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Nov 17, 2006

Talk on oil, big loans dominate House Meeting

Story PictureThe House of Representatives met in the National Assembly in Belmopan today and as News Five’s Janelle Chanona reports, while the debate wasn’t long, words from both sides of the aisle were pointed.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
Less than a minute into today?s sitting of the House of Representatives, Leader of the Opposition Dean Barrow came out swinging against the proposed income tax rate for the oil industry.

Dean Barrow, Leader of the Opposition
?We assumed the good faith of the government, we assumed that since these oil revenues potentially would provide the chance of a lifetime that government was in no way attempting to play fast and loose when it told us that on the basis of all the data, on the basis on the expert advice, on the basis of all the circumstances, this forty percent was the best that we could hope to do.?

This morning Barrow and the United Democratic Party back pedalled from support of the forty percent tax, citing ?excessive profits? by Belize Natural Energy.

Dean Barrow
?Investors in B.N.E. who got in on the ground floor can expect now a return of twenty dollars for every dollar that they put in. Now I know my math is poor, but does that not amount to something like a two thousand percent return. We are a government in waiting. We cannot afford to be irresponsible, we have to recognize that fair is fair and that there has to be a degree of fairness even with respect or contractually and morally with respect to B.N.E. And we serve notice that we reserve our right to use the sovereign powers of the legislature to get the best possible deal for this country.?

Said Musa, Prime Minister
?We are still convinced that this particular rate of tax is fair and reasonable to allow the industry to grow and also to give the Belizean people a just return on this industry. That is why we are adopting the amendments as proposed by the Senate together with their amendments which include that the tax most be paid in U.S. currency since most of the oil while be sold abroad and will be earning foreign exchange, and secondly that the tax be payable as from the first of January 2006 in other words retroactively. The Leader of the Opposition is exposing the fact that he is suffering from serious pressures in his own party. The extremists in his party have taken over and he is no longer leading his party. This is what is happening. This is exactly what is happening. He has buckled under pressure from the extremists in his own party and that is why he has come here today with this self-righteous statement in other words to cover his ground and say that a future government may change the rate of tax. Of course, any future government can do that he isn?t saying anything new, all he is trying to do is cover his derriere from the pressures he has been getting in his own party, so Madam Speaker I move that we adopt the Senate amendments, thank you very much.?

Regarding questions about oil revenues to the Government, Prime Minister Musa maintained that Belmopan?s big payday will come in December.

Said Musa
?Revenue received to date from the local oil industry amounted to U.S. three million eighty-eight thousand seven hundred and eighty five dollars or Belize six million one hundred seventy-seven thousand five hundred and seventy dollars. Production sharing revenue and income tax, which will be paid separately at the end of the year in accordance with the provisions of the production sharing agreement and the income and business tax as amended as we just passed this morning. That will be collected, as I said, by the end of the year. In addition, government expects in the near future to receive revenues from its working interest in Belize Natural Energy once the agreement between B.N.E. and the government has been fully finalized.?

The Musa administration says with technical support from the Commonwealth Secretariat draft legislation to establish and manage the Petroleum Revenue Fund will be ready early in the new year.

But Belmopan isn?t counting on oil monies to manage priority one: the burgeoning public debt. Today the Prime Minister put forward a motion to assume a twenty-five million dollar concessionary loan from the Inter-American Development Bank and hinted that a similar facility is also coming from the Caribbean Development Bank.

Said Musa
?This I.D.B. concessionary credit is a crucial component of our overall debt restructuring exercise. The dialogue with our private sector international creditors continues following our government?s announcement on August second, 2006, that we would seek new terms for that stock of debt. During these two years of adjustment our government with the support of the Belizean people has shown our unquestionable willingness to get our financial house in order. During this period we have also benefited from the support from some bi-lateral partners such as the Republic of China on Taiwan and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, in our consultations with our commercial creditors we have highlighted the painful contributions that the people and government of Belize have already made. Those contributions of our bi-lateral partners are now dis-proposed financing from the official sector. This P.B.L. from the I.D.B. in addition Madam Speaker we expect that the Caribbean Development Bank C.D.B. will also endorse our adjustment programme with a similar P.B.L. in the next several weeks.?

Patrick Faber, Collet Area Representative
?This country is in a financial mess. We are in a position now where everybody knows that we are just on the border of a sovereign default of our debt. And to put it in simple terms we have to be borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.?

Dean Barrow
?And why are we in this kind of a crisis that requires this sort of measures because of the serial corruption, mismanagement, waste on part of the People?s United Party Government that is what has put us where we are. So for them to suggest that this is some sort of a gift from the I.D.B. merely because it is a concessionary loan again is a form of gross misrepresentation. It is a policy based loan, he talk also to talk to help with the home grown adjustment process there is nothing home grown about it. What they are doing in terms of the painful adjustments which we the citizens have to suffer is imposed on them from them abroad and this very policy based loan is proof positive of that imposition. Look at the recital where it is the intention of Government of Belize to apply such financial assistance to support certain policy based actions which are forced on them by the multi-lateral financial institutions to be taken to the implementation of its reform agenda including the improvement of Belize macro.?

Said Musa
?Member will try to project to the world that he is reading from a document then he should read what the document says instead of injecting words.?

Dean Barrow
?Madam Speaker, when you are quoting you say quotation mark, I am reading and I am taking the liberty and exercising my right to put in my editorial comments that is why I am speaking and not you. Man if you had any sense at all you would have realized that.?

Said Musa
?Everything that they do in their propaganda in the way they project Belize abroad is to bring the good image of Belize. So Madam Speaker when all is said and done the truth of the matter is as I understand on the other side is that they are supporting the motion so I move that we move ahead. Thank you.?

Today Minister of Public Utilities Ralph Fonseca addressed the issue of Voice over Internet Protocol. Fonseca dodged the issue of the legitimacy of a letter allegedly written to Belize Telecommunications Limited on proposed guidelines, but he did say what?s planned for the future.

Ralph Fonseca, Minister of Public Utilities
?The P.U.C. has informed us that they will circulate questionnaires to stakeholders and end-users for evaluation of not only VoIP but also E.O.I.P., everything over internet protocol and will hold another public forum by December 2007 as promised. Regulations will be formulated by the P.U.C. no later than June 2008 once the bottle necks are removed and a level playing field is established. The government is well aware of the reality of VoIP and wants all Belizeans to have access at the best price with the highest quality but in a responsible way and within an equitable and sustainable framework.?

Reporting for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.

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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