people don’t know about in the More Tomorrow area in the Cayo District.

With the buy-out of the citrus industry and the consolidation of the two plants, and we have more effective management, more cost effectiveness, and I believe with new funds coming in from the European Union to help our small farmers in the citrus industry, citrus has a tremendous future.

I also feel that same way about shrimp farming. We have doubled the production of shrimps and I am told that in a matter of two to three years shrimp farming or aquaculture could well be the biggest industry in Belize.

So a lot has been happening and we have to now seize on this excitement and push things forward for even greater achievements in the coming year.”

The Government will present a formal first year report to the nation on September sixteenth.


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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