The Budget Debate is the highlite of the annual parliamentary calendar; it's the opportunity for all 31 representatives to speak about their constituencies, and explain how the new budget is serving, or failing them.
Today, the Leader of the Opposition set the tone for the opposition response, with his traditional speech leading off the debate. Briceno called last year's budget incompetent, and said the Prime Minister's new budget, dubbed "Stability in a Time Of Change" is a model of instability:
Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition
"Last year's budget was yet another exercise in incompetence. It was fairytale without a happy ending. That is proof enough that this is an irresponsible budget. Government overspent by more than 140 million dollars. In a 4 billion dollar economy, government spending seems out of control. Government is spending 25 cents out of every dollar in our economy. Well Mr. Speaker, the chickens have come home to roost and in 2016, as the soca song says "the party done." Just before the budget speech, the PM whop us with that fuel tax to the tune of 50 million dollars. The truth is that this 2016 budget is no celebration of stability. There is no boldness in this budget. The big picture here is that Belizeans will take a lick in 2016. You know how much of that 50 million dollars each of us will have to pay? Every Belizean man, woman and child will have to pay $143.00 more for government this year. This budget will not make us safer. It will not provide those much needed jobs that will grow our economy. It will not encourage any new growth in the business sector. It will not expand education for our young people who are out of school and it is not reflecting the fairness we need if we are to lift up all Belizeans."
And while the leader of the opposition leads off the debate, for years now, Belmopan Representative John Saldivar has been assigned to follow him. Today Saldivar keyed in on the Petrocaribe fund which Briceno had accused the UDP of over reliance on the Venezuelan money. Saldivar said it wasn't over-reliance, just advertising:..
Hon. John Saldivar, Minister of National Security
"Wants to school us about how to spend Petrocaribe money. I mean, I guess, they are between a rock and a hard place because they have a job to do. But each and every time that they open their mouth and try to criticize something from this government, we can always point to their slip that's showing. We can always point to what they have done. You can't come and instruct us Mr. Leader of the Opposition, because when you has access to the Petrocaribe money - he says that everything he hears from the government is Petrocaribe - we are singing the praises of Petrocaribe. Yes, we are telling the people what we are doing with Petrocaribe and that is why every half turn you hear Petrocaribe is building a road, Petrocaribe doing this and that. They didn't want the Belizean people to know about Petrocaribe. They never use to whisper or hollered Petrocaribe, because they did not want the people to know that we had Petrocaribe. They did not want the people to know what they were doing with Petrocaribe. Over 80 million dollars they had."
Lake Independence Representative Cordel Hyde followed Saldivar. The four term representative, who missed last term - said it had been a while since he spoke in the house, and he seemed to relish it, this time around, speaking mostly about poverty:...
Hon. Cordel Hyde
"The government says they are pro-poor and I agree. They are all about keeping you poor. This budget will ensure that. This budget is like all the rest. It will not make the lives of the 175,000 poor persons in this country better. In fact, of the one billion dollars that will be spent in this budget, the ministry task with fighting poverty - Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation will received a mere 3% of the entire budget. Mere 3%. Because how can the government says they are pro-poor? but effortless spent 3.3-3.4 million dollars on new vehicle each year with no plan afoot to rationalized its vehicle fleet. So they can spend more money on the people who need the help the most. But when you elect a government that tell you they are swimming in money and the best is yet to come and then you discover after the elections that they are all broke and it's only the worse that is yet to come. What are you to do? There is not much you can do, except to get on your hands and knees and pray."
"I've look high and low, but I can't find any weapons against mass poverty inside this budget. Perhaps those on the other side will be able to show us and don't tell me about an infrastructural projects, because those are beginning to seem like purely get-rich schemes. There are 3-4-5 companies that gets all the contracts. They do everything; they build streets, they build stadiums, they plant grass, they could even build warship, they could fly to the moon, they could walk on water. They could do any and everything and they do nothing wrong. These 3 or 4 companies are the most interest companies in the world. One company alone built Memorial Park, BTL Park, and Battlefield Park. You know that one? Falcon Field in Cayo, the San Pedro Football Field and another one down south and they have the Belize City Center contract. Now that maybe 50-60 million dollars in contracts for one solitary company."