Speaking in my official capacity as TRUSTEE of the Belize Development Trust, I have to say I endorse the Musa announcements, on the economy planning as expressed in last weekends newspaper Amandala, which I have just read on-line. For the first time in about 14 years, some common sense is coming out of the PUP political party. At least in the field of budgeting and economics? The PUP have done some other excellent works, such as in Hurricane response and other associated fields. But my concern here is in the overall approach to government performance and economic and budgetary planning.
According to the article, Musa says they will reduce the 59% of GDP debt repayments ( that is 59% of the government revenue is needed to service debt- ' missing from this comment is whether this 59% tackles just interest payments, or also tackles principal and in what amounts, which I dearly would like to know?' ) will be reduced to 5% of GDP, using domestic and concessionary borrowing only. I understand the domestic borrowing ( e.g. treasury bills and bonds ) and the idea of using Belizean dollars to repay debt is a whole lot better than borrowing foreign exchange dollars to pay off debt, which only worsens the situation. What I do not understand is the concessionary borrowing using Belizean dollars? I would like that explained?
There is to be a shift in agricultural priorities and I am all for that. From Ralph Fonseca's trip abroad is supposed to attract investment in value added agricultural products from Far Eastern financiers. That agrees with our assessment here at the Belize Development Trust that agriculture has to move more into processing and packaging fields and establishing distribution and markets abroad.
For instance, I would support financing of small family operations from Belize, who have extended family relatives in places like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami, to assist them in establishing foreign local warehousing and possible processing and packaging operations in these foreign locations, to repackage, or reconstitute concentrates and distribute same to tropical product consuming markets in the USA, or even Canada. There is obviously a market in Guatemala for fish sticks and other countries from Tilapia aquaculture. The problems with fish sticks here are more in line with reefer cargo capability, both in overland trucking and ocean freight.
Having personally in my life pioneered a number of things in Belize and now see them as huge sections of the Belizean economy, e.g. scuba diving tourism, and tourism in general, my personal inclination is to skip the tendency of government and the PUP in general, to favor large scale investors and operations and work more with very small new enterprises. Whether these be small Chinese family investors, or Belizean does not matter. There is RISK in any new venture and it is better that the RISK be taken small. But a stone dropped into a pool of water will spread circles that spread outward. So it was with the tourism introduction by the Forman Brothers, myself Ray Auxillou at Caye Caulker and John Grief Sr. at San Pedro many years ago. One never knows what will take off and become the dominant foreign exchange earner forty years from now. You must simply absorb the failures.
There are a number of things that government can do to encourage small scale investors. Take my own situation quite well documented on the Belize Listserve, in trying to invest in a new sort of ADVENTURE TOURISM. The obstacles in Belize in trying to secure clear land title, road access along Roaring Creek, to persue a flight type adventure tourism venture has become too expensive and labor expensive. I've spent as much as I intend to spend in Belize and now moved on elsewhere, due to the obstacles and lack of government cooperation and encouragement. I have found two possible locations in Costa Rica. Not yet finalized and just received an offer to use land free, in Fairview, Utah out West in the USA, which will be investigated this summer. But the point wanted to make here, is that when a small investor is ready, it behooves some group in the political realm in Belmopan to follow through and see what they can do to expedite things to get such a small scale investment started. Now a small family run adventure hang-gliding enterprise by itself is not going to bring much into the economy. A little part time employment and a little foreign exchange. But if you judge such things by that criteria, you simply do not understand the potential, or the role of government. When I formed the British Honduras Scuba Diving Association many years ago, a one person operation eventually became three operations scattered around the country and now look at Scuba Diving today as a major foreign exchange revenue earner. By the same token, whether it is a small processing packing food export operation run by one family, or an Adventure Hang Gliding operation that seems neglible up in the Roaring Creek Gorge, you simply cannot tell what that will evolve into, forty years from now. Somehow, there has to be a process that political assets of government can be concentrated and used to get new enterprises started, smoothing the process of land grants and titles for investors, and the building of roads where necessary. Most of these things exist, but are scattered andf non-performing in practice. Since we have a centralized autocratic party run government, then both the responsibility and attributes inherent with a decree governing methodology need to be used, to expedite small investments. It all comes down in the end, to utilization of your human resources. Finance alone cannot build anything!
Getting back to the Prime Minister's speech on the economic changes, the plans are good, but we will not hold our breath until we see the performance. But at least now there is something logical and sensible about the new PUP approach to development. The future will tell! In the meantime, ( hic!-laugh! tongue in cheek) we wait with bated breath to see if there is any political offer of road building along Roaring Creek, the political affirmation that land would be made available for a landing field in the gorge and a few acres on top of Baldy Sibun area, or nearby for a hang-gliding operation with clear title, for investment in Adventure Tourism. Access and speedy land title at affordable Belizean prices are paramount. Costa Rican land prices are much cheaper than in Belize.
In short, the Prime Minister and his party finally seem to be showing some budgetary and economic sense. We at the Belize Development Trust support the expressed intentions of the speech from the article in the Amandala newspaper of the recent conference.