Prime Ministerís Message of Growth and Prosperity for 2011
My fellow Belizeans:
When I welcomed 2010, I tried in a particular way to mark the sense of purpose, promise and possibilities that a new year always brings. I said then that the worldwide recession, which had begun to swamp Belize in the second half of 2009, would run its course; that our economic difficulties would peak and decline by the end of the year.
Well, I am happy to report that I was right. Here is what the Caribbean Centre for Money and Finance had to say:"in the first half of 2010 most Caribbean countries reported negative or low growth rates, the exceptions being Belize (3.5%), Guyana and the Netherlands Antilles (0.8%)."
Now the figures for Belize's third quarter are in. And our Statistical Institute has revised that mid-year 3.5% down to 2.4% for the period up to September. But we are still ahead of the pack; and the Central Bank of Belize's forecast for this coming year is yet more encouraging. That forecast is for 3.7% growth in 2011.
My fellow Belizeans: you will thus understand why I feel we can greet this New Year in a rhapsody of celebration.
But while the statistics are impressive, they never tell the whole story. And my administration has been preoccupied not so much with growth for its own sake, as with the social and human progress that growth must underpin. The welfare of the people, especially the poor and the middle class, will always be the central concern of the United Democratic Party. It is in that context that we feel especially good about the year that's ending, and even better about the one that's beginning.
Now Hurricane Richard dealt us a blow in late 2010. And citrus was the greatest agricultural sufferer from the storm. But government immediately gave a grant of 350 thousand for small farmer relief. And in addition, the government-owned DFC has made available a four million dollar line of credit to those same farmers.
Of course, our most fundamental worry in the aftermath of the hurricane was over those that had their homes damaged or destroyed. I promised then that we would assist every last affected householder. And it is a promise that is well on the way to being kept. Almost 900 homes have been repaired or reconstructed in Belmopan and in the Stann Creek, Cayo and Belize Districts. Things have proceeded a little more slowly in Belize City. But even there the number of houses fixed or newly built after the storm, exceeds 240. I take this opportunity to repeat what I said earlier. Though we have already spent almost six million dollars on the process, we will not stop until every single affected person has been helped.
But government's greatest success in 2010 was the rescue of the sugar industry. The livelihoods of almost six thousand persons depend on cane, and we count it a coup that the crop is now off to its best start in years. Apart from our million dollar grant and ten million dollar loan to the industry, government will also provide a not less than two dollars per gallon fuel subsidy to the caŮeros.
Ladies and Gentlemen, my fellow Belizeans: couple all this with the saving of hundreds of jobs and millions in investment at the Corozal Free Zone; with the rollout now of the country wide cash transfer to single parent households; with the food assistance in Belize City; with the Apprenticeship Programme for young people; with the three million dollars in loan funds for small businesses. Add everything together and see why I say that we are veritably charging into 2011, preparing to conquer everything in our path.
In terms of this New Year then, I especially highlight the following. On the back of that 3.7% GDP growth that the Central Bank is predicting, there will be no new taxes on the Belizean people. What there will be is new job-creating, economy-lifting stimulus. This is as a result of the millions and millions in project financing that this government has been able to secure for the Belizean people.
Here is a partial list of 2011's spending menu:
12 million dollars on small, countrywide poverty alleviation projects via the Social Investment Fund; 30 million dollars on municipal infrastructure to be shared among five district towns and Belmopan City; 62 million dollars in EU money for the Belize Rural Development Programme in the South, and the Accompanying Measures for Sugar in the North; 30 million dollars on the Belize City Southside Poverty Alleviation Project; 44.3 million on the Highway from the "Dump" outside Punta Gorda town to the village of Jalacte near the Guatemalan border; 14.8 million for the rehabilitation of the existing facilities at the Northern Border; ten million in social interventions in Belize City to help deal with gang violence; and another ten million for streets, drains and flood mitigation on the Northside of the old capital.
Ladies and Gentlemen, my fellow Belizeans: this 2011 agenda is filled with good things. And even crime appears, albeit slowly, to be giving way to our now resumed, now unstoppable march of progress. For while 2010 overall was challenging, we did see a sharp decline in the murder rate for two of the last three months of the year.
There is one regard, though, in which the sense of resolve that every New Year brings, is especially needed now. Our climb out of recession, our growth, our social and economic progress, are all being put at risk by a certain foreign marauder and his local fifth columnists. Just before Christmas a judge of the Belize Supreme Court upheld a 43 million dollar London arbitration award, procured by the Michael Ashcroft interests against the government and people of Belize.
This award was in connection with a grossly immoral, grossly illegal "Settlement Deed" made by the last administration. Under that accord, Ashcroft's billion dollar banking conglomerates were, contrary to law, exempted in perpetuity from paying their just taxes to Belize. It was as with the similarly outrageous telecommunications Accommodation Agreement also given to Ashcroft by the PUP. And this government decided, from the start and in the name of sovereign justice, to resist unto the skies this serial perfidy. We will continue now to do so, certain in the knowledge that this is a campaign of, by, and for, the people.
But I want to return to the positive, and end on the same upbeat note with which I started. In the course of ups and downs, fluctuating fortunes and dramatic shifts, one thing is constant: Belizean pride, Belizean patriotism. Perhaps that is why God has lifted up in 2010 this land that we love so much. And as we mass together in national solidarity for 2011, we are optimistic that He will continue abundantly to bless us.
It is thus with undiluted confidence that I say now: long live the Jewel, Belize forever, and Happy New Year everyone.