I rise to make my contribution to the draft estimates of revenue and expenditures for the fiscal year 2017/2018.
Madam Speaker you don’t have to be an economist to see this budget for what it actually is.
There are many adjectives that come to mind when describing this budget Madam Speaker, some of them a little too colorful and perhaps not appropriate for this honorable house. So I will try my absolute best to restrain myself.
This budget Madam Speaker is what you would call a “hit and run” budget – the Prime Minister has slammed our economy into a brick wall and now has all plans to abandon the scene of this trainwreck, after he captained one of the most fiscally unsustainable spending sprees that has resulted in increased poverty throughout our country while at the same time unjustly enriching many of his family and close friends. Like what a famous UDP politician once said, “It is so easy to spend the money, but it is hard to pay it back”.
Madam Speaker this is a fanciful budget, it is all make believe, or what in creole we would call a “forced ripe” bukut, sorry I meant to say budget.
It is a blatant cooking of numbers for the sole purpose of appeasing bondholders and trying to convince them that this same set of reckless politicians have now turned over a new leaf and will mystically transform into a responsible government.
For 9 years, this government has been operating in the red (no pun intended) recording a deficit each and every year. Even in their hayday when the petrocaribe bubby was pouring our milk like there’s no tomorrow, this government still could not deliver a primary surplus of the GDP. But now, now that the prime minister is bidding his farewell from the sinking ship, now that the bondholders have placed these greedy corrupt power addicts in a straight-jacket like Danny Mason……and now here they come quite disrespectfully if you ask me to tell the Belizean people that they are going to be punished because of their incompetence, because of their corruption and nepotism in the handling of the BTL case, because of their wasteful spending of $400 million of Petrocaribe money. This Madam Speaker is a straight up Hard Times Budget!
Madam Speaker, the beautiful constituency of Caribbean Shores that I so proudly represent is not happy this administration. This budget is extremely concerning to my people because it will affect their standard in living in a very direct way.
This budget is a direct assault and frontal attack by this government on an already shrinking middle class. Hundreds of households and thousands of my own constituents will be affected because they will get a sharp 12.5% increase in their electricity bill. When they put fuel in their vehicles they will feel the wrath of this UDP government. With the rise in environment tax to 3%, we all know what is going to happen to the prices of goods on the shelf. When my constituents go to the supermarket and walk out with only a 2 or 3 items after spending $50.00, trust me when I say that they will remember the face of the man who came to punish them because of corruption.
Madam Speaker this Prime Minister will go down in history as having destroyed the Belizean middle class.
For a second year in a row Madam Speaker there is nothing in this budget for the constituents of Caribbean Shores. No pantry, no boost, nothing of the sort.
Madam Speaker, not even a traffic light for Cinderalla Plaza is in this budget. Each and every day, motorists and pedestrians have to play dodge the car. And from the looks of things Madam Speaker it appears that even the Prime Minister’s golden boy is calling it quits saying that it will be up to the next Mayor to put in the traffic lights because he certainly won’t be doing it. This is the kind of arrogance that my people have to put up with on a daily basis.
Nothing for Caribbean Shores but you want to know when these Ministers remember Caribbean Shores? When it comes to paying taxes, all of a sudden the UDPs remember Caribbean Shores. Mr. Mayor and Mr. Prime Minister are right there knocking on my people’s doors to collect their taxes.
But no sweat it. No worry bout it. You see, my people have patience, they have understanding. They are just waiting for the day that this greedy set to come back to the polls so that they can give them a good and proper beating.
Madam Speaker when it comes to the advancement of the democratic principles upon which our nation is founded, I must record my utmost disappointment that after 20 long years, there is still no money being allocated for the re-registration exercise despite the fact that the law is clear that it must be done before July 1st, 2017. As justification for this failure, the Prime Minister has quoted an exorbitant $20 million dollar cost when he knows full well that in 1997 the entire re-registration exercise cost was $3 million dollars.
Something is incredibly wrong Mr. Prime Minister, if you can find $13 million to build a roundabout at the entrance of this city but you can’t find $5 million to update our electoral rolls? It is very clear Madam Speaker, that just like in 2012 when they registered 2000 unqualified Belizeans, just like 2015 when they spent $40 million of the people’s money one month before the election, so too will the UDP attempt to steal the next general elections by using this padded, corrupt list that they are so comfortable with. The people of Belize are fed up of your gimmicks and your excuses Mr. Prime Minister. They are fed up of this dictatorship and they want their democracy back! We in the People’s United Party continue the call for re-registration NOW!!!
The theme of the Prime Minister’s farewell budget is “Bouncing Back – a bold Belizean recovery”, a far cry Madam Speaker from the “best that was yet to come”.
For one, there is nothing “bold” about punishing the Belizean people for your ministers’ transgressions. Why must the Belizean people pay for the price for your administration’s corruption and nepotism?
If you want to impress the Belizean people Mr. Prime Minister and really start a bold recovery, you don’t need to look far? Check with your former Minister of Lands, the member for Orange Walk North. Don’t come to tighten the belt of my people. It is time for you to grow a pair and take a case of misfeasance against him. $70 million dollars over the last 6 years it is right there in the budget at page 67.
And its not like you are not a trained attorney and can’t understand what the Minister was doing? He was issuing fraudulent land titles over other people’s property or property was in reserved areas “selling” it to his cronies and family members at a low cost – sometimes as low as $2000.00 only to then turn around revoke the titles because they were fraudulent and then compensate his family and friends with hundreds of thousands of dollars! It is a downright rotten and sinister scheme the Minister and his aidors and abettors and the Ministry knew very well that they had no legal authority to issue those titles, but they did it anyways!
This has been going on for years and years. In March of 2013 the same Andre Vega’s girlfriend, the now notorious Dorian Pakeman and other close cronies of the Minister received titles to reserve land on the Placencia Lagoon. They paid little or nothing for 15 acres of reserve land but when the scandal broke, the titles were revoked and do you recall what happened Mr. Prime Minister? Once again, hundreds of thousands of dollars were paid out to these cronies who ought never to have possessed titles to that land in the first place.
Mr. Prime Minister, Why do you continue to protect the member from Orange Walk North in the very same way that he protected Elvin Penner from prosecution? And don’t insult the Belizean people by telling them that you have placed the member on the back bench because our people no schupid! Just like Candelaria Saldivar this man still gets paid by the government of Belize and does not even show up to work!
The people of Belize demand more from you. They demand that action be taken for misfeasance in public office and that the guilty be removed from office immediately. They demand the return of the millions of dollars stolen……because that is what it is!
Or is it Mr. Prime Minister, that you really cannot take action against your member because your family too has been benefitting thanks to your unbridled nepotism?
You really want to talk about a bold recovery? Turn to page 56 of the budget and tell the Belizean people how much you have paid your brother, and your law partner for losing the BTL case and for doing a hack job at drafting that now infamous Miami secret agreement.
According to line item 41 (10) for legal and professional fees over the last 4 years you have spent $21,182,563.00 with another $5,445,606.00 bringing just that one line item of “so-called legal fees” to $26,628,169.00.
But unfortunately for the Belizean people, the “legal fees grabbins” doesn’t end there because on the very same page down at the bottom in Cap II Expenditure there is another line item No. 1808 also titled “Legal and Professional Advisory Services” which shows a payout over the last 4 years of an additional $12,803,259.00. This is separate and apart from the $26 million I just mentioned.
And so when you add this figure to the other legal fees found in line item 41 (10) on the very same page we arrive at a grand total of…….drum roll please, $39,431,428.00.
Now let’s just pause and let that sink in. $39 million dollars paid out to family members and friends of the Prime Minister in “legal fees” for a case that they lost. Now I’m an Attorney at Law Madam Speaker and I don’t know what formula these people used to arrive at that obscene figure but could you imagine how much these choice attorneys would have charged if they had actually won the case?
Madam Speaker, what is the point of having a separate budget Attorney General’s Ministry if this Prime Minister is just going to decide on his own to pay his family the people’s money?
The Attorney General’s Ministry should have been the ones to fight this case because trust me, they could not have lost this case any worse that these supposed top notch attorneys.
But Madam Speaker, these so-called high powered attorneys didn’t just lose the BTL case, they are also the ones according to the PM’s bff, Michael Ashcroft, who did a absolute injustice to the Belizean people when they drafted that secret Miami Settlement Agreement that is now resulting in millions more down the drain.
Firstly because of their poor drafting (those are the CCJ’s words Madam Speaker, not mine) $8 million was lost when we had to make a payment in US currency when it should have said BZ currency. So we lost out on the conversion.
And now we are getting word that Belize stands to lose another $113 million dollars at the hands of Michael Ashcroft because under this same poorly drafted Miami agreement, Ashcroft is claiming a whopping 75% of the final payment as his expenses. It appears that the Prime Minister and his top notch attorneys failed to put a cap, failed to put a ceiling on the amount of expenses that his bff could claim. And you want to know where this one is going to go? Right back to court, which will result in more and more and more legal fees for the Barrow family. Can you see a trend here?
But Madam Speaker, the real icing on this cake has got to be the revelation by this same so-called demon, Michael Ashcroft, that he and the Prime Minister are not bitter enemies as the Prime Minister likes to portray. As a matter of fact, they are business partners. Michael Ashcroft has revealed that the Prime Minister’s law firm owns shares in Caribbean Investment Holdings Ltd.
Now here is the very disturbing issue that I have with the Prime Minister’s involvement with this company. When this company, of which the Prime Minister is a shareholder sued the government of Belize for $55 million dollars in the London Court of Arbitration, the Prime Minister, quite curiously chose not fight the case. This decision not to fight this case was also condemned by the CCJ because according to the CCJ it is a case that we would have won.
So imagine the tangled web that we have before us. The Prime Minister, wearing his prime ministerial cap, not to fight a case and by not fighting the case, the prime minister as a shareholder in the same company stands to benefit.
How is that for conflict of interest?
And now it appears that the Mr. Prime Minister wants to punish the Belizean people for his very costly mistake. He told us back in 2008 that BTL was only worth $76 million. Today, thanks to this Prime Minister, we own a puss inna bag that he has paid $600 million, $300 million of which is just interest and yes, you guessed it, legal fees. This is the true cost of nepotism.
And that’s because we haven’t even gotten into the operation of BTL yet!
When I asked the Prime Minister how much his son Anwar was earning from BTL and how much was his exit package, the Prime Minister in his usual elusive way, hopped, skipped and jumped around the question saying that BTL is a private company. So when it suits him and when he wants to thump his chest, BTL belongs to the Belizean people. But when it is time for him to tell us how much his son earned as the CEO, BTL is all of a sudden a private company.
So Madam Speaker when you hear the Prime Minister blaming the Superbond, which by the way also includes debts of Prime Minister Esquivel, let us be reminded that the $50 million a year that the government pays in interest on the Superbond can in no way compare to the $1 billion dollars that the Prime Minister has blown over the last 3 years on just two things – BTL and Petrocaribe!
After 9 consecutive billion dollar budgets. Here we are today. The Prime Minsiter and his family well off while the rest of Belize must suffer.
The Prime Minister likes to boast about his pro-poor policies but there is nothing in this budget to transition our people out of poverty. No job plan. No education plan. Nothing but handout policies to keep our people poor and keep our people dependent on them, the politicians.
When he beats his chest and talks about pro poor, the Prime Minister must feel like he sounds like Martin Luther King, but behind all the sweet talk his track record is more like Robert Mugabe’s.
Madam Speaker the cold hard truth is that this Prime Minister does not want to accept that we are broke, and broken, no money, no ideas.
And the Prime Minister could care less because he is on his way out.
After 9 glorious years of feathering the FAMILY nest:
-Anwar got RICH
-Shyne got BLING
-Lois got millions in Manhattan
-and No other Belizean has benefited more from the Prime Minsiter than Brother Dennys –
-the millions in legal fees keep piling up despite the bad economy, higher taxes and recession
-The Prime Minister could care less about taxes and teachers. He is waving goodbye.
-And LOOK WHO is getting the Prime Minister’s Baton while Belizeans get the BUKUT
-The man who called teachers arrogant, ignorant, child molestors
-The man who wanted to cut teachers pay because they stood up for Belize because they stood up to the UDP
-This budget is a Faber UDP budget he had no shame in boasting that he spent the Petro Caribe on Tacos having a good time
-but the good times are done and the Member for Collet is about the take Barrow’s Baton
Belizeans beware if you think the UDP is bad today wait till tomorrow…
There are so out of touch with reality that people like Elvin Penner who sold out our patrimony is pledging his return to the UDP. Then you have others like Shyne, Po, who has a certificate from the big house, and every Belizean remembers when he first came to Belize he wanted nothing to do with our beloved country all he wanted was to get back to America. Now wants to run. Very interesting times ahead for the UDP indeed.
But Madam Speaker enough about the UDP. We are a country of only 375,000 people. It is time to get our act together. What our people want now more than ever is a new beginning. They want a government that is committed to changing the way that our national affairs are administered.
One that cares and has the vision and leadership to grow our economy and take us out of this mess. A government that knows that it is only by having a solid educational foundation, whether academic or technical, that our people will advance. A government that knows the importance of having a vibrant private sector that will not hesitate to pay their just share in taxes, confident in knowing that they will have an honest government that works for them. A government that builds real homes, not firetraps and one that will return to finish the job that we started and roll out NHI countrywide.
Bouncing back will take more than just taxing the poor and the middle class Madam Speaker. It will take innovative ideas, thinking outside the box, tapping into new industries, expanding the scope of tourism by developing more airports and cruise ports that will benefit all Belizeans. Even though I am in opposition I know that I still have a major role to play to building my nation. It is my sincere hope and I have already expressed this to the Minister of Economic Development that we can, in short order, engage fair and reasonable investors to finish the Placencia International Airport and take tourism to another level.
The task of nation building is for giants, not blood suckers and vampires. And I am proud to say that we in the People’s United Party despite the current economic situation, we look forward to the day when, not if, WHEN we can realize the full potential of our beautiful country and our people.
I want to end off my presentation Madam Speaker by issuing a challenge to the Prime Minister. I know he prides himself on winning his last election without so much as saying hello to his constituents in the Queen Square division. But I want to challenge him to take one last farewell stroll in his constituency all by himself. Not with any GSU like how his son Shyne rolls. By himself. Take a walk around 8 at night just to say hello and and to ask your people 1 simple question. “Has your life and the lives of your family improved over the last 9 years while I have been prime minister?” And after you listen to their answers tell them to ask you the very same question: Mr. Prime Minister, has your life and the lives of your family improved over the last 9 years? I believe that it is only by doing this that you will genuinely realize the two very different worlds that you have created over the last 9 years.
Madam Speaker I just cannot bring myself to support this budget.