Presentation on Budget for Fiscal Year 2013/2014

By Hon. Francis W. Fonseca Leader of the Opposition March 21, 2013 Introduction:

Thank you Mr. Speaker. I rise to make my contribution to the debate on the General Revenue Appropriation Bill for fiscal year 2013/2014. I am honored to do so on behalf of the People’s United Party and in particular the people of Freetown, who have given me the opportunity to serve in this Honourable house. Mr. Speaker, each year the budget preparation and presentation provides our Government with a unique opportunity to engage the Belizean people in a national dialogue on the priorities, goals and objectives we wish to set for ourselves as a nation for the upcoming fiscal year. Again this year, Mr. Speaker, it is deeply regrettable that we must record the absolute failure of the UDP Government to carry out any consultations in respect of this years’ budget. This shameful failure is, of-course, consistent with the UDP’s total disregard and disrespect of the Governments social and economic partners in development. No consultation with the Unions! No consultation with the Council of Churches! No Consultation with the agro-productive sector! No Consultation with the Chamber of Commerce or the Belize Business Bureau! No Consultation with Youth and Student Government leaders! No Consultation with our artists and musicians! No Consultation with the Belizean People! Well, Mr. Speaker, once again this year I am proud to report that our Party has kept faith with its commitment to consultation. We fully recognize and appreciate that in 2013, consultation is no longer optional for the Government of Belize, it is a requirement for Development. We in the People’s United Party understand that no Government, present or future, will be able to meaningfully and sustainably address the very critical, structural social and economic challenges facing Belize, if there is not a “National buy-in” to the Governments vision and work-plan for national development. It is for this reason, Mr. Speaker, that our Party appointed a team headed by the Hon. Member for Orange Walk Central, to consult widely over the past few weeks.


Our contributions to this budget are better informed and more meaningful as a result of these consultations, and we are grateful to all our social and economic partners who were gracious enough to participate in these consultations. Mr. Speaker, it comes as no surprise therefore that the UDP Budget for fiscal year 2013/2014 reflects this absolute lack of consultation. It is a budget disconnected and divorced from the Belizean reality. This is a budget Mr. Speaker in which “full belly di tell empty belly – kip haat bredda”. “kip haat sista”!! Again this year, for the 6 th. budget in a row, the Belizean people are treated to a full menu of chestthumping, whining and empty hollow rhetoric. For the first two years it was all about the $200M stimulus package which never materialized. Then it was the Russian Millions on their way to Belize or was our PM to travel to Russia to bring back the sacks of $? And then in 2011/2012 we were told we were free to fly except the plane neva have no fuel and so we were all grounded. And last year it was back to excuses, moaning and groaning and talking about the need for discipline. And this year, Mr. Speaker, the Member for Queens Square, didn’t let us down. His latest and perhaps greatest illusion is B.I.L. – Belize Infrastructure Co. Ltd. the Special purpose vehicle that will float all Belizean Boats. What a sick joke Mr. Speaker. But, I will deal with B.I.L. a little later on. The bottom line, Mr. Speaker, is that this budget continues a 5 yr pattern of excuses and cruel, empty rhetoric. Loud mouth, Dutty mouth and Sharp tongue is all we have gotten from the UDP for 5 yrs. After 5 years of UDP administration, Mr. Speaker, all of our major social and economic indicators are headed in the wrong direction and this budget for fiscal year 2013/2014 does nothing to change course. Unemployment and underemployment continue to devastate our Belizean families, wreaking particular destruction on the hopes and aspirations of our youth and women. Some 30,000 Belizeans actively seeking a job cannot find one. Loud mouth, Dutty mouth, Sharp tongue mouth don’t create jobs. Mr. PM where is your jobs plan? Poverty too is on the rise and today in Belize under the UDP some 148,000 Belizeans are living on less than $5.50 per day for food. Loud mouth, Dutty mouth and Sharp tongue won’t lift our people out of poverty. Mr. PM where is your plan to reduce poverty? Crime and Violence continue to eat away at our social fabric. Law abiding citizens live in fear. Investment and economic growth are negatively impacted. There is a growing distrust of the police and our system of justice. Loud mouth, Dutty mouth and Sharp tongue won’t bring down the cost of living. Mr. PM where is your plan to reduce the cost of living? Fuel costs are at an all

time high. This is putting a hurt on our farmers, on our commuters, on our fishermen, on our taxi operators, tour operators, on our businesses. Loud mouth, Dutty mouth and Sharp tongue won’t bring down the cost of fuel. Mr. PM where is your plan to reduce the cost of fuel? Mr. Speaker, the Belizean people are sick and tired of the excuses and blame-game which have come to define this UDP administration. Our people need jobs and money in their pockets, not excuses and lies about the past. Again in this year’s budget, Mr. Speaker, the PM continues to whine about the Superbond even as he claims to have tamed it. By taming it of course he means that he has extended the repayment period for 9 more years from 2029 to 2038. Mr. Speaker, Public Debt is serious business. We welcome any relief realized to Belize as a result of the new 2038 Bonds. The 2029 Bonds represented the PUP administrations recognition in 2006 of the need to restructure Belize’s commercial debt to allow for significant cash flow benefits to the economy. The Central Bank of Belize’s Annual Report for 2007 states: “payments during the first 9 years of the 2029 Bonds are projected to fall by an average of US $48 M per year or US $431M cumulative over that period.” It further states:”This positive development should improve the Country’s general economic outlook, investment climate and credit rating. The longer repayment period should also afford the Country the opportunity to expand its economic base so that higher debt servicing obligations that fall due in the later years will be less burdensome.” Mr. Speaker, this was exactly the objective of the debt consolidation exercise carried out by the last PUP administration. To give the country space and time to breathe and grow. And what of the composition of the debt. Again here it is politically convenient for the UDP and their apologists to ignore the facts and continue to perpetuate their false propaganda that we have nothing to show for the debt. They conveniently ignore the fact that between 1998 and 2007, Belize was visited by hurricanes Mitch, Keith, Iris and Tropical storm Chantal which wreaked economic havoc on our agricultural and tourism sectors at a cost of hundreds of millions invested in education, health, infrastructure, rural water and electricity and housing. Travel the country, Mr. PM, and take your ministers with you. The Real people in Real communities will tell you that for the great majority of them, the last time there was any investment in their community it was under the PUP. Nothing, Nada, for five years under the UDP.


You see, Mr. Speaker, the PUP is about job creation, investment and development. The UDP celebrates poverty and tell the Belizean people to catch the line for the food pantry and Check Wid Boots Fu Wah Lee Boost!! Mr. Speaker, if we are to have an honest debate about the Superbond then the UDP can be critical of the last PUP administration for pursuing an aggressive growth agenda that led to high levels of public debt, but they must also tell the Belizean people that it was that very same PUP Administration which recognized its own problem and fixed its own problem in2006, so much so that in fact the fiscal deficit had been reduced to less than 1% of GDP before the PUP left office in 2008. This UDP administration was left with a full meal on the table. Add to this the hundreds of millions in oil revenues collected over the past 5 years. It is their incompetence and inability to grow the economy that has forced us into Superbond 2038. Belize has stopped working under the UDP and that is why Belize can’t pay its Bills under the UDP. That is the truth and the whole truth, Mr. Speaker, not the nonsense and half-truths offered by those who have nothing better to tell the Belizean people, those who can’t create jobs, those who can’t attract meaningful investment, those who can’t reduce the cost of living!! And while on the issue of Public Debt, Mr. Speaker, not a word from the Minister of Finance in respect of the hundreds of millions of dollars owing for BTL and BEL. This is a real and existing liability. What is the plan to resolve this matter? Finally on Superbond 2038, Mr. Speaker. Let’s be very clear. The Bond Restructuring team led by the Prime Ministers new RED eye boy, His Excellency Amb. Mark Espat was a disastrous failure. The Team Leaders initial high-risk strategy of low-balling the Bondholders turned out to be a near-fatal mistake. The initial options were soundly rejected and what Belize ended up accepting was a far, far cry from any of the original indicative scenarios. The truth is that if it were not for the good faith of the Chairman of the Bondholders Committee, Mr. Mediratta, and his longstanding relationship with Belize developed over many years under the PUP administration, Superbond 2038 would not have gotten done. So, PM, save us all the bouquet throwing at your red-eye boy. We know the truth. In any case, he has been handsomely rewarded for his restructuring of the Albert Division, and I am confident he will be very grateful and join your Party. After all he no got no way else fu go!!


Mr. Speaker, let’s turn to the economic outlook for 2013. It is regrettably, not encouraging. According to the Central Bank of Belize, the economy is forecasted to grow by 2.7% in real terms in 2013, but they concede that even this low growth is subject to sizeable downside risks and is based on a very weak assumption of a gradual upturn in global growth to 3.5%. Agriculture and Manufacturing which together have accounted for some 17% of all economic activity since 2000, will decline significantly to low single-digit growth. In fact it is expected that there will only be 1.8% real GDP growth in Agriculture in 2013 and in Manufacturing there will be negative growth (-2.4%). Citrus is facing headwinds from lower international prices and a cyclical crop downturn. Even tourism, is expected to decline to 4.5% growth in large part due to the weak economic situation in the US. Output of oil and electricity will continue to decline as the oil wells dry up and the low reservoir levels at the hydro dams will create further strains on BEL. The Belizean people have already been taxed with a 17% increase in electricity rates. We trust that 2013/2014 will not bring further increases. The people can bear no more. And more bad news, Mr. Speaker, construction activity, a leading economic indicator, is expected to decelerate according to the Central Bank. And in 2013/2014 inflation will rear its ugly head once again eating away at the purchasing power of all Belizeans. This brings me Mr. Speaker back to BIL. Belize Infrastructure Co. Ltd. which the member for Queens Square described in his budget presentation as a “newly registered, wholly GOB owned, private company. The special-purpose vehicle that will create jobs, stimulate demand, purchase private sector material and supplies and generally raise that tide that will float all Belizean boats. Now, as I said earlier it is fairly easy to dismiss this new company as more hot air consistent with 5 years of empty rhetoric, but to do so would be a mistake. We should all take note of BIL. I want to sound the alarm bells now. I expect this to be a UDP- hustle vehicle that will seek to avoid the rules and regulations of Government. Why is this private company necessary to carry out the work of Government? Will this company be competing with the private sector? Who will it be purchasing materials and supplies from? Who will manage this company? Will the contractor general and the auditor general have oversight of this company? Will it be subject to the Finance and Audit Reform Act? Mr. Speaker, we must see Belize Infrastructure Co. Ltd. for what it is, the latest in a long line of UDP political gimmicks.


For the UDP it is always about the show, the cutting of the ribbon, the ground opening, the big announcement. There is no follow thru, no vision, no plan, no work ethic, no development agenda. Just take a look at projects under the Capital II and III budgets, many of which are simply recycled year after year by this inept and incompetent UDP administration. Mr. Speaker, the Belizean people have had enough of these gimmicks. They want us in this National Assembly to talk about the future and about specific ways of making their lives better. To maximize economic growth, we need to competently and efficiently use the resources and comparative advantages Belize has available. Government must focus on its core function, the delivery of reliable, quality, affordable public services while reducing bureaucratic spending and enhancing its regulatory and enforcement capacity. The Private Sector must be viewed as full partners in development and enabled to attract and undertake investments, grow businesses and create jobs. Mr. Speaker, Investment is market driven. In this interconnected world, the market for investment is broad and fiercely competitive. Investment also requires certainty and our Party repeats its call for the enactment of a Foreign Investment Promotion Act to achieve this objective. In pursuing investments, Mr. Speaker, it is all about creating good paying jobs for our people, jobs for our young graduates, jobs for women, jobs for our skilled workers, jobs in tourism, jobs in the information technology sector, jobs in the financial sector, jobs in agroprocessing and manufacturing. At the same time, Mr. Speaker, we recognize that our economics must have an ethical dimension grounded in our belief that economic growth must be accompanied by opportunity and humane treatment for the poor and disadvantaged, and that growth is not real progress if, in spite of it, many people, especially children are still going hungry and are unable to attend school. And Mr. Speaker, as we seek to grow and reform the economy, so too, must we seek to reform the way we are governed. Again this year, we call on the UDP Government to support the proposals for reform our Party has advanced. Let us together enshrine in the Constitution a requirement for a Referendum on any proposed amendment which in any way undercuts or degrades the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Belizean people. (Stop playing games with OCEANA) Let us work together to set a fixed date for elections and review the term of office for future governments.

Let us put in place an elected senate. Let us heed the cries of the people and put an end once and for all to the hustling and cronyism that have completely overtaken the Lands Department. Let us review the structure and composition of the Elections and Boundaries Commission. Let us review the structure, composition and powers of the Public Accounts Committee. Let us pass a Freedom of the Press Law to guarantee free speech and protect whistleblowers who expose abuse, acts of corruption and waste of resources. Let us work together to appoint an Independent Commission to review immigration policy and laws and implement its recommendations. Mr. Speaker, we need to move away from the politics based approach to governing which has come to define this UDP Government, and toward a solutions based approach to development. And, Mr. Speaker, it is time for Government to deliver the salary increase our teachers, nurses, doctors, police officers, BDF soldiers, and other public officers have been demanding and deserve. The UDP can find millions for election spending, millions for contract officers and special Advisors, millions for Mark Espat, millions for fuel and allowances, millions for their foreign travel and friends and family sitting in Diplomatic Missions, and millions for fancy SUV’s, but they can’t find the money for our teachers and public officers. Mr. Speaker, we on this side of the house join with our teachers and public officers in demanding that the Government delivers, at a minimum a 5% salary increase this fiscal year. They need it. They deserve it. Not next year or two years from now. Mr. Speaker, the budget for fiscal year 2013/2014 presented by the Member for Queens Square does nothing to offer our people hope and inspire them to become engaged in the work of building our Beloved Belize. The Belizean reality today is thousands of lost jobs, businesses closed, homes auctioned or re-possessed, loans defaulted on, children out of school, families unable to keep the lights on, the stove burning and increasingly often unable to put food on the table. The Belizean economy and people are struggling and no amount of chest thumping, selfcongratulation and trumpeting of pseudo – nationalism will change this harsh, sober reality.


Where are the 5,000 new jobs promised 5 years ago? Where is the reduced GST, Where are the lower utility rates, lower cost of living, shares in a National Oil Company, 6% annual growth, lower fuel costs. 5 years of UDP nothing! 5 years of UDP waste! 5 years of UDP corruption! 5 years of growing unemployment! 5 years of increasing crime! 5 years of higher prices! 5 tears of petty, arrogant leadership! But, Hope is awakening in our people, Mr. Speaker. The Belizean people know the UDP is the past and the PUP is the future. There is much to do, Mr. Speaker, but our Party is committed to the hard work that lies ahead. If Belize is to grow and develop, all of us must be committed to a strong Belizean economy and society grounded in credible, practical plans and solutions to the social and economic challenges we face. We are visiting with our people in every corner of this beautiful country, listening to them, learning from them how we can better serve them and sharing with them our vision and message of hope for a better Belize. Mr. Speaker, I pray God’s blessings on our country and people and humbly ask for his guidance over us in this honourable house as we do the nations work.



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