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PM Reaches Out To Business Community #423118
11/24/11 08:04 AM
11/24/11 08:04 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 79,820
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP
And while the PUP tries to gather itself for those municipal elections, it appears the Barrow Administration is looking ahead to generals.

The government which has hung its hat on its pro-poor policies - has also alienated the business sector - which is struggling with sharp downturns in sales and where the view is widely held, that, when it comes to business, the Barrow Government just doesn't get it.

Well today a business forum was held to offer an olive branch to the business sector - and show government's commitment to take on their ideas.

It was the first of its kind in this government and we were there for most of the four hour event - here's how it went:

Jules Vasquez Reporting

Themed "Turning the Corner," the business forum was well-attended. The jungle pavilion - which is a large conference hall - was full.

Captains of commerce and industry, Citrus, banana, and sugar, commercial bankers, and micro creditors, merchants, business leaders, parliamentarians, and senior public officers all spoke to a Head table including PM as Minister of Finance, the comptroller of customs, the Commissioner of sales tax, the governor of the central bank, the financial secretary .

The Forum was to cover six major complaints from the business sector, customs and tax evasion by some businesses, the impact of crime on business, onerous lending rates at the bank, poor infrastructure, the unavailability of timely and reliable statistics from government, and an excessively bureaucratic concession regime.

Specific complaints, but all based around more or less the same question: Can The Barrow Administration create an enabling business climate?

Prime Minister Dean Barrow - Prime Minister of Belize
"At a more general level, there was a clear indication of the need for improvement in the perception of the business climate in Belize."

And PM Barrow made it clear, that Government is now asking the business sector to lead the way:

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"The need for Government to enter into a more comprehensive ongoing dialogue with, you, the private sector, and for the establishment of a framework to address particular issues as they arise. If Government is to do more, the private sector will of course have to hold hands with us. Hopefully, today is the start of a new joint enterprise."

And to show Government's willingness to do something, Barrow proved he wasn't afraid to tussle with the elephant in the room, the Commercial Banks and their ruthless rate spreads:

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"Ever since it took office this Administration, and you've heard me speak about this over and over, we have been concerned about the high levels of interest rates in the banking system. Now I understand only too well the complexities of the situation where none of our commercial banks is trully locally owned. And while I specifically refrain from any suggestion that the banks in Belize operate in the fashion of a cartel, I will most assuredly say that more competition is needed. One step in that direction would be to turn the DFC into a full-scale national commercial bank, and Government will shortly be appointing a committee to examine just that possibility. The time may also have come to legislate a cap on interest rate spreads."

Those are major developments for the banking sector and while it shows some resolve on Government's part, to satisfy this crowd - Government will also have to show that it is ready to do business:

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"You will help us to identify the new spaces and opportunities in relation to which Government and Public Officers can become more accommodative, more facilitative, more aggressively empowering of business and enterprise. So a clarion call needs to go out now. Attitudes in the public sector must be changed; initiatives, all across the board, must be grasped; and openings must be created. Government must be ready to put in place the practical and psychological arrangements not just to buttress but to muscularize the private sector."

That's just what this power-packed room wanted to hear, and the PM's address was followed by an extended - two and a half hour question and answer session that went right through lunch - where things didn't quite follow any agenda - and mostly complaints were ventilated.

If it seemed a little un-focused the PM says it's just part of the start-up process:

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"We had to do something to try to get the private sector resuscitated, or to find ways to address the problems that the private sector was experiencing as a consequence in the fall-off in demand due to the global situation. It's overdue; I think that I have to concede that we ought to have done it before now, but I'm happy that we've finally done it. I think that the response was even better than I had expected."

Dr. Carla Barnett - Moderator
"There is a lot of positive energy here today, as you see."

"There is a interesting proposal of integrated participation between the private and public sectors. Can you explain?"

Dr. Carla Barnett
"It's a little bit unusual for Belize, isn't it? But it's really important for the public and private sectors to work together in a collaborative way. And I think that's what you saw today, that Government and public sector agencies, together with the private sector are really committing to working together."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, how would you answer to the criticism that this event was too scatter-shot, and that in fact, it was just like the equivalent of a real-time call-in show for the 1%? We know that the problems in this economy are not - while they are feeling it - the real crunch is being felt by the shrinking or vanishing middle-class."

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"No man, I am saying that Government, for its part, is doing a great deal, and will continue to do a great deal. In fact, we'll do even more than it has done in the past to try to address the problems of poor people and fixed income people - the middle class that are p-a-y-e. But the dynamism that we expect from the business sector, which is a critical cog in the whole economic apparatus, has without a doubt been affected by domestic and global circumstances. So, this is an effort - a little bit belated - to address that particular aspect of the overall equation."

And as an indication of Government's resolve, a number of individual committees were set up today. Most important among those was the one to examine the transitioning of the DFC into a national bank. Interestingly, the Prime Minister's only insistence was that Bill Lindo, ousted from the PUP executive on the same day, could be named to that committee as he has been a longtime proponent of that effort.

Channel 7

Re: PM Reaches Out To Business Community [Re: Marty] #423124
11/24/11 08:10 AM
11/24/11 08:10 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 79,820
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

Economic Forum discusses state of country

With the economic train moving slow, Prime Minister Dean Barrow met with the private sector this morning to discuss ways to spur economic growth. Both have been at odds on a number of issues, including nationalization and the ninth amendment, but today a long list of issues that range from crime to taxes were identified as hurdles to cross if the engine is to crank up. One of the more interesting proposals on the table is in the banking sector where interest rates have not dropped but loan demands have. The plan is to turn the DFC into a Commercial Bank. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports on the economic forum.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Turning the Corner, a first of its kind business forum, engaging both public and private sectors, was held this morning inside the Jungle Pavilion at Old Belize. The focus of the discussion was on finding relevant means through which partnership between government and the commercial sector can aid in the continued development of a sustainable economy for years to come. At the helm of the roundtable was Prime Minister Dean Barrow.

Dean Barrow

Dean Barrow

“In setting the stage for this forum that is overdue, it is fair to say that no Government of Belize has before been put into a situation where so much of its time and resources have had to be spent, including in court, to recover or protect the assets of the country. This has been at a juncture when the economic crosscurrents caused by both external and domestic factors, would normally have required the full attention of the authorities just to keep the system up and running. Despite our preoccupations with defense of sovereignty and patrimony, however, we have been able to deliver on critical economic and social systemic tasks much more effectively than most of our neighbors. But of course, we too have suffered from the management failures in the United States and the global crises these helped to cause.”

Despite dire economic times since the global recession began in 2008, the Barrow Administration has created a national development framework for the country which will span a period of two decades. Horizon 2030, as it is known, aims to address several concerns involving the growth and performance of the private sector utilizing government and its activities as a primary vehicle.

Kay Menzies

Kay Menzies, President, BCCI

“We’ve always stood ready to work with the public sector as a partner and we never stopped working with the public sector as a partner. Partners have disagreements from time to time and that’s a reality. The fact is we both and we all want Belize to get ahead as an economy as a country for its people and I think what we have to recognize is the effort that’s underway is not just about the public sector or the private sector or the both of them. It is about all Belizeans and the wellbeing of all Belizeans. The sooner we can all jump aboard and work together as a country outside of any partisan politics the faster we’ll get along.”

That harmony will require urgent attention on the part of GOB to address key areas that are currently affecting the business climate.

Dean Barrow

“There is a perception of extensive tax evasion, particularly with respect to GST and custom duties. This, of course, leads to inequity, increasing the inability to compete on the part of those that continue to play by the rules. Violent crime, including murder and armed robbery, has reached the levels where it has added tremendously to the security costs of doing business. The financial sector operations need to be reviewed, with particular emphasis on interest rates, deposit rates and the excess liquidity in the system.”

To effect the decisions that were taken as a result of those concerns a steering committee was formed which will see a united front being taken by both private and public sector representatives.

Kay Menzies

“One main steering committee was put together and then several smaller committees will be put together dealing with sector specific issues. We have also a banking committee that the PM has formed today so tremendous progress in respect of getting things started. Now the steering committee will have to meet and set up the rest of it and I think everybody understands that time is of the essence and it should all get underway and get formed very, very quickly.”

Integral to the changes which have been deemed necessary to spur economic growth are several government agencies including the Office of the Financial Secretary, the Central Bank, Ministry of Economic Development, Customs Department, BELTRAIDE, as well as the General Sales Tax Commissioner which formed the head table for today’s discussion. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

With the conversation started, a follow up is to be held in six months to assess the progress of the initiatives. The full text of the prime minister’s presentation can be found at

Channel 5

Re: PM Reaches Out To Business Community [Re: Marty] #423280
11/26/11 08:09 AM
11/26/11 08:09 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 79,820
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP
Turning the economic corner – all hands to the wheel!

Taxes, crime, interest rates, road infrastructure, statistics and policy were among the main issues that government officials highlighted at a half-day business forum, Turning the Corner, held at the Old Belize Pavilion in Belize City—but the business sector had a few more issues to add to the list: telephone rates which constrain business with overseas customers, inefficiency in government’s facilitation of the agricultural export sector, the need for a more robust financial sector, strategies for wealth creation, and overdue legislative changes in the struggling citrus and sugar industries.

Keynote speaker at the event was Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who started out his statement signaling that he was pleased to gather with the over 100 private sector professionals “to discuss how government and the private sector can collaborate in taking the necessary steps to sustain economic growth in the immediate, intermediate and long-term.”

Barrow said that the forum was overdue, and among the announcements he made was Government’s intention to turn the Development Finance Corporation into a full-scale commercial bank. (See story elsewhere in this issue of Amandala.)
He also announced that Government has asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to conduct a diagnostic in Belize’s taxation system. (That topic is also covered separately in this issue of the newspaper.)

Among the hottest topics addressed from the floor is the continuing stalemate in the citrus industry, which growers underscore is hampering both the development of the industry and the nation.

A grower, whose name was not specified, appealed to those present at the forum to not lose sight of the stalemate, because it does negatively impact on Belize’s economic development.

William Bowman, another citrus grower, said that they have the ability to increase production by up to 100% and they can earn much more foreign exchange, but the old citrus act, which, he said, violates the constitutional rights of growers who want to be governed by a new association, and not the one solely recognized in the law, needs to be fixed.

People will invest much more if they are given the assurance that they won’t be interfered with, said Bowman.

The Prime Minister noted that he had appointed financial advisor Alan Slusher to help broker an agreement for a way forward, but Barrow said that there is such “an intractable divide” that is blocking progress.

He did say, though, that Government will have to make “the hard choices” – speaking of legislative changes that may prove to be unpopular.

Citrus grower Eugene Zabaneh noted that 60% of the national budget goes to Belize City, a trading center which does not produce and which has only 25% of the population.

“The out district needs urgent attention,” he added, explaining that the three basic industries which are the nation’s breadbasket – citrus, banana and cane – need special attention.

“They are all aching; they are all in pain. We need urgent attention,” Zabaneh commented.

Abraham Dueck also raised concerns over what had traditionally been a major pillar of the Belizean economy – agriculture, citing an apparent “feet dragging” among Ministry of Agriculture staff in facilitating beef production and exports.

Prime Minister Barrow was visibly upset at the report, and firmly stressed to the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry, Gabino Canto, that the matters need to be treated with more urgency.

A forum participant addressed the issue of phone rates, particularly to clients overseas – a phenomenon that he said hurts especially those in tourism who cannot effectively communicate with clients abroad because of high costs. He lobbied for the fuller implementation for Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) in Belize.

Barrow expressed an inclination to get VOIP going in Belize eventually, but said that whenever he makes such an announcement, an announcement for general elections is to be expected the day after.

At the forum, Prime Minister Barrow committed to legislative changes for citrus and sugar.

Government officials have also expressed their intent to revisit the issuance of development concessions, with a view to spurring further economic growth.

Kay Menzies, president of the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry, one of the attendees, gave us her thoughts on the forum, describing it as “a good start.”

She said that she got the impression that PM Barrow is “very concerned, very interested in having ...something happen to try and kickstart the private sector and allow Government to provide an enabling environment. A lot of work needs to happen to make things happen.”

She said that the Chamber is on the steering committee, set up at the end of the forum, which has to meet and determine the makeup of the rest of the working committees to implement the recommendations.

As to the areas of prime importance, Menzies identified crime, which she said “reaches everybody;” development concessions, which relates to only some businesses; and tax reform, which was also one of the salient issues that Government has identified.

A follow-up is planned early next year—perhaps in time for the reading of the next national budget.


Re: PM Reaches Out To Business Community [Re: Marty] #423561
11/29/11 07:34 AM
11/29/11 07:34 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 79,820
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

PM addresses private sector’s concerns

Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow addresses private sector's concerns.

The Government of Belize may very well “turn the DFC into a full-scale national commercial bank,” Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced at his “Turning the Corner” Business Forum held at Old Belize on Wednesday, November 23.

The bold change comes in response to one of the concerns raised by private sector representatives, who have identified commercial banks’ high interest rates as a major blockade to Belize’s economic progress.

In addressing the financial concern, the Prime Minister also stated that “the time may also have come to legislate a cap on interest rate spreads.”

The Central Bank had made several attempts to persuade the banks to temper their interest rates; however, with the Central Bank’s limited power in an “ultra-sensitive situation where none of our commercial banks is truly locally owned,” PM Barrow said more competition is most likely the optimal remedy.

The Central Bank, with international assistance, also plans to further safeguard the private sector by establishing a credit bureau and a “national payments system to facilitate electronic single-card fund transfers and business transactions throughout the country.”

The latter would serve to reduce the need for cash and cheques.

The private sector also identified unscrupulous practices of GST and Customs duties evasion. Tax evaders gain an unfair competitive edge over those who follow the rules.

PM Barrow said, in addition to key administrative changes at the GST Department, two proposals are currently being looked at as plausible solutions.

“One is intended to increase the flow of information from individual establishments to the GST office, while the other is intended to encourage the public to become more involved in oversight operations,” he said.

The Prime Minister shared that the near-future installation of the ASYCUDA system, alongside container-scanning operations, would reduce the levels of corruption and evasion of Customs duties.

ASYCUDA is a computerised Customs management system which covers most foreign trade procedures. The system handles manifests and Customs declarations, accounting procedures, transit and suspense procedures.

The PM also addressed the concern of the over-bureaucratized concession regime, which seems to be useful only to large businesses.

“I have raised the development concession issue with BELTRAIDE...It will also be making recommendations for a specific Fiscal Incentives program to suit small and medium enterprises,” PM Barrow declared.

Along with a streamlined and shortened process for SMEs, the program will also be more sector -specific.

PM Barrow also discussed how the public and private sector can boost production and exports from Belize, key factors in increasing profits, income and employment.

“The public sector may have to take more of a lead in identifying, marketing and bringing to fruition the business and investment possibilities that are likely to attract private sector interest,” Barrow explained.

Crime, road infrastructure, and the availability of timely and reliable statistics were also discussed.

PM Barrow said his adminstration has been employing a two-pronged process to address violent crime issues. It involves the upgrading of the police department’s personnel and equipment, as well as the engagment of community stakeholders--including gangs--“in an ongoing lifestyle evaluation and assistance process.”

The adequate provision of education, health services and employment have all been underscored as key remedies for crime, and they all hinge on the growth levels of the private sector.

About road infrastructure, the Prime Minister said several projects are addressing this matter, including the Northern Road Network that is benefitting from E.U. funding connected to the Accompanying Measures for Sugar.

“In our municipalities...major Southside operations are starting just about now in Belize City, Northside drainage works will begin in January or February.”

Barrow explained his objective in calling the forum was to look at how the private and public sector can work together to build a sustainable economy.

He ended his keynote address by stating: “A clarion call needs to go out now... openings must be created. And Government must be ready to put in place the practical and pyschological arrangments not just to buttress but to muscularize the private sector.”

The forum also featured a two-and-half hour discussion segment, during which PM Barrow also stated that the long-awaited Voice over Internet Protocol in Belize is just a matter of time.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Telemedia will, in the fullness of time, be offering VOIP-driven services... The consumer is king; the Belizean citizen is boss; and so I acknowledge freely the inevitability of the coming of VOIP.”

The public sector representatives at the forum included the Financial Secretary, Central Bank Governor, CEO Ministry of Economic Development, Comptroller of Customs, GST Commissioner, Commissioner of Income Tax, and the Executive Director of BELTRAIDE.

The Reporter

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