Recession – it’s become the new “R” word – and it is pronounced wearily everywhere you turn – from government office to business place to tenement yard – just say that “R” word, and everyone knows, things “dreader than dread.” But, can they get worse? That’s what the Prime Minister warned today at his quarterly press briefing which was pitched as a state of the nation address. Delivered at a hotel and followed by a press conference, it wasn’t a state of the nation at all – and in fact even the Prime Minister bristled publicly at the description – because, after all, the state of the nation address was a Said Musa thing. But – descriptions aside, PM Barrow made it clear that the state is in a state.

Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
“In the face of the crisis we inherited, in the face of natural disasters that overtook us, in the face of the worse global recession in almost 100 years, in the face of all this I say the UDP government has done well. It is of course a qualified well. In other words we have done well relatively speaking.”

But to hear the PM tell it, the good times are over and if you’re saying what good times – well it’s only going to get worse.

Hon. Dean Barrow,
“When I say that we have done relatively well, I am not pretending that going forward things won’t be hard. The upcoming fiscal year is going to be the hardest of the UDP term. I know what’s going to happen after that, that things will turn around. But I need to ask people for their support and understanding.”

Support and understanding for something that sounds a lot like a tax increase and produced a weary sigh from the PM.

Hon. Dean Barrow,
“Well the numbers aren’t good. The Financial Secretary and his team, I don’t want to blame poor Joe for everything, tells me that we are looking at a deficit of about $60 million.”

And how will they cover that massive financing gap – the PM begged mercy on that one.

Hon. Dean Barrow,
“You know I try answer every question but I really would prefer to hold my powder until the Cabinet has been able to grapple with this issue on Tuesday. There are some broad outlines that of course appear to be inevitable but please I think I would be unfair to my colleagues if I started running my mouth when they have not yet have a chance to look at the numbers and come up with the shafts of brilliance that will obviously be needed, that will enable us to get over the hump.”

And while that is unclear one thing is clear no raise for teachers and public servants.

Hon. Dean Barrow,
“I have seen an initial costing done quickly by I believe the Ministry of the Public Service or was it the Ministry of Finance, where what the unions are asking for will cost $122 million over three years and that is only the off the top increases in salaries and emoluments. They are asking for various things with schools which will also have add on costs. But that’s their headline number, $122 million in three years. Again I am not here to quarrel with them, I am here to say simply that is an impossibility in the current circumstances. I hope that they and the Belizean public will understand.”

And Barrow says a lot of people will have to understand.

Hon. Dean Barrow,
“This is going to be an extremely diffcult year and we are going to have to ask people to make sacrifices.”

And while that recap of the country’s financial state was about four minutes long – the press conference and presentation took just under two hours and the Prime Minister discussed a number of subjects from why he won’t nationalize BNE to the worrying prospect of unease along Belize’s southern border with Guatemala and why he makes no apologies for his ex-wife Lois Young being the attorney of first choice for his government.

Channel 7