Independence Day activities were held across the country on Sunday. In Belize City, hundreds of high school students joined the Belize Defense Force, as well as the People’s United Party and other organizations in the annual Uniform Parade. Incidentally, somewhere along the parade route supporters of the opposition party came under attack from onlookers. While the procession through the principal streets of the Old Capital did not go without incident, it drew a massive gathering of the military as well as schools which subsequently descended on Orange Walk Town later that afternoon. In Belmopan, however, a formal ceremony that saw the attendance of dignitaries and other invited guests from both political parties. Delivering the main addresses were Prime Minister Dean Barrow and Leader of the Opposition, Francis Fonseca. While the P.M.’s address focused four main pillars, including the state of the economy, Fonseca’s speech was centered on Independence and the road we have traveled as a nation since 1981 as well as other issues of national and international importance. As we often do following the speeches, we have managed to juxtapose what was said in the context of the state of the nation.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“Where our economy is concerned, Belizean stability has now become a given. It is not just that there is continuing GDP growth, headlined now by the magnificent eight point seven percent in the second quarter of this year. It is also that our monetary and fiscal house, owing much to the signal triumph of our Superbond renegotiation, is very much in order; our dollar strong; and foreign reserves the highest they have ever been. Of our two mainstays, tourism continues to grow phenomenally. And while agriculture by its very nature presents an always more nuanced picture and will never be completely free from volatility, sugar is better than it has been in years; bananas are steady; and citrus, aided by Government’s intervention, is rebounding. It is in light of all this that, almost unique in the Caribbean, we have been able to give teachers and public officers a nine percent raise this year with a strong likelihood of additional increases both next year and in 2016.”
Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
“Economic reform is about building a creative, innovative, dynamic economy which attracts investment and creates jobs. In 2014, no one credibly questions the importance of investment, both domestic and foreign, to national development. The challenge is to attract investment that is compatible with the goals and aspirations we have set for ourselves as a nation and people. Similarly, by focusing on sustainable employment we assure sustainable economic growth and development.”
Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“Now I listened stoically to the doom saying and the attacks of some of those that spoke before me. But once more I’m resolved not to respond in kind. After all, nothing should provoke-or excuse-any descent from dignity and statesmanship on Independence Day. So if I look back now and point to certain things, it is not as rejoinder or one-upmanship. It is merely to underline how far our Belize has come. Accordingly, purely for purposes of comparison, I want to recollect the time, just under ten years ago, when the last Administration was also at midpoint of its second consecutive term. And in as politically uninflected a manner as possible, I state the facts. In 2004-2005, the fiscal deficit was nine percent of GDP. In contrast now, it is one point seven percent. In 2005 inflation was three point seven percent. Now it is just one point three percent. Our Foreign Reserves at the close of 2005 was seventy point six million dollars. Now it is almost a billion. In 2005, all-important capital spending had shrunk to ninety-two million dollars. Now, for fiscal year 2013/2014, we spent one hundred and ninety-four million dollars. The external public debt had surged to ninety percent of GDP in 2005/2006, costing two hundred and fifteen million dollars in debt service payments. Now it is only sixty-two percent of GDP and cost us only ninety-two million dollars to service in FY 13/14. In 2005 the weighted average lending rate at the commercial banks was fourteen point three percent. Today that rate has dropped almost five points to nine point eight percent for new loans, and with residential mortgages available from the National Bank for as low as five point five percent. As well in 2005, taxes had been increased on two occasions: first by ninety million dollars including the raising of business tax and the tripling of the environmental tax, and then by hiking the excise on beer and liquor. Now not only are there no new taxes, but Government has instead repeatedly given back to citizens through one form or other of relief. That trend continues today as you will shortly hear. So, Ladies and Gentlemen, you get the picture. Our economy is strong, all indicators are solid, and G.O.B. is able to pay its way and generously foot the country’s development bill without burdening Belizeans.”
“I say to every Belizean, in cities, towns, villages, in sugarcane fields, in citrus factories, on banana farms, on the seas fishing, in the tourism sector, in our schools and churches, in our health institutions, to public officers and the workers preserving our rainforests and marine reserves, keeping our communities clean, caring for our elderly and disabled, to the youths of Belize, I say to each of you, rise up, awake, it is now tomorrow’s noon and each and every one of us has our part to play in building on the hopes, dreams and aspirations of independence.”