My fellow Belizeans:
The sense of anticipation and resolve with which we greet every New Year, is even more acute this time. That is because now we are also celebrating the start of a new decade. And our consciousness of the power of faith and endeavour, is always heightened when we mark another milestone in the march of time and progress. There is thus a special awareness of the indomitability of the human spirit that the conjunction of New Year and New Decade brings. This will be most
welcome in Belize as our country steels itself to deal with the challenges of 2010.
The worldwide recession, which bore fully down on us in the second half of 2009, will run its course in the year ahead. Our difficulties will therefore peak and decline by the end of 2010. But until that happens, government and people must deal with the problems caused by slumping revenues, increased debt repayments, and the general economic slowdown.
Before I turn to that though, it is necessary to give thanks for such blessings as we enjoyed in the year that is ending. We were spared, despite the undeniable fact of climate change, any serious assault from hurricanes or other natural disasters. Such events as did occur included flooding in the south and the effects of the earthquake in Honduras. But NEMO, on which we continue to invest and which continues to improve, was able to deal with these comprehensively and expeditiously.
Socially, we found the resources to commit to the areas that matter most. That is why, in Belize City, hundreds of previously unemployed men and women were able to put food on their tables via jobs with the Urban Rejuvenation Project. In education, we continued with sizable budget increases. The first form subsidies were extended to second formers, and awarded automatically to all students at both levels in the disadvantaged districts of Toledo and Stann Creek. The number of scholarships overall, and especially for tertiary studies, was also dramatically increased.
Belizean agriculture was very much a success story in 2009, rebounding remarkably from the setbacks caused by the devastating floods of 2008. There was a surplus in basic grains, the banana industry held its own, and sugar prices were the best they’ve been for years. One hundred and forty miles of cane roads were rehabilitated by the Ministry of Works, whose general infrastructure improvement efforts succeeded in creating hundreds of jobs countrywide.
In housing, it was a cause for much joy that the 20 million dollar Venezuelan grant, diverted by the last administration, was recovered by this government. The money funded the construction and repair of hundreds of homes in every corner of the country. We also maintained the increased social assistance to the poor and the non–contributory pensions to the elderly.
Politically, the nationalization of Belize Telemedia was perhaps the greatest victory for Belizean sovereignty in the post-independence era. Of course, the enemy has mounted a series of rearguard actions. But our signal gain must be preserved. So locked in battle we shall remain until every last bit of neo-colonialist arrogance is driven headlong before us.
As we look to confront what lies ahead in 2010 then, there is much about 2009 that can inspire us. In terms of the recession, an old saying tells us to fear what we cannot see, not what we can. And we are already intimate with the contours of economic contraction. For almost three quarters now we have been in the belly of the beast, so to speak, and we know its entrails.
We shall, therefore, conduct the business of government with thrift, honesty and prudence in 2010. We must cut back on recurrent expenditure in accordance with shrinking resources. But we will also maximize our efforts at increased revenue generation and collection. There is a minimum level of goods and services delivery that we must maintain. And the one thing we will not do is to lessen our investment in the people of this country.
Our strategy for dealing with the recession, then, is really quite straightforward. Government must put more money into the public sector investment program. Increased government spending on infrastructure and development projects will help the private sector and buoy the larger economy. Most important of all, it will create jobs.
Of course, the trick is to be able to find the financing needed for ramped up capital spending. In the absence of huge surpluses or savings, and in light of falling local revenue, the money must come from foreign flows. And this is where the moral clarity with which we’ve been attempting to govern, demonstrates its practical value. For it is on the basis of transparency and good governance that we are able to unlock the funds from abroad.
Thus it is, then, that the Southside Poverty Alleviation Project, with its emphasis on jobs and shelter, will benefit next year from new cash infusions. The World Bank Municipal Drainage Project will bring physical and employment relief to the district towns. There will be infrastructure and quality of life initiatives in both the sugar and banana belts, all funded by the EU. More money will be forth coming to the DFC for small scale lending; agricultural credit will be provided by IFAD; and New Year export markets for livestock and grains in Mexico and Central America have already been secured.
When the global crisis first struck, I had announced a stimulus package of some 200 million dollars. Some of that money, such as the IDB 60 million on tourism and solid waste, will just now be spent because of programming delays. But there is at least another 100 million in 2010 from three additional sources: the Central America Bank for Economic Integration to whom our dues are now fully paid up; the newly chartered Caricom Development Fund; and the soon to be recapitalized Caribbean Development Bank.
It is on the basis of all this that we – government and people – can face the New Year with confidence. Of course, it will not all be sweetness and light. Every day there are reminders that progress is never seamless; that the tension between good and bad is a fundamental condition of human existence. But for every tale of misery, for every instance of woe, there is a counterbalancing example of upliftment and inspiration.
And that is the mantra of this government: that hope is always fresh, that the promise shall be redeemed. With this and the almighty as our guide, we look forward to making 2010 a success for our beloved country.
Happy New Year everyone, and God Bless Belize.