The main political parties, the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) and Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), this week released fairly similar action plans for the next four (or five)-year term of office, which they hope to implement if elected in the majority on March 7, 2012.
The manner and mode of presentation, however, were markedly different.
The PUP launch was held at its headquarters, Independence Hall, on Queen Street before a small audience of loyal supporters; the document itself, titled “Deliverance for Belize,” was simply written, bearing on its front cover a photo of Leader Emeritus Rt. Hon. George Price, who died last September, and to whose “memory and legacy” the document is officially dedicated.
Addressing the broad areas of job creation (economy), political and government reform, crime, security and justice, tourism and culture, food and agriculture, education, women, youth and sports, health, foreign affairs and land/housing, the PUP pledged to return to the basics: reviving the economy, creating and maintaining jobs, providing social services and doing so without recourse to corrupt practices and activities.
The PUP’s economic plans include tackling unemployment with an emergency program dedicated to “labour-intensive” infrastructure projects and finding investment in key productive sectors, reducing the general sales tax (GST) to 10%, establishing an energy policy under a Ministry of Petroleum and capping lending rates by legislation.
It also proposes to raise the personal income tax threshold to $36,000; increase the minimum wage for all workers, and allow Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) and cheaper high speed internet at a rate of $30 per month for 1 megabyte (MB) of data.
In addition to its call for a 4-year term of government and fixed general election date, the Opposition has also committed itself to the “elected Senate” concept. Changes in legislation regarding corruption in public life and the judiciary will also be implemented, the manifesto stated.
Chief among the PUP’s initiatives on crime will be the disbandment of the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) in favour of emphasizing the presence of the Police Department on the ground and through neighborhood watch groups.
Support will be provided for farmers in terms of infrastructural and marketing development, and youth at 18 will have access to freehold lot titles.
Party leader Francis Fonseca told Amandala that the Belizean people are right to be cynical and skeptical, but pledged that his party, if elected, will implement the goals described above in a “credible, targeted, realistic approach to government.”
The UDP unveiled its plan, named “Always for the People,” this afternoon at the River Hall at the Belize Biltmore Plaza for the press and a slightly larger group of core supporters and campaign workers. (Later on Wednesday night, there was a public rally for supporters in front of the party’s headquarters.)
Seeking its first consecutive back-to-back term, the UDP first listed its accomplishments while in office, which it noted came in the middle of worldwide economic difficulty. Among them are the nationalizations of BEL and BTL, expanded education access via the annual grant to students, reductions in utility rates of 6.14% for electricity and 7.2% for water, some 7,500 new jobs, and improvements in health and infrastructure, among others.
One key promise of the 2008 manifesto that has effectively been abandoned, according to UDP leader and Prime Minister Dean Barrow, is a 13th member of the Senate. Suggested as an alternative to the proposal for an elected Senate by the PUP, the amendment was legislated but not implemented after a change of heart by the Barrow administration.
The beneficiary would have been environmental activist Gregory Choc of Toledo, but the case is currently in litigation. The UDP did implement legislation for unjust enrichment and recall of area representatives.
While in government the party has increasingly found itself tackling poverty alleviation, so much so that a raft of introduced programs targeting hard-hit areas such as the food pantry program, conditional cash transfer program and others have been balanced together as the “pro-poor initiatives.” These, said Prime Minister Barrow, will be continued under his administration if re-elected.
Key highlights of a 2012-17 term, some of which did not make it into the published document, would include continued infrastructural development in Belize City and elsewhere; expansion of the $300 school grant to include a uniform and book allowance; 15,000 house lots and farm land for first-time owners; continued loan write-offs, both for mortgages and students, starting with the Development Finance Corporation (DFC), which the UDP reestablished in the term just completed; a National Bank; a locally-owned oil refinery to target pump prices; and reduction in commercial lending rates by the banks. VOIP and expanded 4G technology for BTL are also on the agenda.
The Prime Minister today declared also his interest in re-negotiating the $1.1 billion “Superbond” with creditors, stating that “bad creditors” were in part to blame for lending money to his predecessors without a cap or care for how it would impact Belizeans, and calling the massive package “commitments that, in effect, represent a jackboot on the throat of the Belizean people,” adding that Belize was “obliged to a fairer deal.”
Barrow, too, promised bipartisanship, “if the other side is so inclined.” Amandala