Prime Minister Dean Barrow opened his long overdue quarterly press conference held at the Princess Hotel and Casino at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, October 29, by finally making the formal declaration that confirms what key business players have been saying anecdotally for several months: “Our economy is in recession.”
But the Government of Belize will not go to the IMF for a bail-out and will not submit to IMF (International Monetary Fund) controls, Barrow said, at his quarterly press conference held at the Princess Hotel. IMF intervention would lead to wage freezes, retrenchments and layoffs (such as had been Jamaica’s experience).
The Prime Minister pointed to healthy foreign reserves of $415 million, the highest in more than a decade. Government revenue collections for the first six months had fallen sharply, he said, from $325.8 million to $295.3 million - a 9.4% decline over the same period last year. Customs revenue and the General Sales Tax were the hardest hit since these rely heavily on trade and imports.
External imports for the period January to June were $648.9 million, representing a 21% loss over the same period last year. Imports for the Free Zone had declined by nearly 39 % (to $114.5 million) while imports for the rest of the country had slipped by 21 percent ($649 million).
Revenue on petroleum royalties also fell by 10.5%, but when the latest petroleum royalties collections for October are factored in, indications are they will be closer to initial budget projections for the rest of the year.
Reflecting this slower pace, Government spending for the same period amounted to 40.6 % of the pro-rata budget ($349 million). Government’s Capital spending also shrank by 26.5% when compared to 42% spent for the same period last year, Domestic exports were down too, by 18.7% percent. Tourism arrivals were slightly better than last year but tourism spending was down by 3.2 percent.
In the midst of all the bad news the Prime Minister ticked off a few accomplishments for the first half of the fiscal year”
* Water systems for nine villages of the Belize River Valley.
* $6.3 million for basic needs
* More money for education and road improvement
Education reform - an amendment to the Education Act and a brand new Teaching Services Commission to improve education.
Dialysis treatment through the Belize Health Care Partners was costing too much – an estimated $300,000 a month.
Despite popular opinion about a pernicious crime wave, government continues to insist that crime is down.
* Number of arrests up from 979 to 1,063;
* Murders down by 2.4 percent.
* Rape down from 30 to 19.
* Burglaries down from 1063 to 1053.
* Thefts fell from 1134 to 1115.
* Carnal knowledge fell from 83 to 49.
Prime Minister Barrow noted that the U.S. economy seemed to be recovering and the outlook was that this recovery would trickle down to Belize. The Government of Belize has been able to find money for various high priority projects from international financial institutions such as the Inter American Development Bank, including $5 million for land management services, $2.5 million for agricultural services and money for solid waste management.