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Barrow administration gets a failing grade on its first two years in office

[Linked Image] Earlier in the newscast we told you about the PUP's press conference at Independence Hall. After a feisty statement by the party leader, his Deputy, Mark Espat made his own pronunciations about the economy and the recession. Espat says that there are thirty-two thousand more Belizeans living in poverty and over twenty thousand Belizeans who can't find a job. In his judgment the two years of a U.D.P. government is nothing but abject failure.

Mark Espat, Deputy Leader of the Opposition

"I wish to briefly sketch the outlines of our great recession. Economic activity, as measured by GDP, has shriveled for three consecutive quarters by 2.2%, 1.9% and .2%, respectively. These are not intangible numbers bereft of human agony. They convert to thousands of lost jobs, businesses shuttered, houses re-possessed, children booted out of school and families broken. A gruesome example of the carnage of this great recession is the Corozal Free Zone, where imports have literally crashed-landed, falling by greater 50%. Burning in that crash have been hundreds of jobs. Those workers still collecting a paycheck are now stamped as part-time, effectively underemployed."

"Domestic exports, one of the pillars whereupon rests the value of the Belizean dollar, shrunk by a breathtaking 20% in the January to October 2009 period alone. By comparison, the World Trade Organization projected that global trade would contract by 9%, less than half the height of Belize's fall. 20,489 Belizeans who actively seek work cannot find a job today. For women and youth, the unemployment rate at September 2009 was one in four, twice the national average or twenty-five percent. At the peak of the Great Depression in the United States 1933, the unemployment stood 24.9%. And while the inflation tiger had been tamed, after chomping 6.8% of the Belizean Dollar's purchasing power in 2008, the demon of deflation has now reared its head. Deflation depresses profits, devours jobs and stymies growth. Just ask the Japanese how deflation lost them an entire decade. But perhaps most startling is that today, 29% more Belizeans fathers, mothers and children now find themselves mired in poverty; living below the poverty line, compared to 2002. That twenty-nine percent is, in real terms, 32,000 more citizens."

Live and let live
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,400

On December 17th Foreign Minister Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington was famously quoted as saying Belize’s border is artificial. 32 days later – the Opposition People’s United Party issued a statement on it. Not quite what you would call a rapid response. Of course, that may be because their party newspaper, the Belize Times took two weeks off - two weeks when two grenades were thrown and so many other important events occurred.

Indeed, the PUP has not been the most present or active recently, in fact, they seemed to be kind of, on “coast,” fading lazily into the background of the national dialogue which is informed and shaped more by the media than any political party. Perhaps that is as it should be, but it seems that the Loyal Opposition – if it is engaged - should not lag so far behind. And today with an all hands on deck press conference – the party seemed determine to show that it is still around and if not ready to make trouble, at least willing to talk a good fight. Here’s how that event went.

Hon. Johnny Briceno, PUP Leader
“I asked you here today to engage in a frank and serious conversation about the state of our nation.”

It was an unusually show of party unity for the Briceno leadership – the leader flanked by two deputies – past leader Said Musa paying keen attention in the front row. And while today’s event was about showing that rare unified front, more importantly, it was about a triangular attack on the UDP government – hitting the Barrow administration on economy, crime and foreign affairs with prepared statements.

Hon. Johnny Briceno,
“Our government seems paralyzed. Their lack of competence is evidence by the fact that are incapable of coming up with a gang truce that can be sustained for more than four days. When grenades are exploding in our streets, when the potential for 17 more grenade explosions exists, and when the government’s only response is to try and buy them from the criminals, something is seriously wrong. This is urban terrorism and I would never negotiate with terrorists.”

Hon. Francis Fonseca, PUP Deputy Leader
“The Prime Minister has been summoned to a meeting by gang leaders meanwhile the Belizean people have lost confidence in his Minister of National Security. We call on the government to give serious consideration to the following recommendations: 1) doubling the police recruit intake for 2010; 2) doubling the number of booths on the ground or as they say officers on patrol in Belize City; reopening of all the police booths and substations that have been closed over the last two years; 4) Reactivating and adequately resourcing the community policing and neighborhood watch programs.”

And then, there’s the economy.

Hon. Johnny Briceno,
“We are calling on the Prime Minister to cut interest rates especially for those in the productive sector. We want to see a more aggressive program to bring opportunities to at risk neighborhoods especially in the southside of Belize City. We are demanding that he finds a way to access capital to help small businesses especially those in the tourism sector. We want more police officers on our streets and we want the Prime Minister to bring down the cost of living no matter what.”

Hon. Mark Espat, PUP Deputy Leader
“I wish to sketch the outline of our great recession. Economic activity as measured by GDP has shriveled for three consecutive quarters by 2.2%, 1.9%, and 0.2% respectively. These are not intangible numbers bereft of human agony. They convert to thousands of lost jobs, businesses shut down, houses repossessed, children booted out of school and families broken. For very real people, for very real people it has even meant meal times without meal.

The record now shows that the much trumpeted stimulus package, that life raft that was to rescue a drowning Belizean economy was riddled with holes. $200 million? Which $200 million? There is today no solid waste management station, no upgrading of the tourism product yet in Belize City or Placencia or San Pedro. No improvement to the drainage in Belama that was promised, no major works on either the Northern or Western Highways, no municipal renewal program yet from the World Bank, no relief to the potholes and the craters and the garbage dotting our city’s streets. Their stimulus held up to light is exposed as counterfeit hope.

A gleaming example of the apparent powerlessness of those lent power two years ago is the issue of interest rates at the banks. Incredibly, neither the Minister of Finance nor Governor of the Central Bank could offer our farmers, the productive sector, small businesses, entrepreneurs, even a glimmer of hope that the interest rates will come down anytime soon. Saddled with commercial prime lending rates upwards of 16%, the managers of our economy are incapable of peddling hope much less peddling prosperity.”

And Senator Courtenay spoke on his former portfolio, Foreign Affairs.

Senator Eamon Courtenay,
“The number of illegal settlements in the border area has also increased. Additionally deforestation and cultivation in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve by Guatemalan nationals has reached unprecedented and unacceptable levels. The Gulf of Honduras continues to be exploited by over fishing by unlicensed fishermen and pollution in that Gulf continues unabated.

The PUP therefore today at this time and place in historic Independence Hall calls on the government of Belize to prepare a white paper on Belize-Guatemala relations within 60 days. This white paper should have as its main elements a factoid description of the devastating effects of deforestation, cultivation, over-fishing, and pollution and other illegal activities. It should elaborate a comprehensive strategy to immediately redress these urgent problems.”

And it wouldn’t be foreign affairs without a swipe at beleaguered current Minister Wilfred Elrington.

Senator Eamon Courtenay,
“We assert without equivocation that we have had and continue to have and will always a real border between Belize and Guatemala as defined in the constitution of Belize. To Mr. Elrington we say you had yesterday the humility and decency to apologize to the Chief Justice, it is long past the time for you to apologize to the entire Belizean nation. We demand a retraction of the statement, we demand a public clarification of the true and correct position and we demand the resignation of Wilfred Elrington.”

Is expounding its positions today, the party took absolutely no political risks – playing it very close to popular sentiment on current events – but also communicating, or seeking to communicate, a sense of presence for an opposition that often seems absent.

Hon. Mark Espat,
“Today in calling out this administration on the flawed and failing economic policies they have pursued, we’ve fulfilled our, the PUP constitutional to the citizenry as vigilant watchmen and watchwomen of the public estate.”

Hon. Johnny Briceno,
“It is time for us as a party, as we said, that we have given Mr. Barrow and his government enough time, two years, for them to try and get their act together and they cannot do it and that is what we are doing here today.”

Courtenay offered that so little progress has been made on the referendum that it should be deferred until after the next general election cycle in both countries.

Channel 7

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