On Wednesday the Prime Minister hosted a business forum that sought to bring together the public and private sectors to work toward a common goal. One of the issues that came up during yesterday’s business conference was the issue of rates for international telecommunications. Prime Minister Dean Barrow addressed the issue of Voice over Internet Protocols, also known as VOIP.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“There is a continuum that we are looking at, and that continuum I'm saying, will inevitably include VOIP. It's just a matter of timing. The company it is looking anxiously at the whole equation to see when would be the optimum moment at which I can introduce VOIP, the company will take a hit, very clearly in terms of its revenues, but the consumer is king; the Belizean citizen is boss; and so I acknowledge freely the inevitability of the coming of VOIP.”

Following the forum, reporters spoke with the Prime Minister on a number of national issues, among them energy and the economy. One issue that was put to the Prime Minister is the prospect of setting up a refinery to help with the ever increasing fuel prices.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“There has been an expression of interest, BNE itself wants to do one but I need to point out that the presence of a refinery won’t necessarily mean a lower fuel prices in Belize. The Mexicans who are interested in a refinery are interested in refining crude here for export and they would no doubt want to sell whatever amount if any they are going to reserve for local consumption at competitive prices. Let us understand that while a refinery would without a doubt create employment and bring in foreign exchange, the question of the refinery operating as a depressor of fuel prices at the pump is up in the air.”

The Prime Minister was also asked to respond to news that rating agency Standard and Poors recently downgraded Belize’s foreign debt outlook rating from stable to negative.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“Believe me it’s no bravado when I tell you that’s a matter of supreme indifference where I am concerned. Standard & Poor’s rates sovereign debt and that is only important for people who are in the markets, who are borrowing by way of bonds and that sort of thing. To the extent that it affects Belize’s bonds that are already out there, these are the bonds that are part of the Super Bond, it doesn’t affect us as a country in any way at all. In terms of the trading in Belize bonds that are already out there, it no doubt is consequential but it doesn’t, we only borrow from the concessionary institutions now, from the multilateral institutions and so a Standard & Poor ratings has nothing to do with our ability to assume that kind of concessional development. We are very much inclined to service our debt. If they are saying objectively there may good reasons why we should at some point adopt a calculated policy of looking at the absolute need or otherwise to service our debt then it is something that I will bear in mind but as of now we are not only inclined to service our debt, we are servicing our debt and we will continue to do so and for the immediate future, the intermediate future as well, there is not a problem.”

And while the PM said that there have been no gang-related murders since the truce was introduced in September, there have been quite a few reports of armed robberies and home invasions, during which a Cayo businessman was murdered only a few weeks ago. We asked Prime Minister Barrow whether there was a plan to address these types of crimes.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“We are better equipping the Police and we expect that we will make progress where that is concerned as well. That is far more manageable and less I would have thought of a headline grabber than the murder rate but I can understand that if you make progress on the murder rate then you have to bring to our attention the other things but we are getting there.”


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