By Richard Harrison

The Hon. George C. Price et al set Belize on course to becoming politically independent in the 1950s’. The leaders of the country worked arduously to convince the people that this goal was achievable and worthwhile, and gathered around them the human and material resources that were required. After achieving Self-Government in 1964, they implemented projects and programs that benefited the people in real ways….adult suffrage, land reform and redistribution, countrywide road networks, rural electrification and potable water, credit unions, policies and systems to support small, medium and large scale industrial development and investments. The people rallied in support of these actions and the POLITICAL INDEPENDENCE goal was achieved on September 21, 1981.

Since that achievement, no leader has set a new long-term goal for Belize….and the country has been wavering in the deep blue sea, shifting course every time the wind blows in a different direction.

The logical goal that Belize should set is to seek ECONOMIC INDEPENDENCE.

It is my opinion that this goal has not been set, because of three reasons: (1) no leader has risen that has the vision and can articulate it in a way that makes the people feel fully identified with its goals (2) the principal interest of our leaders, since Independence, to increase their own personal wealth, power and influence, far exceeds their interest in the growth and prosperity of the Belizean people and country (3) the leaders we have had since Independence don’t know how such a goal would be achieved, and because of the previous point, will not gather around them the human and material resources required to plan for and achieve it.

The result is….manifesto promises that are grabbed out of a tub just before elections…..and impromptu projects that are cooked up around annual Budget Speech and Independence Day speech preparations, by the political whims of the leaders and grab-tub buddies around the hookah pipe (or in the curling smoke of Cohiba). None of these decisions come out of a process of consultation with the people, to find out what their ambitions are, and how they would want to achieve them. Most of the time, these promises are made without any indication of how they would be financed… who and how many would benefit from them….and worse, who and how many would be hurt by them.

In 2010, the Budget Speech promised to lower the cost of living “no matter what”… and proceeded to lower import duties on a host of competing imported items to zero, reducing government revenue by over $30 million….a decision that brought a flood of imports into the small market space….destroying many investments. Needless to say…..cost of living has skyrocketed since then….individuals and businesses continue to fold or default at unprecedented rates….and many more are hanging on a shoestring.

The only way to economic independence……is if we export more compared to what we import, until we can eventually generate a surplus of exports over imports…..whether it be by way of exportable goods….or by services.

A flood of costly infrastructure projects, financed by more debts….we are told….will bring the Belize economy out of depression….push down the unemployment rate….decrease the crime rate….and bring a host of other desirables. We have been there and done that….

No one explains however, how these infrastructure projects will affect our export and import numbers….and whether we can project an increase of exports relative to our imports, as a result of these projects to a predictable point where we can expect surplus for reinvestment in our growth, rather than using debts.

If our leaders would become serious about achieving economic independence they would develop the relevant long term ECONOMIC INDEPENDENCE plans along with the people to make Belize more COMPETITIVE and PRODUCTIVE, to make Belize a more balanced playing field for all investments and investors, to improve and update the laws of Belize so that true justice prevail, and be seen to prevail, for all citizens alike. They would seek out and recruit the human and materials resources required to achieve same. These are the things that would increase our values and self-esteem….and sustainable high standards of living for ALL our people.

Depending on debt refinancing based on long-term burdening the children of Belize, beggar-thy-neighbor antics, concessionary politically-linked acrobatics such as with the Bolivarian Republic, and compromising economic-support mechanisms from the EU, Taiwan and others…..will not now….or ever….put us on a path of economic independence.

Belize needs to produce more goods and services….and grow its exports relative to its imports. This can only happen if Belize improves its competitive and productivity profile.

How we will achieve the targets of our ECONOMIC INDEPENDENCE plan is what Belizeans need to demand of Budget and Independence Day speeches. The process of preparing those speeches should begin at least 90 days before the day of their delivery and the draft contents shared widely via the press so that more people can weigh in on the benefits and risks of the projects and programs that are being considered and to ensure that they align with our LONG TERM economic independence plans and with our Constitution, upon which any such plan should be based.

The Belize Times