Hon. John Briceno Budget Speech 2017

INTRODUCTION

After what was one of the worse years our country has seen since Independence.  After a year racked with some of the worse scandals and unprecedented revelations of UDP corruption by any administration.

After eight years of being pushed around by Ashcroft, loosing court battle after court battle, then bending over resulting in Belizeans having to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars in interest and in lawyer fees.

And after saddling Belizeans with 80 millions dollars more in new taxes, the Prime Minster presented his 2017 budget declaring that we were  “bouncing back”, he said that this budget would result in a “Bold Belizean Recovery”

Truth be told, there is no bold in this budget, what it is, simply put, is a Bogus Barrow Budget, filled with 19 pages of his usual fanciful rhetoric and 6 pages of made up numbers so outrageous that it is unworthy for the consideration of the Belizean people.  This Bogus Budget is no more than a feeble attempt to rescue what is an already crippled UDP Administration.

The Rt. Hon. Prime Minster with little passion introduced a budget that is once again void of imagination and lacking of any plan to rescue a nation that he and his UDP Administration has driven to the verge of bankruptcy and is bordering on a depression.

Today no one in Belize believes in his fancy words any more! No one abroad trusts this government any more!  No one is expecting anything positive to come from this UDP Administration, because the UDP has never really had any plan for our country. And while they borrowed over a billion dollars, and squandered 9 billon dollars in 9 years, they had to confess, to bondholders that they have put this country in a financial crisis.

By their own admission, they told bondholders that the Belizean economy is “imperiled.”

After nine years in office you can no longer try to fool the Belizean people by blaming the PUP. Everyone knows that we are in this mess today; because of UDP incompetence; because of the Prime Minister’s arrogance and because of their lack of vision and because of wrong UDP priorities.

Every Belizean knows this and this is why we are hunkering down and praying for the day that they call the elections so that we can run them from Belmopan.And after this failed experiment that is this UDP’s third term in office, everyone now knows that it is time for the People’s United Party.

Madam Speaker the Prime Minister and his Government has come back to us with the same lame excuses.   They continue to live in the past. After nine years in office they are still trying to blame the past PUP administration for the mess, which they have created.

And yet after taking 30 cents out of every dollar we earn, they present a budget that offers no plan to help the still struggling productive sector.   They will not build one new school; they will not reduce poverty by even a fraction of a percent.  No ordinary Belizean will benefit from anything contained in this budget.

The only person who benefited from last year’s spending by this UDP Administration, and the only one who will continue to benefit from this Bogus Budget is Michael Ashcroft.

Belizeans will pay and Ashcroft will benefit.

This budget fails the test of fiscal responsibility, as once again this UDP Administration will collect over a billion dollars in taxes and income, and they will add another 100 million dollars to our already 3.1 billon dollar debt leaving every Belizean man, woman and child, owing over $10,000.Yet this budget will offer fewer jobs and low economic growth if any.

During our consultations with the Belizean people many concerns were raised and a great many good ideas were put forward.  We thank all those Belizeans who participated in our consultations and who so freely shared their concerns with us.  It is a pity that we have an administration that is so far removed that they sent out the technocrats to talk with a few people in business and industry.

While we continue to be grateful to the people in the ministry of finance and those hard working finance officers all across the public service, it is the elected officials who must go out and listen to the people so that we can set priorities based on their needs and concerns.

We did this and today’s response from all of us on this side is a reflection of the mood of the Belizean people and their dissatisfaction with a Government whose budget could not be farther removed from the Belizean reality.

Before continuing Madam Speaker, Let me take a minute to thank the good people of Orange Walk Central for their continued support and encouragement, you, together with the thousands of PUP supporters continue to inspire my work.

 

BARROW’S BOGUS BUDGET

 

This budget reminds me of the Spanish saying: “Tarde o temprano la verdad alcanza la menitra” which in English means: “the truth will always catch up to the Lies.”

When you look on the expenditure side of the budget, you realize that this UDP Administration lacks any real fiscal discipline, for they are planning to continue splurging.  The burden of austerity is only for the taxpayers who are being asked to pay more taxes. In every Ministry we find elevated administrative costs. For reference you need only look at the budget and compare the approved recurrent expenditure for 2016/2017, which was 959,192,968 dollars and the projected out turn 995, 421,042 dollars. This UDP government in its recurrent expenditure spent 36 million dollars more than it budgeted.

The Prime Minster in his presentation said that the priorities for his budget will help government to live within its means, that it will support Belizean families,  invest in the skills of our young people, make Belize a better place to do business and to live.

Which planet is this Prime Minster on?

Is he aware that we had over 100 murders last year and this year already we have had 30 murders in 80 days?  Did he forget that our economy contracted by 0.8 percent?  Or that Belizeans are afraid in their homes, afraid in the streets and afraid on the job?  It is this kind of hyperbole that causes us to declare this budget Bogus.  How can he achieve any of this when he can’t even grow the Belizean economy? When the programs and plans will lift no one out of poverty?

The budget of any administration sets their ideological priorities, but these priorities have to be rationalized by real facts and figures not made up numbers and pie in the sky rhetoric.

Belize like other democratic societies of our size and scope is confronted with the formidable challenge of growing its economy in an ever-changing globalized world in such a way that it can meet the legitimate expectations of its people.  What we refer to as sustainable growth that translates into a shared prosperity for everyone.

The Prime Minister just told us in his budget speech that 60 cents of every dollar collected by Government goes to pay salaries, pensions and so on. In so doing his administration is admitting that once more they cannot afford to do anything to help the productive sector in any meaningful way.  We need to ensure that the productive sector and the private sector serve as the engine for economic growth.  For this to happen the cooperation between the government and the productive sector must not only be respectful, but symbiotic.

Here lies the failure of this Barrow administration, yes, there rhetoric speaks of partnership but in practice it goes contrary to the fundamental principles of mutual respect.  In reality all that the productive sector has come to expect from their government are a couple workshops and the annual budget consultation with the technocrats. The budget therefore cannot be seen as a genuine attempt to grow the economy when its formulation is so one-sided. As a result the budget is no reflection of our stakeholders and all the economic and fiscal forecast on which the budget is premised is Bogus, therefore the Budget itself is Bogus. On a more fundamental level, this budget is bogus because we cannot trust any of the figures presented by the Prime Minister.

Last year the PM said that there were 12,000 public officers.  In this year’s speech that number jumped to 14,000, but then in the statistics he provided as an appendix to his speech he lists the size of the public service at 16,000.  Which is it?  Did the government hire 2,000 people in a year when we were supposed to be trying to achieve stability in time of change?  Bogus “mi seh!”

How can we trust the numbers when he said that in 2016 he would collect 309 million dollars from taxes on international trade and transactions and was only able to report 174 million?   Either they are really bad at math or these numbers are just figures on a paper.

The Rt. Hon. Prime Minster was off by more than $130 million.   This is not just bad budgeting it’s reckless.  That is why we say this budget is Bogus.  Look what they did to the good people of San Pedro.

In the last two budgets we were told about funding for the upgrade of the San Pedro Health Center to make it a full service 24-hour facility. This project first appeared in the 2015 budget; in fact it was on page 16.  It was introduced a second time in the 2016 budget on page 18. This year it is gone, conspicuously absent from the 2017 budget.  Is this because the task has been accomplished?

Well obviously not, San Pedranos can attest to the fact that they have the same inadequate facility.  This was highlighted recently with the unfortunate passing of young Ms. Jordanie Olivera.

Could it be Hon. Member for Belize Rural South, that even you have given up hope that the good people of San Pedro will ever see a proper health facility on La Isla Bonita?

Like the abandoned San Pedro clinic upgrade, the reality of the budget when compared to the proposed project outcomes are so far apart that achieving any of the things they set out to achieve is just not attainable.

It seems to us on this side, as I am sure it does to the Belizean people, that this UDP Administration has no strategic plan to grow the Belizean economy and move this country forward.  They are bogus!

Where is the Plan?   What is the strategy?

If an objective observer were to scan the Belizean economic landscape, he or she would see an ailing economy.    To compound the situation this budget proposes a virtual freeze on government spending and additional tax measure affecting tourism and international trade.  So where does the PM expect this growth and rebound to miraculously appear from?

The fundamentals of the Belizean economy remain pretty much the same, so how can the PM come to the Belizean people and speak of a recovery, and a 3.5 percent growth in GDP?

The truth is that agro-productive sector in Belize has been taking a battering for some years now.  We have the shrimp, citrus and Banana industries that are struggling to stay afloat under the immense pressures of disease and changing market conditions.  These industries contribute significantly to GDP growth, while injecting vital foreign exchange earnings into the economy.

The PM failed to provide the nation with any plan for how this growth will be accomplished; I believe it is necessary to present the Belizean public with a real perspective of the challenges being faced by our productive sector. The Belizean economy is standing still and we cannot afford this, our population is growing, economic opportunities are being squandered and our people are once again getting left behind.

In trying to understand the effect of 9 years of this UDP Administration on our economic development we need to look not only on the last year, but also on the total effect of their administration on our national development.  How exactly have UDP decisions impacted our economic growth?  More so how have their policies benefit Belizeans?

Between 2009 and 2016, the annual GDP growth under the Barrow Administration, averaged around 2 percent 2.1 to be exact.  Per capita income increased from $7,119 to 7,603, which represents a seven percent increase after 8 years.

The Prime Minister loves to dwell on the past so let us look at the past and how Belizeans benefitted under the last PUP Administration.

During the PUP years, from 1999 to 2008, the GDP growth rate averaged 5.73 percent.  That is more than two times higher; in fact it was actually 2.7 times higher than what the UDP has done in the same time span.

Under the PUP per capita income increased from $6,058 in 1999 to $7,306 in 2008 that represented a 21percent increase in per capita GDP income. Now the question we have to ask here is this: considering that since coming to office this UDP Administration has spent over 9 billion dollars and increased the national debt by 1.5 billon dollars, are we getting value for money?

The unbiased answer is a resounding no.  This is not political. If the economy grew by an average 2.1 percent for the last 8 years, it means that over the past eight years our standard of living has gone down by 16 percent, meaning Belizeans are 16 percent poorer under Dean Barrow and the UDP, so much for being pro poor.

As I have said before, economists tell us that in countries like Belize, to ensure progress and betterment of the people, the national economy must grow and develop at the rate of at least 5 where is the Plan percent growth per annum.

So I ask again?

For sure it is not contained in this budget. Let me now turn to an overview of the Belizean Economy.

 

OVERVIEW OF THE BELIZEAN ECONOMY

 

Last year the Prime Minister touted that “the public finances of Belize are both sturdy and stable.” He went on to say that his “judicious financial management has produced an unbroken period of steady growth and optimal economic conditions”.

He estimated that the economy would grow between 1.5 and 2 percent and that he would oversee a four billion dollar economy.  He explained that there would be a primary surplus of 37 million dollars or 1 percent of GDP for 2016/2017 with an overall deficit of 62 million dollars or just under 2 percent of GDP, 1.7 to be exact.  This overall deficit, together with loan principal repayments amounting to 87 million dollars means that Government would need to borrow 149 million dollars for financial year 2016/2017.   He said all this, check out last year’s speech.

This year, with only one line alluding to macro-economic contraction of the economy and one reference to the $196.5 million paid to Ashcroft, we hear that we are bouncing back with a bold Belizean recovery.  He even tells us that the commercial banking system is the best in over a decade with non-performing loans falling to a low 3 percent.

But what really happened in 2016/2017?

Rather than the economy growing 2 percent in 2016, our economy shrunk by almost 1 percent.  If you believe their figures, we earned 200 million dollars less in 2016 alone than what they projected.  This is while the rest of the world grew by over 3 percent.  Instead of a four billion dollar economy, our economy shrunk to 3.5 billion.  According to the Statistical Institute of Belize, domestic exports in fact fell in 2016 by almost 135 million dollars or more than 25 percent. The balance of trade including the Corozal Free Zone sales and re-exports showed a trade deficit of over 1.4 billion dollars.

Our scarce foreign exchange reserves that support our 2:1 fixed exchange rate with the US dollar fell by over 60 million dollars as a result of the plummeting exports, the expanding trade deficit and the 196.5 million US dollar payment to Lord Ashcroft. As for the banking system, during 2016, the Prime Minister’s wasteful borrow and spend policy is exemplified by the failures of the National Bank.  Capitalized with over $35 million of borrowed monies from PetroCaribe, the National Bank has sustained losses of 13 million since it opened its doors.  This is 13 million dollars of borrowed money.

In 2016 alone, the National Bank suffered over 8 million dollars in losses with non-performing loans increasing from 1.4 percent of total loans to 26 percent of total loans by the end of 2016, but somehow the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister failed to tell the Belizean people any of this while explaining that non-performing loans in the banking system fell below 5 percent.  See why I tell uno this budget bogus!

All this is a reflection of the health of the financial institutions and not the system on a whole. On a weekly basis readers of the Belize Times and other local newspapers wade through the many pages of properties that have been foreclosed upon by the commercial financial institutions.  This is in indicator of a limping economy, a crisis that is visiting the doorsteps of more and more Belizeans.

As for the Prime Minister’s projected primary surplus of 37 million dollars, we ended up with a primary deficit of 56 million dollars instead, an actual shortfall of 93 million dollars or 1.6 percent of GDP.  This is in spite of the dramatic increase in fuel taxes. Instead of an overall deficit of 62 million dollars, this UDP government had an overall deficit of 160 million dollars, almost 100 million dollars worse than projected.

In other words, the Prime Minister went out and taxed us more, borrowed more and spent more, almost $300 million more of money the government does not have.

Not surprisingly, government’s debt as a percentage of GDP increased from 79.5 percent or almost 2.8 billion dollars to 87.1 percent or almost 3.1 billion dollars in just one year, what the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister refers to as “a surge in borrowing by the Government”.

How can anyone claim that to be judicious financial management?  That is outright reckless mismanagement and incompetence perhaps even actionable gross negligence. But what does that mean for us at the level of the individual?  In simple terms, we suffer more, a lot more, because of this Prime Minster and his incompetent UDP government.

Turning now to tourism, time and again we hear the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister refer to the tourism industry as the bright spot in the Belizean economy, more so now that his Petro Caribe bonanza is over.   Again and again he highlights tourism arrivals and tourism receipts as success stories, hoping to convince Belizeans that tourism is doing great for all of us.

But the truth be told, the tourism industry is not doing as great as we would wish and he would want us to believe. According to the BTB figures published for 2016, hotel occupancy, which is a key indicator on how the industry is performing, fell by a whopping 12 percent, from a country average of 42 percent to 37 percent for 2016 when compared to 2015. It is perplexing that the BTB can state that overnight tourism grew from approximately 341,000 to 385,000, a growth of over 40,000 tourists, yet hotel occupancy fell by 12 percent.

Even if you look at the number of rooms the country has to offer, the hotel plant only grew by 800 more rooms.  So, where are all these tourists staying? Like most of the figures provided in this budget, the tourism numbers have been manipulated and they are bogus.

Given this picture how then can the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister proclaim that 2017’s budget will provide the conditions for rescue and recovery?  Our economy continues to be in a recession and it is on the verge of a depression.  Our national debt will once again increase by another 100 million dollars and the government remains clueless about how to fix the key pillars of our economy, which is to restore private sector confidence and support the agro productive sector.

We cannot look at an overview of the Belizean economy without addressing the matter of the Superbond.  It has been at the centerpiece of our national discourse and the misinformation campaign by the government has been unbelievable.

The Prime Minister continues to extol the virtues of his renegotiated Superbond.  I will not say the Barrow Superbond that upsets him too much.

Moving on, with his first renegotiation the PM asserted that almost 500 million dollars was saved.  On his second renegotiation, he explained that there was another 600 million dollars in savings.  If by these two renegotiations, there are total savings of 1.1 billion dollars and the bond is 1.1 billion dollars, then there should be no bond to pay right? Wrong!  We still owe 1.1 billion plus interest. Unbelievable!  In truth, there are no real savings.

You see that 600 million dollars the Rt. Hon, Prime Minister is boasting of saving as a result of his renegotiated Superbond 3.0?  Remember now that was for 2019 to 2029.   Come 2034, we will have to pay the entire bond of 1.1 billion dollars plus interest.  So there is no savings.

The Prime Minister also told the media that the bond restructuring fees to the bondholders’ local and foreign advisers added up to around 12 million dollars. We have now come to learn from the budget estimates itself, in CAP II expenditures for the Ministry of Finance, that the bond restructuring fees will amount to 20 million dollars; 8 million more than he lead us to believe.

The bondholders got 2.6 million, an additional 5.6 million was paid to their negotiators and 11.8 million dollars went to the Belizean negotiators.  I wonder why we are once again paying our Belizean negotiators 6 million dollars more?  Whose retirement fund is this for?

GOVERNANCE

 

Madam Speaker it is not a part of our normal practice to raise the issue of the allocations for the Auditor General during the budget debate, however in light of all that is happening with this administration as it relates to corruption I have to raise the issue of the allocations for the Auditor General’s Office.

As it relates to this matter, I am concerned that only $55,000 was allocated under Cap II for the Auditor General’s office.  See Madam Speaker we on this side strongly believe that if we are serious about good governance then we must do a lot more than just sign the UN Convention against Corruption, we must also respect the constitution.

This UDP Administration spent 4 billion dollars from 2012 to 2016 and none of those 4 billion dollars has undergone the scrutiny of the Auditor General.  We cannot continue to spend tax dollars without giving account for it.

To show just how serious we are about good governance, and about ending corruption, one of my very first acts as Prime Minister will be to bring legislation to the National Assembly, which calls for a full audit of every government ministry and I say it in this place on this day.  Whomever is found to be involved in any illegal or corrupt act will be arrested and charged and if found guilty will go to jail.  This is my solemn pledge to the Belizean people.

Considering all that has happened over the 9 years of this UDP administration and the revelations coming out of the public hearings on the Immigration Scandal, we can safely say that there was never any real political will to institute Good Governance by this UDP Administration.

Last year, we in the PUP launched our Good Governance Agenda under the theme A Shared Responsibility.  This agenda outlined some of the major changes we propose to implement when we are elected to office. Our proposed changes encompass bold initiatives like an Empowered Legislature that will give more authority and autonomy to the Senate to ensure that all government officials, including ministers, are held accountable for their deeds and if found guilty in a court of law they will face the consequences up to serving time in jail.

Our Agenda speaks to the need and commitment of giving greater transparency, accountability and efficiency to the government’s procurement and contractual processes. The Agenda also commits to Election Reform, the Separation of powers, strengthening the checks and balances and ensuring that we have an Effective and Efficient Public Service.

PUP POSITIVE PLANS:  People Centered and People Driven

The Prime Minister in one of his earlier Budget speeches proclaimed that the mantra, the talisman, of the UDP was its commitment to the poor.  Again this year he spoke of a financial plan that will protect the pro poor incentives that he said has so distinguished his UDP administration.  Of course he only mentioned the word poverty twice in his entire budget presentation.  So I find it amusing when in the face of the current economic reality of higher taxes there is no expansion of the food and pantry program nationwide or any further roll out NHI.

Where in this budget do we find the assurance that good paying jobs will be created for the more than 17,900 unemployed Belizeans and the many young Belizean who will join the work force come June?  How will sucking another 80 million dollars in new taxes to pay for more government waste grow the middle class and help those on the margins who are working so hard climb out of poverty?

The difference between the UDP and the PUP is that we are focused on finding solutions to these problems.  Every day we talk with people, seeking ways to lift up every Belizean up.  The PUP has and always will put people first. We are interested in growing the economy; we are interested in borrowing, but only to invest in education, health and housing for the people. We want to be able to provide support to everyone in need, not just to the selected few.  We will always welcome and work closely with local investors because we know that there are many Belizeans with great ideas and we will work with all of them regardless of political leaning.

As we speak there is a group of Belizean investors prepared to work on a project valued at over 250 million Belizean dollars.  This is the Stake Bank Project, and when realized would form a crucial part of the cruise ship industry resulting in first 5,000 new jobs in construction and later 3,000 permanent jobs.  And while government would collect a portion of the head tax and Belizeans will have jobs and stimulate the economy, this project will ask nothing of the Government, or cost the Government of Belize a single penny.

Our belief, our mantra is that all of us must join the work to build Belize.  We do not feel in any way that we alone have all the answers.   This is why we are interested in working with the private sector to expand business and create good, new jobs. We want the private sector to be the drivers of our economy.

Likewise, we want a productive sector that is leading the way in finding new foreign markets where the made in Belize label is displayed.

In sum, the PUP believes in personal responsibility, we believe in sustainable human development, we believe in helping people to help themselves, our upliftment programs seek to provide a hand up, to lift Belizeans out of poverty.

JOBS

Any real people centered development begins with jobs. When it comes to jobs the objective should always be to reach full employment, to create jobs that will provide for our Belizean workers the best possible salaries.  Yes we know this is very difficult to achieve but bold governments dare to dream.  While working towards this goal we must always keep in mind the jobs of the future so that we can educate our young people so they can qualify for these jobs. This of course is in direct contrast to the current reality.

The Rt. Hon. Prime Minister in his budget announced that unemployment was at 8 percent.  I hope that he will provide us with the source of his information, for the SIB in its last jobs report, which was released in September put unemployment at 11.1 percent or 17,952 unemployed persons in Belize.   The SIB report also stated that more than 24,000 Belizeans were underemployed.  By far more women than men are entering the labour force and they are also more likely to be unemployed than men.  The fin Sec. also recently told the press that unemployment was at 12 percent.

It is the basic right of every Belizean to have a reliable job that enables him or her to earn a living wage, to be able to live a life in accordance with their dreams, personal skills and opportunities.

HEALTH

 

If Jobs are fundamental, so too is health.  This is an area that I know is very dear to your heart. As a health professional yourself, you know better than most of us in this Honorable House –particularly the member from Corozal Bay — that being healthy is not only desirable but an essential part of human welfare.

The experts tell us that good health plays a substantial role in economic growth. And that here in Latin America and the Caribbean life expectancy has an important correlation with income.  Health is not expenditure; smart governments know it is an investment.  For this reason we signal our serious concern that a mere 3.1 million dollars of the more than 135 million dollars proposed in the estimates for health is dedicated to Caps II and III.  This signals that the current UDP administration does not see health as an investment.  Belizeans deserve better.

EDUCATION

One of the key pillars to our development is education.  If we are to provide the next generation with the capacity to earn a living wage then we must make education meaningful and learning relevant. 

If our best resource is our human resource, then Belizean education must be built upon three major initiatives.  A readiness for the tasks of nation building, a literate population where our children, adults and the poor in particular can see education as a vehicle for economic independence and relevant education that seeks to develop a well informed Belizean with the capacity to think critically, be informed and is able to participate effectively in the development of the nation.  Education is the key to uplift and in creating a 21st Century Belizean fit for an ever-connected world.

A BELIZE THAT WORKS FOR EVERYONE

 

I know, we on this side know, that governing is not easy. We know that tough decisions will have to be made if we are going to reduce out debt. We stand ready to give serious consideration to any initiative that will improve Government’s fiscal position. We continue to resist the temptation to oppose everything this government does for I believe we best serve Belize by being constructive in our opposition.

After all we are the government in waiting and while we will hold them accountable and expose those actions and policies that are bad for our country, we will support those that will benefit Belize and Belizeans.

Today I want to share our vision with the Belizean people.  It is rooted in a philosophy that goes back to the Father of our Nation the Right Hon. George Price.  Mr. Price always believed ours was a work in progress; he led a revolution, one that is at its core peaceful, always constructive, progressive and uniquely Belizean.  These values remain true today and form a part of our PUP Creed, one that seeks to achieve social economic and environmental justice.  It is a commitment to the socio-economic improvement of all Belizeans.

This is why last week when I spoke to a group of Junior College Students I told them that my plan is to rid Belize of poverty.  To us poverty is an ugly scar on our nation’s collective conscience, and no amount of cosmetic surgery can paste over the suffering of close to half of our people who live on less than ten dollars per day, most of whom are women and children.

This is not only a task for governments, we all have a stake in this enterprise, but government must lead and bold leaders must show that they truly care.

For us the task ahead is clear, to build a Belize that works for everyone, so that every Belizean should come to expect five things, for the lack of a better term I will call it our Belizean Bill of Rights:

First, every Belizean should have access to a piece of land.  With land we immediately create opportunity for uplift and personal growth.

Second that Belizeans are able to own a decent home.  The 17th Century Jurist and politician Edward Coke in speaking on human rights said: “A man’s home is his castle.”

Every Belizean in 2017 should expect such an entitlement whether they live on Bokotora Street or on Sea Shore Drive.

Third is education, every Belizean should be given the chance to go to school from kindergarten to junior college.  We have to make education free from pre kinder to Junior College. If we will give our young people a chance at success, it must start with a good education.

Fourth, basic health care, which means every Belizean should be enrolled in the National Health Insurance Program.  If we can invest 42 million dollars in a basketball stadium, then we should be able to provide basic health services to all.

Fifth and most important, the driving force behind it all is jobs.  Good jobs that can lead to meaningful careers; jobs that will give Belizeans a chance for personal growth and prosperity and provide a hand up for those at the very bottom of the economic ladder.

If we do these things, if we create a fair and just society, if we build on these principles we will then be able to change people’s lives and together we will rid our shores from the scourge that is poverty.

I want us to start the work from now and for this reason I am once again saying to those on the Government side that we in the PUP stand ready towork with you to:

  1. Reduce the national debt, let us work smart and pay down the debt and only borrow for development.
  1. We will support the Prime Minister in efforts to strengthen our democracy and will support legislation for the conduct of re-registration in this budget cycle. If we can pay $20 million in fees for the Superbond renegotiation, then we should be able to fine the money to strengthen our democracy with a re registration exercise in 2017.  Let’s get it done PM.
  1. Although we are not convinced that the UDP is fully committed to seriously helping the poor, we support all the initiatives that fund the Food Panty and Boost programs, and would support a supplementary that would see us reduce spending on office equipment and new vehicles across the board and use those funds to at least return the Food Pantry to last years levels of spending, we are only talking about 385,275 dollars. Also while you are at it, can we please take another million from office furniture and sundries and put it towards the violence prevention program.  Last year you spent over 600,000 dollars on violence prevention and this year you plan to spend zero.
  1. We will support any plan that would offer much needed support for our struggling productive sector. All of us were hurt to see Belizean farmers standing amidst thousands of dollars worth of rotting potatoes. It brought back the painful memory from last year when our onions could not be sold and were left in the field while imported onions flooded the market. We have to help our Belizean producers.
  1. I say again, the PUP stands ready to work with the government in a bi national effort to enhance confidence-building measures with our neighbour Guatemala and to find a lasting solution to Guatemala’s unfounded claim to Belizean territory. We look forward to working to finalize an agreement on the Sarstoon that will see Belizeans able to safely and freely traverse the Sarstoon River.
  1. It is time for us to stop locking up our young people for a stick of weed. The time has come for us decriminalize marijuana smoking and prepare the necessary research to move to legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes and in small quantities.
  2. We will only build this nation if we see one Belize, where we are judged more for who we are than who we voted for.  I am sure I speak for all on this side when I say we stand ready to work with any Belizean committed to these just objectives.

 

CONCLUSION

 

I am an optimist; I have never met Cassandra, so I say this with all sincerity, I wish with all my heart that I could support this budget.  I wish with all my heart that I could lead my party to support it as well, but I can’t, we can’t.

How I wish we could say to the Belizean people that this budget would do something good for Belize, after all the last budget left us on the verge of bankruptcy and I feel the anxiety of Belizeans, it is ubiquitous.

I wish I could say that this budget will in some way help poor Belizeans who are struggling every day just to put food on the table, but there is nothing in this budget that will lift one single Belizean out of poverty.

I wish I could say to the young Belizean about to graduate from UB or Galen or UWI that this budge will result in the creation of new jobs. But that would be a lie.

Yes,all of these things I wish for should happen and could happen Madam Speaker but not with this administration — not with this incompetent, inept corrupt UDP Administration.

But a day is coming soon when the people of Belize will see this red cloud lifted and in its place, a clear blue sky. and the sun will shine ever so brightly.

And there will be jobs again and our children will have better schools again, the private sector will get back to growth again, the productive sector will produce, and NHI will be universal.

Confidence will be restored and the Belizean spirit renewed.

We in the PUP have never given up on HOPE,

we have never given up on the idea that Belizeans are amazing people who only need the opportunity to succeed.

We have learnt the tough lessons from the past.  We have the people and the talent to lead this nation to prosperity.  We have positive plans and we are united. We are ready to lead this nation back to prosperity. So to everyone across this nation we say come home to the PUP, believe again and together let’s build a Belize that works for everyone.

Madam Speaker I still believe in Belize.

 

Thank you.