On Independence Day the leader of the opposition, John Briceño dedicated his speech to the memory of the Right Honorable George Price, who had passed away two days earlier. While also paying respects to the father of the nation, the Prime Minister upstaged the event with what sounded like a pre-election speech full of goodies. With national mourning underway, most things went under the radar. But this morning on the occasion of the People’s United Party birthday, Briceño took on the Prime Minister. He disputed the prime minister’s version of the B.E.L., internet and housing stats.
Dean Barrow [File: September 21st, 2011]
“Telemedia will, on October 1st, give both greater Internet access and a lower price to Belizeans. Currently the minimum amount of bandwidth that can be purchased is two hundred and fifty-six kilobits per second for one hundred dollars per month, plus GST. Now the company will offer one hundred and twenty-eight kilobits per second at the rock bottom cost of just forty nine dollars per month. But there is more. As a special thirtieth anniversary gift, government will remove the GST on internet services. We will thus forgo two million dollars in annual revenue. But it will be worth it. Currently, the fourteen or fifteen percent rate of internet penetration in Belize is among the lowest within our country peer group. This is unacceptable, given the fundamental importance of the Internet to development and modern day life. And for Government and Telemedia, the removal of all obstacles along Belize’s super information highway is therefore a must.”
John Briceño, Leader of the Opposition
“The internet is a very important tool for the students, I would have been happy if the prime minister would have said that we are going to ensure that every single school in this country has access to internet and fast internet so that they can do their homework. They can do their research and the work that they need to do. Now that would be more meaningful than saying I’m going to be bringing down the cost.”
“Then, on the question of land, the slow delivery especially of building lots has been a much-vexed issue that Government is determined to address. Thus, five million dollars is being spent on a new land management system that should eliminate a lot of the current chokeholds. And land is being identified in every District for survey and subdivision into house lots. Government will award these to first time owners by way of immediate freehold title, and at a price not to exceed a thousand dollars payable in installments. One thousand acres have already been acquired along the Western Highway for allocation to people in the Belize and Cayo Districts and so around four thousand building lots will be distributed as soon as surveyors can complete the subdivision work. We have also secured, by way of an amicable arrangement with a company called Belize Distills, another parcel of land enough to give one thousand house lots to Belizeans in the Orange Walk district. We will now turn to each of the other Districts and will acquire whatever is needed to continue addressing, in a sharply accelerated way, the cry of our people for land.”
“When it comes to land, [the fact] that he is acquiring these large parcels of land. Well I don’t know where that parcel of land, a thousand acres is close to [or] nearby to Orange Walk Town because all the land around Orange Walk Town has been taken. But that he is going to make all these lands available to first time land owners, this is the very same government that when they got into government took away lands from Belizeans, thousands of Belizeans across this country. This is the same government that for the ones that managed to make a payment that they increased the cost of the land. Now because he’s talking and it almost sounded like a campaign propaganda on the Twenty-first he’s saying now we’re going to bring down the cost to one thousand dollars. How about all those thousands of Belizeans that he has victimized over the past years, are they going to get any sense of relief?”
“Turning to B.E.L. I can say that on Thursday last the new, Government-controlled Board of Directors officially renounced the Fortis demand for our people to pay higher electricity rates. We were told prior to the sovereign acquisition, that Fortis required an immediate rate increase in order to avoid the certain collapse of B.E.L. But Belizeans have now taken over, and there is no way to sugarcoat what we found. Fortis was consistently inflating B.E.L.’s asset base and engaging in wasteful capital spending. This was in order to manufacture artificial pass-through costs and justify unwarranted rates of returns.”
“He has been accusing B.E.L. that they were trying to deceive or cheat the government from its taxes. Now who was the chairman at that time for B.E.L., Rodwell Williams, and Rodwell Williams is who? The law partner of the prime minister. So is he by extension accusing his own law partner to allow B.E.L. to defraud the Government of Belize from its taxes? Is that what he is saying?”
In respect of the sixty-two million dollar housing debt forgiveness, Briceño says that’s simply a book keeping entry. The loans which, in some instances, were inactive for more than ten years were just written off the books because they are unrecoverable.