REPORT #356 August 2000

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

South African labor and manufacturing cannot compete with China. A new battery operated radio, with a hand crank that allows you to run the radio by cranking it for a while, plus a solar cell panel on the top of the radio was originally designed in South Africa, for the African market. I bought mine in Miami, from Brands Mart for $16 USA. Originally they were made in South Africa and sold for $80. A sum too large for Africans to pay. The original model made in South Africa was backed by South African businessmen and South African Foundation money. The very people the radio was designed and manufactured for, could not buy it. Most buyers were various International and AID organizations. Even when the radio was sold elsewhere in the world, the company was unprofitable. So much for the social desire to provide employment for disabled people, war veterans, and ex convicts. In order for the company to survive, the predicament was between a good idea and real world economics. 196 South African employees were laid off, more than half the staff. Now the radio is manufactured in China and these hand cranked steel spring radios are being sold worldwide at competitive prices. One lesson here for Belize, is that we cannot compete in such small scale mass manufacturing processes. Our cost of living is too high. So the politicians and bureaucrats, especially the egghead types educated in the port Belize City need to get a dose of realism of world economics and quit floating "pie in the sky" ideas.

England is another example. Thirty years ago, England was a third world country and on the way to spiraling downwards to oblivion. In England, the problem was that the industrial revolution had left them behind. Politics and the two party , winner takes all system of government was killing the U.K. Thatcher did reverse the trend somewhat, but was still unable to overcome the problems of the type of politics they use in England. They were in the process of being faced with the reality of changing the situation, or face revolution in the streets; when North Sea Oil came on the scene and rescued England! The flood of oil money covers a lot of mistakes and faulty political structure. The political system is basically the same as the problem system of thirty years ago, but covered over by the high revenues of income from North Sea Oil. When the oil is gone soon, England will be politically KAPUT once again and join the African and Caribbean countries in their third world status. England is a manufacturing nation, but the political system cripples it. England protects it's manufacturers. England is well diversified, but lacks the ability to consolidate and compete in world markets. The Commonwealth of Nations idea did a lot to secure markets for England around the world in ex-colonies fifty years ago. But that market share is being eroded rapidly. The problem is the high cost of doing business and labor in England and countless restrictions and regulations.

In the USA, on the other hand, business people design new technology in the USA, they manufacturer nowadays in the cheap labor market of China and sell world wide. England has yet to face the next round of harsh lessons in world commerce. At the moment, they are strong in military defense weapons, a natural result of endless wars as a warrior nation. But marketing of competitive technology and products to the world has declined. A lot of food products continue to be dominant in ex-colonies by tradition and habits, but when the North Sea Oil money stops, look for England to go down to the level of Spain, or Portugal. It does not look like the European Union is going to help the situation either.

The lesson for Belize, is that the U.K., political setup is bankrupt and of a third world nature. Unless Belize gets a couple of billion dollars a year in revenue from a miraculous find of oil off the southern coast of Belize, we had better find a better way of governing ourselves better than that England uses.

I don't know who should get the credit in the advances in Education in Belize, but over the past four years, observing from the Belize Culture debating list, the names of Dr. Cal and Dr. Rosado come up the most frequently. Whoever is the motivating and driving force for all this change, a few MBE's and maybe even a knighthood is deserving of somebody. To recognize somebody while they are alive and still working is something that should be done in our society. Find out who are the motivators and get to it, Prime Minister. Recognize talent when you have it. Show the appreciation of the Belizean public.

What brings this up, is the decline of the University of West Indies students from Belize. Recently, UWI was over here drumming up business for their Jamaican University, supposedly representing the needs of the Caribbean countries. Unfortunately, reality and the harsh logic of supply and demand has met the UWI people head on, and they are not yet aware, other than a slight dent in the pocket book what is happening.

UWI was a University for the education and provision of salaried government workers based on European standards of educational training. Reality and soul searching set in, over in Belize and the educational system was found wanting. Both Belize and Guyana are pioneer, frontier mountainous, jungle clad countries. What was needed was a higher educational system that would provide self employed entrepreneurs. The Masters and Ph'd qualifications were of such a small amount of salaried employed people, as to be ridiculous . Once you throw out the education aspects of training people for a salaried government job, in a government monopoly state run enterprise, bureaucracy, or government. The numbers of people being trained by UWI were found to be non-applicable and of inferior quality.

Belizean higher education has divided from that of UWI. Belizean educators are into training people in the quickest most efficient manner in all sorts of skills, not as lifetime careers, but as money earning skills that can quickly be turned into economic advantage. The University of the West Indies however, is still set in the mould of traditional salaried workers trained in the European class lifetime career system. As the next ten years pass, I believe UWI of Jamaica will find they going to be a branch educational species on the way to extinction. They will follow the path of the Neantherdal. While Belizeans are adapting to the needs of the environment in educational requirements. Jamaica is providing support for a private technical college is software programming, which has the right idea, but their national educational institution UWI is obsolete for the needs of Belize and Guyana.

There was a wonderful list of the new courses being offered by the new University of Belize in a recent press release. Missing were two items that I can think of. One was the need for storage, processing, packaging and marketing technology for tropical products. The other was a set of optional courses in heavy equipment operation. By this, I mean driving and using a bulldozer, backhoe, semi-trailer truck 18 wheeler driving, the handling and securing of loads on such semi-trailers as well. At the moment, such experience and training is haphazard, but the needs for operators for bulldozers, backhoes and rollers is escalating as we open up the southern half of the country. These skills are not necessarily Associate Degree skills, but are needed certification skills. Many students should be able to sign up and pay for such specialized training as an added optional credit program as part of other courses. It is not necessarily a lifetime career, but something that can be used in a special time and place, while educating yourself for something else.

The Forestry department and Belmopan have pushed for years, the idea of exporting finished wood projects. The problem with this idea, is that those pushing it, never borrowed money from the bank to try it out in practice in an entrepreneurial example. Like so many 'pie in the sky' theories by highly academically educated city people, the reality falls short in implementation. Mostly the problem lay in ocean, or overland freight transportation. The rough roads of Mexico destroyed finished wood products, or the steel containers of cargo ships, turned into daytime ovens with temperatures so high, they baked and cracked the finished wood product. There were a number of things that were tried, in my lifetime. Mahogany skiffs or yesteryear were one idea. A guaranteed market and price, but the inability to get the boats to market in one piece. Mayan carved doors was another guaranteed market.

This sector of the economy needs to be re-visited. Reefer container cargo is now available to Belize, whereas it was not available in prior decades. Reefer containers are steel containers for ocean shipping, that carry their own gasoline powered air conditioner. These reefer containers could easily be adapted to the shipping of finished wood products. You would need maybe 300 gallons of water in the container to keep the humidity levels appropriate. About 8% water content for the wood. And a temperature continuously of 72 degrees farenheight. A lot higher than that of the 32 degrees F. necessary for meat shipments.

Couple this with a special cabinet school, teaching wood joinery, mortise and tenon joints, latest electrical hand specialized tools for cutting labor costs and a few other things and you could do wonders. There is of course an expensive niche market for QUALITY hardwood items. A trip through Office Depot the other day, showed me that there is a market for $2000 USA retail office desks. I was thinking of those 1920's old time roll top desks, with lots of pigeon holes, marvelous joinery, exotic woods, lots of compartments and drawers and they always had a few secret storage places in the desk somewhere, in which you had to move this, or that, which opened something else, which in turn allowed one to access a small secret storage place, to hide money, deeds, or a gun or something. I loved the rolltop desk and the secret compartments. People will pay high prices for a specialty one off item. Especially if it is top quality. There is no market for competitive furniture from Belize. Belize could not compete with the glue, staple and chip made pressboard cheap contraptions sold as mass produced products. But Belize could compete in an exclusive, expensive niche market for wood furniture that was chosen well and made of high quality woods. The problem in Belize, is that only hand tools are common for wood joinery and fine cabinet work; so a school of training for this as a specialization ,using the lates routers, dado blades and fancy expensive drills and heads would be necessary. A lot of the old cabinet books of 60 years ago are still around with the measurements and plans for fine furniture. Just as valid today as a niche export. Couple this with shipping by a humidity and temperature controlled ocean container and you probably have a winner.

He certainly qualifies for that accolade. One has to take with a grain of salt, when politicians praise themselves and their compatriots. It is a bit like the Hollywood movie awards that go on. A bunch of publicity. But old George will certainly go down in Belizean history as the father of the country. He did a great many good things for Belize and was often generous and willing to bend over backwards and break the rules to get things done for somebody in need. Nobody can take that away from him. By the same token though, the historical record should not show that he was a paragon of virtue. The George I knew was all of the above, but he was also a dirty backstabbing cutthroat politician that was willing to use thugs and bully boys and government departments to punish his rumored political opposition. You didn't want to be reported to George Price as in opposition to his views, or party. For if you did you would suffer. He wasn't as bad as Malosovich, or Fujimoro, but he wasn't an angel either. In the historical record, let it show he had a ruthless bad side too in his lust for retention of political power. Balance the books as we say. As one who suffered from him, saw others beaten by his bully thugs and also was a recipient of his assistance and help in developing Caye Caulker, I'd like to attest there was good and bad in old George. Let's just not get carried away when we rhapsodize about the Father of Indendence of Belize.

The first employment ad I have seen in Belize for the making of a software program was in the issue of the Reporter, July 23, 2000. According to the requirements, I could probably write that in DOS as a program. What I could not do with C++ is turn it into a Windows product for use in a desktop computer using Windows. Still got some way to go yet. I'm hoping to self teach myself Powerbuilder later this year. Which does that very thing. But it does point out that there is work for software programmers in Belize. Indeed all the countries of Central and South America. The governments would be the biggest customers. Every department needs specialized software requirements. Teaching C++, Java, Database SQL and Powerbuilder are a must in education in Belize nowadays. Look to the future educators. Anticipate and innovate. Be nimble and quick!

$4 million in debt relief from the U.K. is a drop in the bucket for the foreign debts of Belize, over a BILLION dollars it is rumored.

The economic correspondent used World Bank reporting to tackle the last few decades of government economic spending as related to GDP and growth economics. It comes as no surprise to this small barrier reef island fisherman to find out it was all balarny. One has to presume our Minister of Finance Fonseca, has been to Ireland and kissed the stone of tall tales. You have to bend over backwards to do it, I'm told. Either that, or it is just a native street jive skill he learned around the streets of that Port of Belize City. Home of lots and lots of con artists. As a simple fisherman I knew instinctively when I was getting fed a load of crap, but being able to use a refined academic vocabulary and statistical evidence is beyond my assets. I quote from the academic Economic Correspondent's article in the newspaper of July 23, 2000.

In the period of 1998 - 2000, the Government of Belize has loosed expenditure controls once again under the PUP. Central Government expendtures have consumed 34% of GDP and still rising. For Belize, the prognosis for growth income remains negative. Needed by the World Bank studies and historical records are; FISCAL DISCIPLINE, and RULE OF LAW by the PUP political party.

"The rhetoric by Fonseca and Musa is window dressing for continuing excessive expenditures on political patronage and on ill-conceived capital spending."

When it comes to seeing effects on poor and rich people incomes, public social expenditure shows little effect on either income growth or distribution. This is because a lot of public expenditure is not targeted for the poor. The poor will not qualify, or even be able to sustain payments for government built houses, only the middle and upper class can do that.

An interesting note, when you read the article and the various years, it is always when the PUP have run the country that the fiscal affairs of the nation of Belize have deteriotated. On the other hand, there is no note given for the facts that tropical weather speeds up depreciation of machinery and buildings in the tropics, at a rate three times faster than that found in temperate zone countries like England. If World Bank types and lenders are from temperate zone countries, they are not calculating depreciation at three times the rate they would for their own countries, allowing for weather and climatic effects.

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