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#399960 - 02/10/11 03:47 PM Prime Minister Holds Forth On Many Issues
Marty Offline
The Prime Minister held his quarterly press conference today at the Biltmore Hotel in Belize city. The event was timed to coincide with the third anniversary of the Government's election in 2008.

But in contrast to those heady days - when hope was in full flower - these days, the hard realities of governance dominate the daily discourse.

And highest on the list of burning issues is the crushing price of fuel.

The Prime Minister made the case that government's tax take from what you pay at the pump was 65.4 million dollars for the 2010 calendar year, compared to 2006 when the tax take was 85.8 million dollars.

He says the high price you pay has to do with the high price on the world market:

PM Dean Barrow
"It's not as though government is raking in any kind of windfall. What is triggering the increase in pump prices is the acquisition cost overseas of crude oil and what we then have to pay for the refined product. I can't go out there and do something about the import duty which is fixed - have the prices go down and then rush back to the House to take up back the import duty. What we are looking at is the GST because that is where in fact what government collects is not fixed. It increases as the overall acquisition cost increases. If we go that route, again the trick will be where you fix the GST rate on oil. If we half it for example, you are going to lose upwards of 13 million dollars for the year. We can't be expanding education, we can't be paying for infrastructure, we can't be employing all these people, we can't be paying the Super Bond without being assured of stable sources of revenue...so it's a hell of a conundrum but this government is here to solve conundrums and to fix problems and so something will have to be done at the time of the passage of the new budget."

The other pressing issue is the crisis in the sugar industry. As we reported last night, the BSI plant will have to shut down for three to four weeks to repair a steam turbines which served the BELCOGEN Plant.

The Prime Minister today said it is a major disappointment:..

PM Dean Barrow
"We were very devastated yesterday to hear that BSI will have to close down for it appears for about 4 weeks. I am meeting with the CEO of BSI this afternoon so that I might have full information on the details of the repairs that have to be done - as I understand it - either by external technical people coming in or by shipping parts out to Guatemala. Let us hope that in fact the repairs can be done in not more than 4 weeks and then we can get back up to full production. I believe all of you know that until that happened we were well underway to having the best crop in history in terms of the quality of cane, in terms of the efficiency of the delivery system, but man proposes and God disposes."

According to a release from BSI this afternoon, the turbines generate approximately 25 MW electrical power to supply the BSI sugar mill and to provide power to BEL.

The turnaround time for the first machine to be completed and reinstalled is expected to be four weeks. BSI notes that sugar production for the season so far is 30,580 tons which is 4,984 tons ahead of target. But, even with that, the latest overall cane estimate for the entire crop has been reduced to 1,050,000 tons.

They have so far milled 275,376 tons of cane which means that some 775,000 tons of cane remain to be crushed which at the expected average rate of grinding would take some 18 to 19 weeks to process.

A lot of numbers, but the bottom line is that BSI says it still expects to finish the crop within the 30 weeks originally planned. They projct that the total output should be approximately 115,000 tons of sugar which would be the largest since 2004.

And while Sugar is at a critical juncture, the antagonism in the citrus industry seems to only be intensifying. Both sides, the Citrus Growers and Banks Holdings held a meeting in Barbadoes recently where they agreed to disagree, profoundly. The PM told us more today:

PM Dean Barrow
"They have now agreed that there is a material dispute between them and that - that dispute is in fact going to be submitted to arbitration. This crop year again is heading up to be one of the best in recent times. Notwithstanding the hurricane, there is a bumper crop and prices are very good. CPBL though is experiencing a short term cash flow difficulty, there is a need for some bridge financing. I spoke to the CEO of CGA this morning, I've spoken to Denzil Jenkins two or so days ago and he told me what the CEO repeated this morning that they think they have the short term financing nailed down, however going forward there is still going to be a need for these two sides to work out their differences. This is now a matter principally for the lawyers and I will say nothing unkind about lawyers except that once they get involved I think you can kiss the chances of any amicable solution goodbye."

And while the crises in those industries are quite a headache - another is the issue of petroleum exploration. Recently a company called Paradise Energy was given a license to explore for oil in a block covering the Maya Mountain Masif, which includes 14 protected areas.

Those form one broad issue of contention and quite another is the fact that the 50% owner of paradise is Kimano Barrow, the Prime Minister's nephew. The PM discussed it today and we also got some insight into the process of how the exploration contract was granted:…

PM Dean Barrow
"In terms of the particular contract that you are talking about. I remember when the minister brought it to Cabinet. What I can tell you is my nephew is a shareholder. The Minister, Mr. Cho anybody in the petroleum department will tell you - not one day did I ever call the Minister or any of his officials to say 'you know what, there is an application for a PSA that a family member of mine is involved in.' I don't do that sort of thing and not a soul in this room can ever suggest that I do because if they did they will be lying. I don't play that."

Jules Vasquez
"With the fact that one of the applicants for Paradise Energy - did you look at it and say 'this is the Prime Minister's nephew, we have to look favorably on this'."

Andre Cho, Director of Petroleum and Geology
"No not at all, like the Prime Minister said and I think he was clear that he doesn't get involved in those things. In regards to the Maya mountains, the entire territory of Belize is divided into exploration blocks including the Maya mountains and all the exploration blocks are either categorized as a very low potential areas. Low potential, medium and high, so those blocks in the Maya mountains are very low potential and so the government's policy in regards to those blocks is that if a company, whether local or international, is interested and willing to take the risks and invest some minimum expenditure and a work program in accessing the petroleum potential of the Maya mountains, then the government's policy is we can issue a license to them and collect rental and administrative fees. The main thing with those very low potential blocks like in the Maya mountains is that the government can generate some revenue from the fees and Paradise fees for the first years paid $300.000.00 Belize dollars which is half of my department's budget, so we've generated that revenue for the government. So you have to see what is the logical and most beneficial thing when it comes to situations like that."

PM Dean Barrow
"The fact is that the locals in the company no doubt have partnered with foreigners. So to say that these locals don't have the financing or the expertise - man doesn't make sense, nobody in this country has the expertise."

Andre Cho, Director of Petroleum and Geology
"Exploration and productions license can be granted either through one of two processes. The first is through a competitive bidding round which is a forum where the government would advertise vacant exploration blocks both locally and internationally to attract companies and then a session would be held either in country or out of the country in some place where for example like in Houston - which is the capital of petroleum in this side of the world - and the companies would submit their bids and publicly the bids would be open and the minister would select the best bid and he would approve that application to that company and thereafter you would enter into negotiations for the license. The other process is the application or applications would go to Cabinet for approval. So if there is no bidding round then all the applications would have to go to Cabinet. The last bidding we had was in 1995 and since then we haven't have any bidding round, so when we received applications from all the companies that had licenses, all those applications went to Cabinet for review and approval. This is common all over the world. Governments would hold bidding rounds when they think that they would get interest from companies and you would only get interest from companies if you have good petroleum potential, you are making discoveries so the companies are confident that if they get a license the chances of success would be high and that's the major factor in determining whether you have a bidding round. And at this point in time we don't believe that a bidding round is feasible because we don't know that we would get the interest that we would want even though we've made a commercial discovery in Spanish Lookout field, we want to make at least one big onshore discovery before we do a bidding round."

PM Dean Barrow
"What on earth can be wrong with government awarding the concession, it's not as though there were 3 or 4 interested parties and some special favor was given to Paradise. No, nobody else wanted it, Paradise applied, obviously was able to convince the minister and his experts that they had the wherewithal to make a go of this thing in terms of the exploration process. He brought it to Cabinet, Cabinet approved it - end of story. It was made public. There is not a damn thing - because the Cabinet press release went out - there is not a damn thing wrong with that process and that is a position by which I stand."

He stands by the position - but to do so the Prime Minister would be wrong in at least one regard, there was no Cabinet Brief - those don't even exist anymore, apparently though the head of government didn't get the memo. The Paradise Energy license was discovered by OCEANA two weeks ago when it received the most updated map from Andre Cho. The license had been issued in October, 2010.

Channel 7


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#399976 - 02/10/11 04:10 PM Re: Prime Minister Holds Forth On Many Issues [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

P.M. crunches numbers and forecasts the economy

The P.M. also used the occasion to give a report card of how his administration had fared over the past three years. He gave a preview of the upcoming budget for the new fiscal year and while he promised no new taxes, the productive and tourism sectors are not in the best shape and fuel prices are soaring. Still yet, the prime minister is already forecasting a deficit. News Five’s Jose Sanchez reports on a preview of the coming budget.

Jose Sanchez, Reporting

The Budget will be announced on Friday March eleventh, however at his annual quarterly conference, the P.M. borrowed a line from former U.S. President G.W. Bush, and said ‘No New Taxes.’

Dean Barrow

Dean Barrow

“We expect that this will be a good budget. Certainly and principally because I repeat what I said a couple of weeks ago, there are going to be no new taxes on the Belizean people for the new fiscal year.”

But while there will be no new taxes, there are various industries whose problems have become endemic, including the cruise tourism, citrus and more recently sugar industry because production machinery have failed.

Dean Barrow

“This is a setback. A meeting with the C.E.O. of B.S.I. this afternoon so that I may have full information on the details of the repairs that have to be done as I understand it either by external technical people coming in or by shipping parts out to Guatemala. In terms of the cruise sector, I’m not quite sure where we are except that all the ships are coming still. With respect to the final contractual agreement with Carnival, there seems to be a bout of musical chairs taking place. I keep hearing different names in terms of who’s spearheading the negotiations for the final contractual arrangements.”

The P.M. announced a decrease in revenue collection, and apparently he was not upset because it was due to poverty alleviation programs that affect import duties.

“Revenue collections for import duties for the first nine months of the fiscal year decreased by three point eight percent to ninety-four point four million. The point is being made that the exemptions on certain items as part of this government’s overall pro poor initiatives contributed to that decline in import duties. Well I expect that next fiscal year there will be a further slight decline because we are determined to press on with pro-poor policies.”

The P.M. offered a preliminary number crunch on what we should expect in the coming months.

Dean Barrow

“Total revenue and grant receipts are currently at five hundred and fifty-nine point six million dollars; total expenditures are currently at five hundred and sixty-six point seven million dollars. So that there is an overall deficit, at this point in time, of seven point one million dollars. The good news is that currently there is a recurrent balance of seventy-two point four million and a primary surplus of forty-four point five million dollars. Total revenue so far is five-fifty-four point eight million and that is up by forty-four point five million compared to the similar period for fiscal year 2009-2010. Where there has been a sharp decline is with respect to the grant receipts; in fact those have gone from seventy-eight point seven to four point eight million dollars. Of course, all sorts of pressures have come bear on our traditional source for grants. The increases in revenue receipts from the domestic petroleum industry and from GST compensate to some degree for the slump in grants. Business tax and royalties on petroleum total forty-nine point three million dollars that’s twenty-seven point four million higher than the similar period in the fiscal year 2009-2010. In the case of GST, collections rose by twenty-four point eight million to one hundred and forty point nine million. But I have to point out that is still below the target of one hundred and fifty-five million that we had expected to reach at the nine month marker.”

The Statistical Institute of Belize indicated to the P.M. that the G.D.P. growth estimate is expected to be at least two point five percent for 2010. Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

We’ll have more on today’s press conference later in the newscast.

Channel 5


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#400049 - 02/11/11 03:40 PM Re: Prime Minister Holds Forth On Many Issues [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

OPPOSITION LEADER SAYS PRIME MINISTER’S COMMENTS MISLEADING

Twenty four hours after the Prime Minister’s quarterly press conference, Leader of the opposition People’s United Party John Briceño has gone on record with his review of the presentation. One by one the PUP leader addressed the major issues raised by the Prime Minister in his review of the last three years of the UDP administration.  Starting with the state of the nation, this is what the Prime Minister said on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“It is a very generalized question.  There are some areas where we might not be better off but there are very many areas where we are and I think that the very many areas in which we are better off, the number far exceeds the number of areas in which we are not better off so overall I will in fact say we are.  I will in fact stick up for that position.”

In response, Briceño says the Prime Minister just plain got it in wrong.

John Briceno – Opposition Leader
“Well I am not sure in which country the Prime Minister lives because certainly here in Belize everywhere we go from the length and breadth of our country, everybody will tell you that we are worse off than we were three years ago.  When you look at the employment which is over 14% between youths and women it is over 30%; when you look at the issue of crime that it continues to spiral out of control, no direct foreign investment.  We still don’t see an economic plan as to what it is they are going to do to get Belize out of these problems.  What we do see is a government of crisis management.  Unfortunately whenever he meets these crisis he still cannot solve these problems that are confronting him and his government.”

On the issue of the economy, the Prime Minister says he is expected GDP growth in the area of 2.5% for 2010.  Briceño says the reality on the ground is not backing up the Prime Minister’s statistics.

John Briceno
“Everywhere you go, you can ask from the big investors or big businesspeople in Belize to the small shop owners everyone will tell you that the economy is bad, people are not spending.  Belizeans have no confidence in the economy that is why they are not spending.  There are certain indicators that can tell you.  When the Prime Minister talks about that the GST while they have collected more, they fell short from what they expected to get by several tens of millions of dollars that is an indication that people are not buying anymore because they don’t have the money.  When you go to the banks, the banks will tell you they have excess liquidity because Belizeans are not investing, they are not investing in their homes, or investing in businesses or spending, consumer spending that is not happening because they are uncertain of the future under a UDP Government. These are certain indicators that can tell you that there is no confidence in the Barrow administration.”

On the issue of high fuel prices, Mr. Briceño also addressed the situation and says that there s a way for the Prime Minister to bring down the price is he really wanted to do so.

John Briceno
“Well he threw out some statistics pointing out that under the PUP government we were collecting more from taxes in fuel.  That could be a clear indication that at that time the economy was growing, people were spending money, people were travelling, people were investing, construction was on the rise, so obviously there is going to be more need more use for fuel.  I believe that the Prime Minister is being disingenuous when he tells you that one, he has to wait one for the budget for him to see if he can do anything and also then to tell you that he is still at a loss as to how he can bring down the cost of fuel.  I will give him one simple example, one solution on how he can bring down the cost of fuel.  When he came up with the new windfall tax, the experts were recommending to the Prime Minister, and I know because I was also involved just before that when we were in Government.  The experts were recommending to set the windfall tax at US $60.00; the Prime Minister despite that recommendation, decided to put it at $90.00.  If he would have put it at $60.00 or if he can put it $60.00 right now, he claims that anything over that threshold it’s 50  - 50 we would be sharing.  The people at BNE are exporting about 1.4 million barrels a year, let’s average it at $80.00 a barrel, although it’s almost $90.00 a barrel, that would be another $10.00 we would be getting a barrel, 10 times 1.4 million would give you US $14 million that we could be collecting so the Prime Minister could easily reduce the windfall tax from $90.00, the threshold to $60.00 and then that extra tax that he would be getting that he could apply directly to fuel so we can reduce the cost of fuel to the Belizean people.  That would then allow Belizeans to be able to travel more, to be able to invest, transportation, it has a direct impact in the lives of all Belizeans.”

Patrick Jones: Is that then something that a future PUP Government would be willing to undertake?

John Briceno
“Certainly we have been saying from early on that we need to take a look at what is taking place in the petroleum industry.  We recognize that when we signed the petroleum sharing agreement with BNE that we had a contractual obligation and even the Prime Minister has accepted that but there is one point that we did not give up the right about taxation.  When BNE made their proposal to government and I must add that even the prime Minister admitted when they were talking about his nephew, that nobody was coming to Belize so at that time BNE was in a strong position to negotiate for what they got.  That aside, the issue with BNE we know that the Government has not given up the right to tax and that we should look at a way how Belizeans can get a just share of the petroleum that is rightfully for all Belizeans.”

The PUP leader also touched on the UDP’s manifesto promises, which the opposition says have largely been unfulfilled three years after winning the last general elections.

John Briceno
“The Prime Minister was quite crafty when he decided not to touch it because when you look at his 21 promises, from the 5,000 jobs that he was going to create, we have more unemployment, we have a new phenomenon called under employment where businesses because they do not want to fire  good employees, they cut down the hours.  We look at the issue of crime; when he talk about the 360 degrees, it is worst than ever unfortunately for Belize.  The issue of direct foreign investment it has gone down by more than 50% in the three years since the UDP has been in Government. When you look at the health sector it is breaking down, our infrastructure is breaking down in every step of the way.  The quality homes that he promised the Belizean people we can’t see it; he promised a 6% growth in the economy, we are hoping to get a 2.5%.  With all of that Belizeans they are not feeling any positive effect from this growth.  So I think the Prime Minister was quite wise in trying not to tackle the 21 promises because he would see that it would be a disaster for the Belizean people and our country the last three years under his administration.”

LOVEFM


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#400059 - 02/11/11 03:56 PM Re: Prime Minister Holds Forth On Many Issues [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Leader of Opposition: Economy is not better today

The Prime Minister’s first quarterly press conference for 2011 was on Wednesday; it took place at a time when high priority industries are operating in crisis mode. On the heels of a hurricane that ravaged crops, the citrus industry is facing legal arbitration with an international investor; the country’s only sugar factory has halted production while a make or break crop is about to be harvested; notwithstanding the fate of the cruise tourism industry is at the mercy of multibillion dollar stakeholders like Carnival whose tactics have been boxing out local tender operators. It’s not the possibilities that were being imagined in the U.D.P.’s campaign leading up to the 2008 general election victory, but it is the harsh reality of the Belize we live today. So are things better? According to the Leader of the Opposition, the answer is simply, no. John Briceño, while making his media rounds, told News Five that P.M. has it wrong.

John Briceño, Leader of the Opposition

“We’re hoping that we can get a good budget; a budget that would offer hope to the Belizean people. But unfortunately that is not going to happen. When we look at the record of the government for the past three years, it is obvious that the Prime Minister has no economic plan. I think what stood out during the Prime Minister’s Press Conference is that he has no economic plan, he has no plan in how he is going to create the five thousand jobs, he has no plan on how he is going to combat crime, he has no plan in how he is going to bring down the cost of living. And that is what is happening to the Prime Minister. So unfortunately, I don’t expect that the budget is going to bring anything for the people. He has come with this promise about that he is not going to raise taxes, but it all depends upon your interpretation because if you look at fuel; the price of fuel continues to fluctuate between eighty-five dollars to say ninety-one, ninety-two dollars, but yet you never see the price of gasoline go down. It has just been going steadily up, up and upward increase. So, I don’t expect much from the Prime Minister’s budget.

John Briceno

I certainly don’t know what country the Prime Minister lives in, but certainly not in Belize because everywhere you go, across the length and breadth of this country, Belizeans are telling you they are not better off—that they are worse off than three years ago. From the cost of living that has gone up; from the unemployment that has gone up from eight and a half percent to over fourteen percent; among women and youths its over thirty percent, from the cost of fuel that continues to go up, the issue of jobs—they promised five thousand jobs, we’re not seeing those five thousand jobs; they promised growth in the economy of six percent of G.D.P. per year, he is trying to boast about a two point five percent, a meek growth in G.D.P? So that overall Belizeans will tell you that they are not better off under this U.D.P. government.

The Prime Minister is using statistics for him to try to make a point, but when you look at the statistics, he is contradicting himself. Because the very reason why is it that the import duties have gone down is because of the lack of economic activity in the country. You can ask any businessman or woman across this country, any investor in this country, you could ask any Belizean and they can tell you that they are not consuming as what they did three years ago. People are not investing the way they were doing coming up to 2008 and the statistics are there to prove it. In 2008, foreign direct investment was at three hundred and sixty million dollars. By last year, it was already down by half, by about fifty percent. That is a direct indication that there is not this economic activity that will generate this activity in the economy and people are not buying so the importers are not importing. So he contradicts himself when he uses these statistics.”

Channel 5


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