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Mar 22, 2006

Top G.O.B. technicians say budget process is legit

Story PictureThe Government’s Budget for the financial year beginning April first was presented last week … And over the course of tomorrow and Friday the Opposition will try its best to blow that document out of the water. But on the eve of the theatrics in Belmopan the press was today treated to a briefing by Government’s top civilian money managers … And according to them, whatever your political leanings, the budget process was a straight shot.

Dr. Carla Barnett, Financial Secretary, Min. of Finance
?If I tell you that my data is correct, you don?t have no reason to believe me because of what has happened historical. But I am telling you that we are operating in a different context, one in which those who look at our numbers are now saying we are on the same page.?

?What we are doing is taking in hand a situation that needed to be taken into hand. This was being said to Belize for a long time if you look at all the various reports. What we have done in this fiscal year is take it into hand. We decided how we would do it. If we had done it the way the I.M.F. and those institutions wanted it done, it may have looked different.?

?Yes there is a general consensus that we needed to slow down and so we agreed, we decided how we would do it. You talk with these institutions and tell them, this is what our plan is. But it is our plan, we put it together like this.?

Janelle Chanona
Today the technocrats had their say … and this morning Financial Secretary Carla Barnett and Governor of the Central Bank Sydney Campbell, threw their weight behind the budget of Prime Minister Said Musa and his government. Why? Because even though the politicians decide the policies, the crunching of the numbers was done without any political interference.

Dr. Carla Barnett
?The budget that?s before you is a budget that the technicians were fully involved with. Technicians don?t make decisions … whatever is in the budget is approved by Cabinet. Whatever went to the House went through a process of discussion with each line ministry, with each minister to work through that process. But we had a general framework that Cabinet had agreed that these are our priorities, we wanted to make sure that if we have money we put in these kinds of projects, we want to make sure that we keep our expenditure growth on the recurrent side within reasonable limits, we want to continue to improve on our data so that we don?t have fights with anybody about whether our data is correct anymore. So those are the things that we wanted to make sure were represented in this budget.?

Central Bank Governor Sydney Campbell, looking at the overall economic picture pointed out that with a small open economy, rising fuel costs hit Belize hard, driving up inflation, forcing Belmopan to forgo badly needed tax revenues in order to moderate rising pump prices. And while belt tightening by Government will slow economic growth to between two and three percent, the fundamentals of the private sector driven economy are sound.

Sydney Campbelll, Governor, Central Bank of Belize
?The Belizean economy as far as the performance of the real sector is concerned, is doing extremely well. That sector of the economy continues to grow, continues to perform and I am certain that what the government has said in its budget speech, it will continue to display the fiscal discipline necessary for us to have sustainable growth.?

But sustainable growth will require tight financial discipline, terms not usually associated with the Musa administration.

Janelle Chanona
?How do you go about staying with where you are projected? Last night I noticed revenues are down, expenditures are up. Given what our financial situation is, how do you, outside putting a stick over everybody?s head??

Carla Barnett
?Sometimes that?s what it is. (laughs) It?s not an easy process, I wouldn?t say it?s easy. Expenditure controls is hard and people in the public service will tell you that there are things that they would want to do that they haven?t been able to do because we?ve had to be implementing very tight fiscal controls.?

?There has to be some amount of flexibility as you go along. A budget is an indicative plan as you implement it and things happen along the way, you have to have ways and means of keeping yourself on target.?

Janelle Chanona
?We heard the Prime Minister say and Minister Coye say that is budget is achievable, doable. Are you personally confident that you can get here, or cautiously optimistic??

Carla Barnett
?I am reasonably confident. It will take a continuation of the same kind of approach we?ve been taking in the Ministry of Finance and it?s not a unilateral approach. If you talk to the line ministries, they will tell you that we talk much more than we may have been talking in the past; ministry of Finance and line ministries. Put in perspective, the actual outturn in fiscal year 2004/2005 was eight percent of G.D.P. overall deficit. We?re bringing it down to three point nine percent, that?s a four percent reduction in the overall deficit as a portion of G.D.P. This budget is asking for an additional percent on that. In the final analysis that?s what it amounts to. It will be difficult, it will probably be equally difficult because we are already in a situation of severe constraints so that it?s going to be equally difficult I think to get that additional percent than it as it was to get that four percent. So it?s not an easy process, but it?s doable.?

?You can?t account for the unexpected now. This assumes that the price of oil will be around sixty. If it goes up to seventy, then we will have to see how we deal with that. Any?I don?t include that in acts of God. Any acts of God we have to take into account. But assuming away those things, there is no reason why we should not be able to meet this expenditure and revenue.?

The budget debate begins Thursday morning at ten.

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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