- It took successive governments of blue and red almost 30 years since Independence in 1981 (1981 – 2008) for the total national debt of Belize to reach $2 Billion. It took the Barrow government less than 10 years to increase the national debt to over $3 Billion ($3.363). As a percentage of the GDP that $3.3 Billion government debt – the legacy of the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister – is 87.1%. And according to the IMF and confirmed by the Statistical Institute of Belize that Barrow legacy of over $3 Billion debt is forecast to grow to 90% or more of GDP in 2017/18.
So Madam Speaker after this UDP Government has spent a billion dollars every year of monies collected in taxes for the past 9 years that’s 9 Billion dollars. On top of that 375,000 Belizeans are left with a debt overhang of over 3 billion that this administration has become infamously known as a hard pay.
To add insult to injury they have driven the economy unto the ground. To quote a former UDP Minister this economy is now in shambles. His exact quote was “you can’t run a country with a Cabinet of idiots.”
His advice to Marion Ali who was interviewing him for Channel 7 when the UDP Government was putting Mayor Moya under manners for alleged under depositing and misappropriation of Council funds and the Prime Minister put Patrick Tillett in charge to watch the Mayor (the same man who is now involved in the shady trafficking of Visas along with Eric Chang). This same former UDP Minister’s advice was “listen to me when you see that group together: Esquivel Vasquez and what is the next one? Barrow, stay away from them. They have never yet been able to take Belize through a five year period without landing us on the reef…and that is exactly where we are heading now.”
This was an unguided missile that came straight from the belly of the beast.
- Madam Speaker this government has been running up fiscal deficits in every budget for the past 9 years. They have been borrowing and spending wild; taking away people’s property and refusing to pay for it. Racking up huge legal bills in the millions to benefit family lawyers and sycophantic advisors and cronies.
Talk about wasteful spending and corrupt patronage?
How can we forget how this UDP administration blew away $40 million in one month just before the November 2015 elections? How can we forget the $228 million of PetroCaribe loan money that the Prime Minister spent without getting any approval of the National Assembly, and he has the gall to point the finger at me. ‘No watch me watch yourself!’ Watch all those over there who are bringing shame and disgrace to you, your government and our country.
Madam Speaker for a government that promised the Belizean people that they would practice greater transparency and accountability, history will record that this has been the most shady, the most secretive, the most incompetent and corrupt cabinet ever.
No Audit: No Transparency
The Accountant General has not been able to audit the accounts of this regime because they have not provided the accounts to her office. The PetroCaribe over $350 million have not been audited. The Boost and Food Pantry millions have not been audited. The $70 million spent in land hustle in the name of compensation for land acquisition have not been audited. The millions spent by BIL in high priced million dollar basketball courts and multi-million dollar building projects have not been audited.
Only two years of the Immigration Department have been audited and the massive corruption that took place in the illegal sale of visas and passports is mind-boggling.
- The rampant fleecing of public funds over the past 9 years has led us to where we are today.
The country is in a recession for the second time under the UDP (2009 and 2016). Last year the Prime Minister came to this House and told the nation that under his great stewardship the economy will have a primary surplus of $37 million. In fact we are now told it will be a primary deficit of $55.8 million.
He said he will bring down the overall deficit in the budget to $62 million. He miscalculated by $100 million. The overall deficit is $160 million.
$80 Million in more Taxes
Now he expects us to believe that he will turn things around in this new budget for 2017/18. And he is doing it on the backs of the already overburdened Belizean people who will be taxed like never before. Higher tax on fuel, higher tax (GST) on light bills, higher tax on building materials, cement and steel, higher tax on soft drinks, beer and rum. Higher tax on everything imported through the environmental tax which will in effect raise the GST to 15.5% on all imported goods. We are now worse off than under Mr. Esquivel’s VAT Tax. All can foods even fish we are importing all the way from Vietnam. $80 million in new taxes on the backs of Belize people.
THE SUPER BOND
Madam Speaker, we have come full circle from 1998 to 2017. When the PUP won in 1998 we inherited an economy that was stagnant on the verge of collapse.
The people were over burdened with higher taxes. Crime was raging out of control. Even savings were taxed. Poverty had become endemic. Today it is no different. The economy is in recession. Stagnation is once again the order of the day.
But the Prime Minister is once again scapegoating all his government’s abuse, all his reckless spending, all their corruption, blame it on the super bond.
The Prime Minister says we have nothing to show for it.
- Tell that to the thousands of Belizeans who live in the rural communities who have benefitted from the massive expansion of potable water systems in their villages.
Villages like Monkey River in the Stann Creek district, Cristo Rey, Billy White, Santa Familia, Los Tambos in Cayo, Trinidad, San Antonio, Santa Martha, Santa Cruz, Carmelita, Yo Creek, San Felipe, Guinea Grass in the Orange Walk district. Yo Chen, Patchakan and San Pedro in the Corozal district.
The people in Toledo who received their good clean running water and electricity under the PUP they know better. In Barranco, Santa Anna, Cattle Landing, Forst Home, Eldridge, Jacintoville, Jordan, Aguacate, Blue Creek, Laguna, San Felipe, Silver Creek, San Pedro Columbia, San Miguel, San Antonio, Big Falls, Midway. Also Bellavista, San Isidro, San Pablo and Trio through the European Union.
Rootville and other extension areas of Belize City who benefitted from the expanded water system, from Double Run with new pipes all through Ladyville to Belize City. An expanded and improved Belmopan water and sewerage system. And talking about water the source of life, who installed the new water system with reverse osmosis in Caye Caulker as in San Pedro Ambergris. Who built the US$34 million Chalillo hydroelectric facility? PUP. Nothing to show for the Super Bond? He says!
- What about the thousands of other households who for the first time received electricity in their communities, in their homes like Red Bank, Steadfast Village, Maya Centre, the Hummingbird communities in the Stann Creek district. Duckrun 1 and 2, Santa Familia, Billy White and Buena Vista in the Cayo District. The entire Rural Electrification program cost millions and the PUP found the money. Of course we had to borrow to help people. So don’t talk foolishness that we have nothing to show for the debt incurred during our administration.
Our government carried out the biggest expansion of electricity ever undertaken in the history of Belize especially in the formerly so-called forgotten district of Toledo.
PUP invested in the 115 K.V. Transmission line and provided the necessary investments for rural electrification which ensured that thousands of families living in the villages across Belize have been able to move from kerosene lamp and candles to a reliable supply of electricity.
- Madam Speaker, we borrowed and invested over $100 million in the paving of the southern highway opening up the south for greater development.
What do we have to show for the super bond? We built bridges across the country. Deep River bridge, Silver Creek bridge, Golden Stream bridge, Caves Branch, Sibun bridge, Jordan bridge in Blue Creek Toledo, Agripino Cawich bridge in the Cayo district, the Beaver Dam bridge on the George Price Highway when the old bridge was washed away in the floods from Hurricane Mitch.
What do we have to show for the so-called Super Bond? The two-lane Burrell Boom paved road connecting the North and the West – $17 million.
The $37 million invested in the Municipal Drainage Project dredging canals, building proper drains, installing culverts and sidewalks. A project which greatly improved the drainage system in Dangriga, Benque Viejo del Carmen, Orange Walk, San Ignacio and Santa Elena, Punta Gorda.
We borrowed and invested in land reclamation and upliftment on southside of Belize City in Port Loyola, Collet extension, Lake Independence, new residential areas.
The Orange Walk Bypass was a major development that has had a significant impact on traffic flows in Orange Walk Town and which has served to save countless lives from traffic accidents when the cane trucks had to pass through the town.
- Nothing to show for it?
Tell that to the hundreds of low and middle income Belizean families who were able to move into their nice two and three bedroom cement homes thanks to the Pup Government.
New subdivisions in Belama, West Landivar, Vista Del Mar, Mile 8 and Western Paradise on the George Price Highway, Fresh Pond at Burrell Boom Village, Ladyville and Lords Bank expansion, Los Lagos and Maxboro on the Philip Goldson highway; Mahogany Heights off the George Price Highway. Financing of hundreds of new homes in Belmopan – Picini, Cohune Walk, Orchid Gardens Extension, Mountain View. In Belize City Yarborough Housing Development, Lake Independence Housing, Caribbean Shores University Heights, Fabers Road Extension to name just a few.
In the Cayo district Bouganvilla Park in San Ignacio, Hillview in Santa Elena.
In Orange Walk San Lorenzo Housing Project. In Corozal, the Venezuelan Housing Project, the Joseito Housing Project. In the Stann Creek district many housing projects in the Hummingbird communities. Hope Creek and Sarawee, also in Independence Village and the outskirts of Dangriga. In San Pedro Ambergris the DFC Housing Project in San Pablo. In Punta Gorda, 75 homes in Hopecreek.
All across Belize a housing boom, was experienced through DFC and direct through the national budget with loans which were consolidated into one Bond in order to manage the debt servicing in a sustainable manner.
It goes without saying that all these new housing developments required major investment in infrastructure not only the cost of the houses but also land reclamation streets and drains, play grounds, water and electricity.
So we may not have built a monument like a fancy Central Bank building but the PUP built over 10,000 homes in our 10 years in office to benefit thousands of Belizeans. This is a monument we are proud of.
UDP housing project was the mobile metal boxes which cost several millions, which incidentally was commercial credit part of the Super Bond. More recently they have done some plywood and plycem houses. Their record on housing is dismal. There’s nothing much in the budget to do any housing project. What this UDP Prime Minister knows to do is to write off loans for house (about $60 million) for electioneering – all built under a PUP government.
Nothing to show for the Super Bond the Prime Minister says:
Investing in Tourism
What about facilitating the first cruise port facility at Fort Street Tourism Village. What about the construction of Marine Parade the pride of Fort George and Coney Drive that has opened up Caribbean Shores to greater development. Millions were invested in the Tourism Product Development Initiative that included the building of Border Management Buildings at the Corozal Santa Elena border and at Benque Viejo del Carmen Western border. This major tourism investment of $30 million also included Visitor’s Centres at the major Mayan archaeological sites at Caracol, Xunantunich, Lamanai, Cahal Pech and Altun Ha. This project provided jobs and business opportunities for the many communities in the area; San Jose Succotz, Cristo Rey, San Antonio and Georgeville in the Cayo District; Indian Church near Lamanai in the Orange Walk district, Maskal near Altun Ha in the Belize district and St. Matthews and Franks Eddy near Jaguar Paw. Also in Cayo.
And that is not all Madam Speaker. When the question is asked what we have to show for the Super Bond my answer is this. We borrowed the money because we had to get the economic train moving again to generate jobs for our people and to create economic opportunities for a growing Belizean population.
Health for All
Secondly to make life better for our people; and provide opportunities for our young people by equipping them with an affordable quality and relevant education. Also to provide all with better healthcare rich and poor alike.
NHI was a major health reform initiative that were the PUP still in government, would have covered the whole country. Sad to say since the UDP took over NHI has been reduced instead of expanded. Many of the benefits like affordable maternity delivery and pre and post natal care have been drastically cut back.
Major investments were made by the PUP during our term in office: upgrade to Matron Roberts health clinic and Cleopatra White; Poly-Clinic in San Pedro. A new hospital in San Ignacio, upgrade to KHMH and all the regional hospitals.
Talk about nothing to show for the Super Bond?
What about the building of a new University of Belize campus in Belmopan with a Regional Language Centre. What about the building of many new high schools such as Ladyville and Julian Cho in Toledo. What about the Sacred Heart Junior College in San Ignacio and the Sixth Form Building for Wesley College and the new faculty building for Corozal Community College in Corozal. And what about 872 new classrooms built for the primary education system throughout Belize.
Not to mention the many innovative programs implemented like free primary school text books and the teaching of Maya and African history.
Madam Speaker our Party is on record that an important part of education is for history to be taught in all high schools – African and Maya history as the foundation. Belizean history that will imbue our children and young people with pride, dignity and patriotic fervor as we continue the struggle toward a free independent and sovereign nation free from the unfounded Guatemala claim and free (as Bob Marley says) from the mental slavery that continues to stifle our nation’s creativity. We need not only Caribbean history but also Central American history for we are the bridge on the American mainland that can unite these two sub regions in trade investment and development.
Madam Speaker our Party is on record for education to be creative with an emphasis on the best use of modern technology.
Sad to say however, today our education system is in the emergency ward, in need of a drastic and dramatic overhaul of new ideas, new vision and a modern approach to teaching and learning that will prepare and equip our young people for a world or work that is innovative, dynamic and creative.
We are spending $250 million plus every year, a quarter of the national budget and that is as it should be for education has been and must continue to be our nation’s highest priority.
But as the Report of the Inter American Development Bank poignantly illustrated:
“Belize is paying a lot for education but getting little”.
- More youths are outside the school system than in it, and many are failing to make the transition to the workplace.
- More and more youths drop out of school and become involved in gang activities.
- Action is needed if Belize is not to lose a whole generation of young people.
Page 8 of the IDB Report points out that completion rates in Belize are below the average in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Only two in every five children in primary school complete their primary schooling.
Only 45% of the high school aged children are attending school and less than a third of the children (27%) between the ages of 13 and 16 years complete secondary school on time. One third of those who do not complete secondary school drop out before completing the 9th grade (i.e. first form) reducing their chances of getting a job.
The PUP government made major investment (over $40 million) in skills training at the ITVETs which were built in every district of Belize but these facilities are still grossly underutilized.
Our children’s performance in the PSE exams remains deplorable. Less than 50% who took the exams had an overall grade satisfactory or above. Most children performed very poorly in Math and Language.
However in the Budget Estimates for the Ministry of Education we are given a set of alternative facts. I don’t know who is preparing the performance data for the Ministry. Whoever it is, obviously is trying to impress the Minister to make him feel good – massaging his already inflated ego – but the performance figures given in the Budget book are a pack of lies, distortions and cooked up numbers.
The truth is that the education picture in Belize is bad. If the Minister of Education were graded by the teachers and students he would get a big Fat F.
Is this why he has called the teachers ignorant, incompetent child molesters?
A certain school manager who shall remain nameless has given this commentary: 45% of all youth cannot get a secondary education.
Approximately 40% of those in school struggle due to financial burden.
Over 50% of our youths are at Central Prison in Hattieville, under the age of 18 years, many for the charge of murder.
This is not a pretty picture of our education system not a pretty picture of the state of young people in Belize today.
Madam Speaker, I cannot conclude my remarks on the budget today without saying something about the shameful mismanagement of our Foreign Affairs and international relations under the present Minister.
Just about every time this Minister opens his mouth, he becomes a national embarrassment, a national disaster.
On Tuesday March 17 on the visit of the OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, the Minister pontificated again that in his mind we do not have any agreed borders with our neighbour Guatemala.
He completely ignores the historic fact that in 1859 a Treaty was signed in which our borders with Guatemala were defined. He completely ignores the historic fact that in the 1930s surveys were done to the Western borderline and at which concrete monuments were put down at various points at Gracias A Dios and Garbutt’s Falls. And in1931 the Joint Commissioners exchanged notes stating that these monuments form parts of the boundary line between British Honduras and the Republic of Guatemala.
He says further that we do not have agreed maritime borders failing to recognize that the international law of the Sea clearly spells out what is the area of our territorial sea and our exclusive economic zone. EE2 that we are entitled to.
Worse of all this Minister is telling the Belizean people that Belize does not really belong to the Belizeans. We are only a bunch of squatters.
‘It is like you are on a piece of land all your life but you are a squatter. You can’t do anything with that land.”
In any other self-respecting country for a Foreign Minister to make a statement like that in the face of another country that is claiming your territory, he would be fired from the Cabinet immediately.
We also learnt during the visit of the OAS Secretary General that the Report on the incident of the fatal shooting of the Guatemalan young man in the Chiquibul which was investigated by two independent experts from Mexico and the US completely exonerated our BDF and gave the lie to the Guatemalan accusation that he was shot by a BDF soldier.
That report has been kept secret and confidential and not published to the Belizean people because according to the OAS official the Government of Guatemala and Belize have requested the OAS not to publicize it. What is going on with this Minister?
We have provided a comprehensive list of projects and programs for which our PUP government borrowed and invested. Since the Prime Minister challenged us by saying we have nothing to show for the Super Bond.
The massive unprecedented investment in the nation’s housing stock was carried out through the securitization process. And I will concede that we may have borrowed and invested too fast.
That is why we had to consolidate the commercial debt in 2006/07 into one US dollar bond with a 22 year duration.
Never once did we in the PUP default in the payment of our debts because we grew the economy.
Never once did we fail to grow the economy and carry out all these projects and programs that transformed the lives of the Belizean people for the better. And we did all that despite the fact that we had to contend with not one hurricane or one storm but with 5 – Hurricane Mitch, Hurricane Keith, T.S. Chantal, Hurricane Iris and Hurricane Dean. The ravages of these hurricanes amounted in financial and economic losses to over $1 Billion dollars and the PUP government had to borrow and spent for recovery and reconstruction. We did not flinch but continued out our work to make life better for the Belizean people. And we continued to grow the economy.
What is noteworthy is that the UDP Government carried out extensive investigations into the finances of government for the years when the PUP was in government. The Auditor General was able to carry out her audit for the period up to 2008 and no financial impropriety was found against me or anyone else in the Pup Government.
The $200 Million Fantasy
The Prime Minister keeps talking about a $200 million that he says a Bear Sterns report claims could not be accounted for. This is pure hogwash and the Prime Minister knows it is hogwash, utter nonsense – a complete fabrication that he chooses to perpetuate for political convenience. This Prime Minister who is planning his political departure now that he has accomplished his holy grail of a third term should for once stop playing political games and speak the truth instead of indulging in mendacity, duplicity and arrant nonsense.
Not a Blaze of Glory but an Inferno
Last year I said that the budget was the worst budget of the Barrow government. But this year the Prime Minister has really hit rock bottom. He is not going out in a blaze of glory, as he had hoped, but in an inferno of scandals, corruption in government, with an economy near bankruptcy and the Belizean people saddled with mounting debts hard time, more burdensome taxes, pain and suffering. But I don’t suppose the Prime Minister will be around to pick up the pieces when a fed up Belizean electorate apply the rod of correction and give them a good thrashing at the next general election.