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Jul 1, 2008

Government reveals its blueprint to combat spiraling cost of living

Story PictureGovernment this morning presented its plan to combat the rising costs in basic food items which are hitting Belizeans where it hurts the most … in the pockets. But as News Five’s Kendra Griffith reports, the work of the Basic Commodities Commission is ambitious and the real test will come in the actual monitoring of food prices.

John Sadivar, Member, Std. Committee on Basic Commodities
“The standing committee’s main function is to monitor the prices of certain basic commodities and intervene where necessary to prevent, or at least minimise price increases in these very basic commodities.”

Kendra Griffith, Reporting
This morning the recently established Standing Committee on Basic Commodities held a press conference to lay out government’s solution to the increasing rise in food prices.

John Saldivar
“Rising prices are not the fault of government. However, while we know that the crisis is not of our making, we cannot shy away from the fact that it is the government of Belize’s duty and obligation to use whatever is reasonably within our means to protect our people from this global scourge.”

Minister of Governance Improvement and Committee Member, John Saldivar, named three factors for the skyrocketing prices, particularly the continued increase in the cost of diesel.

John Saldivar
“The world does not expect to see a reversal of these trends in the near future. We can therefore conclude that the days of cheap food that has been enjoyed throughout the world are for all intents and purposes over. So what are we doing about the crisis?”

Government’s primary response to that question is to bolster the offices which deal with price control and basic supplies. As such acting director of the Belize Bureau of Standards, Jose Trejo, has now been named Comptroller of Supplies. In addition, G.O.B. has also given two new vehicles to the newly merged Business Bureau of Standards and the Supplies Control Unit, which has delegated five officers to enforce price control regulations.

John Saldivar
“I think as of last week we’ve had these new bodies in place, so we would want for the public to give us time for them to start getting their activities done and getting their program underway.”

Jose Trejo, Comptroller of Supplies
“The activities are ongoing right now in terms of our inspections and where a grocer violates the price control he stands a high probability of being penalized. It’s the law, the law is the law. In terms of the price control, it’s two thousand dollars and two hundred dollars for any subsequent day that the price is above the control price.”

And while they sanction unscrupulous businesspersons, Saldivar says they also intend to reward “honest grocers”.

John Saldivar
“We are going to ask participating grocers to be a part of this Honest Grocer Programme and in exchange we are going to be advertising their business through public radio to let people know that this is where you can go and the scales are going to be correct, the poundage is going to be correct, the price is going to be correct, the quality and standards are going to be correct, and there will be a benefit in terms of free advertising for those grocers who wish to participate in that.”

Other measures include strengthening the policy unit in the Ministry of Agriculture with the acquisition of two economists, and establishing a National Commodities Commission.

John Saldivar
“The chairpersons of that commission will be Senator Godwin Hulse and Mister Alan Slusher.”

Godwin Hulse, Co-Chair, National Commodities Comm.
“We are at this point just in the throes of working out the terms of reference. Cabinet decided to come up with this, suggesting that on the private sector side I be the Co-Chair and the public sector side Mister Alan Slusher who is not yet in the country and there are some private sector members which would include rice producers, Grain Growers Association, beans producers and other people. On the public sector side there are going to people representing the various ministries and the ambassador for foreign trade, the honourable Bert Tucker. So the focus should not be how we could feed we. We are not three hundred million people; we are three hundred thousand people and it’s never going to enhance agriculture if we feed us only there’s not enough consumers. So we have to look out and then set up the mechanism where there is always going to be food for Belizeans as part of that overall larger production. In that area there is a requirement for loans at special rates, removal of duties and a whole host of things to get the productive section op and going and I think that is the broader context in which the commission will be looking.”

Tonight, producers, consumers, and distributors are hoping that by working hand in hand with government, they will all see some reprieve.

Kevin Herrera, General Mgr., Belize Chamber of Commerce
“Everybody is feeling the pinch. That is the problem. Price controls and that type of thing is never a simple process. In fact, I think most people hate it. But I think it’s something that we have to deal with, but I believe that government has an obligation to look very closely at the real cost of produce and those operating within the system and not be setting these price controls arbitrary. And that has been the cry of the producers that I have spoken to.”

Jacob Neufeld, Director, Circle R Rice
“We feel a little discouraged, but in reality we have to face the facts. I think we need to work along with them but like I said before, we feel a little bit discouraged but I think we can iron things out and we can work along, work ahead.”

Today Saldivar hinted that some more relief will come when government presents its budget later this month. Kendra Griffith reporting for News Five.

The standing committee says it intends to closely monitor the price of rice, beans, flour, bread, poultry, butane, cooking oil and corn and intends to continue negotiating with the producers of those products.

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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