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Fourteen days ago - elections were held, and now, after the naming of a Cabinet and the assigning of CEO's - the work of the new Government is officially underway.

And an integral part of that government is the opposition. While they may be perpetually at odds with the Administration of the day - the opposition has a crucial role to play.

And today that opposition took its rightful place - as it was sworn in at the first ceremonial sitting of the House and Senate.

7news was in Belmopan and here are the highlights of a day rich in ceremony but also heavy in substance:

Jules Vasquez Reporting

A new president of the senate Mark Pech was sworn in along with _ new Government Senators, Charles Gibson, Lisel Alamilla, for the PUP, Karen Bodden and Collet Montejo, Marconi Sosa, Mark Lizarraga, for business sector; for the churches, Fr. Noel Leslie; for Labour, Ray Davis; two who have been re-appointed, Juliet Thimbriel and Lisa Shoman; and one who has moved from the backbench to the very front - leader of the Government Business in the senate Godwin Hulse

And while that happened inside the national assembly chamber, outside, the Steel Band had struck up, and on the stairs an audience of family and supporters was in place.

And on the green, political supporters form both sides took their positions side by side and the representatives for both sides were taking their seats.

It was a study in contrasts, the government side in their white shirts with red ties - and the opposition all in Guayaberas.

After the ceremonial formalities - and there were a great deal of them today - including the fetching of a new speaker, Attorney Michael Peyrefitte.

And once the speaker got settled into his seat - Belize Rural North Representative Edmund Castro was named as his Deputy

And then all the other members were sworn in:

"I do swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Belize; and will uphold the constitution and laws; and that I will conscientiously, impartially and to the best of my ability, discharge my duties as the Prime Minister of Belize, and do right to all manner of people without fear or favor, affection or ill will, so help me, God."

Giving way to the Throne Speech by the Head of State - which outlined Government's plan for the next five years - including compensating the former owners of BEL and BTL

Sir Colville Young - Governor General of Belize
"The Government firmly believes that it would be in the interest of all concerned to settle the payment of compensation without further delay in order for us to bring finality to this matter. And my Government will earnestly strive to achieve that goal early in the present term."

And while that is government's business, the political business was handled by Prime Minister Dean Barrow:

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"Mr. Speaker: these were hard-fought elections, with results that were very close and a testament to just how resilient the Opposition was, and just how robust our democracy is. In the end, though, the majority Party's three-seat margin in the House is enough to do two things: it underlines, not undermines, legitimacy; and it gives sufficient numerical wherewithal for the Government to govern legislatively and administratively in the strong and orderly manner that our system requires. It is also worth recollecting that the new Government won the majority of the popular vote as well as of the seats in the House. Add to this its two thirds share of the nine City and Town Councils, and the mandate is undoubted. Nevertheless, the Opposition's strong general election showing demonstrates that we are a country that is divided almost down the middle. In such circumstances the Government must and will act on the basis that the nation's large minority is to be respected both as to its rights and as to its entitlements. Mr. Speaker, there are some that feel that the last UDP Administration was in a number of instances tone deaf to public opinion. Assuming that this was so, the greatly reduced majority will in and of itself act as a check to any such tendency. But the new Government also actively seeks reconciliation. We have already so demonstrated by reaching out to the social partners and civil society. We have used the opportunity, provided us by the Constitution and the election results, to appoint four Senators as Ministers whose background, qualifications, and integrity are rock-like and known nationwide. They all come from the professional, private, and NGO ranks; and the signal this sends should be lost on no one. We are determined to make this Administration the most talented, effective, inclusive and honest Government in the entire history of our country."

Jules Vasquez
"What will be your strategy going forward as the leader of opposition?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"Well, I think obviously we have election petitions in the court, and whatever we say and do is without prejudice to those petitions. Let me that very clear. But yes, we do have a responsibility to thousands of Belizeans who supported the People's United Party. We have a responsibility to the country of Belize to be as robust an opposition as necessary and as possible. So yes, we take that responsibility very seriously. The 14 members of our parliamentary caucus are all in agreement that we are going stand up and fight for the interests and rights of the Belizean people, and defend those rights and interests. We are going to hold the Prime Minister to what he said today that there will be respect for the members of the Opposition in terms of not only in dealing with us, but ensuring that any funds, projects, and activities which takes place in our constituencies are done through us as the duly elected representatives of the people of those areas. That is absolutely essential if we are going to act in good faith on both sides. That is clear. The interference with our emails, phone calls, and text messages must end immediately. That took place throughout the election campaign. The elections are over; that must end. So, we understand our role, and we are going to do everything we can, as I said, to defending the Belizean people across the country. I think this election demonstrated very clearly that the people are not satisfied with the direction is going. They want a change, and they want all of us to come together to work toward that change. So we understand that; we respect that. We congratulate the the Government on their performance - the UDP on their performance in the elections, and we are prepared to work in good faith with them, but that good faith must be demonstrated on both sides."

Jules Vasquez
"The election petitions - you mentioned it at the top - you know, as an attorney, these have 0% success in the Courts of Belize over the history of Belize - maybe over the past 35 years. Do you feel that the petitions - one is being filed today; two will be filed next week; and I told another is in the offing - do you feel that those have any prospect of success?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"Well, I will be guided by the attorneys on that matter. If we felt that they had zero chance of success, we would not file them. Obviously, we have taken our time to put together a comprehensive package to file before the courts, and we have every reason to believe, based on the legal advice that we've gotten, that there is every chance in respect of those election petitions."

And the Prime Minister had his own take on election petitions:

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"In the same vein, I enter another word of caution. There is a right, which our democracy gives, to mount election petitions no matter how frivolous. But there is, and can be, no right to confuse or conflate the lodging of election petitions with the denial of authority to a duly elected Government. The results of the March 7 general elections are official; the Government is in place; and we will discharge what is now our sworn duty to administer the laws of this country, all the laws of this country."

And so a strong government braced by a strong opposition - it should make for an interesting, evenly-matched term in the House.

Notably, the only Senator absent from today's proceeding was Joy Grant, the Minister of Energy, Science and Technology and Public Utilities. She is in Brussels - where she was formerly posted as Ambassador to the European Union - closing off there. Grant had come to Belize for the election - not expecting that things would turn out as they did, and that she would end up being appointed a Minister.

And, one more note, Leader of The Opposition Francis Fonseca is 45, not 46 as we reported last night.

Channel 7

Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,400
Marty Online Happy OP
OP Online Happy

Belize PM Says Will Continue Pro Poor Plan In New Term

Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow says his re-elected government will continue its pro-poor plan for the new term and consolidate state control of public utilities. The PM was speaking today at the ceremonial opening of parliament at the City of Belmopan where the Senate and House of Representatives met in joint session to be sworn in. The ceremonial opening was held under a tent in front of the National Assembly building at Independence Hill and was attended by invited guests and supporters of the ruling United Democratic Party.

Speaking in 90 degree weather at the start of the Belize dry season, Mr. Barrow said he will continue with a series of projects including cash and food handouts and loan forgiveness programs to alleviate the crushing poverty suffered by a large portion of the Belize population. These projects have been criticised by the opposition Peoples United Party and non government organisations in Belize who say it amounts to the use of state resources to buy support from voters and encourages a culture of dependency and reliance on political patronage among Belizeans.

The Belize Prime Minister said he will create a state-controlled bank to compete with established commercial banking and financial institutions such as credit unions, so as to make money available to the poor. And he reiterated his vow to engage Venezuela's Hugo Chavez to obtain support for cheap fuel under the Petro Caribe project promoted by that South American country.

Mr. Barrow said:

"We will, without a doubt, continue and expand our trademark pro-poor policies and increase social and second chance opportunities for those at the margins. As just one example, we will now begin the extension of the food pantry program to every single District Town.

"We will scale new heights with our education subsidy, either by increasing the amount to first and second formers or by making it available to third formers.

"We will offer a third tranche of mortgage write-offs to distressed, long-standing homeowners, this time to those whose indebtedness is with the Development Finance Corporation.

"We will guarantee the 10% equity deposit required by the private banks for individual building loans of 100 thousand dollars or less.

"We will offer tax credits for new residential and commercial construction. We will overhaul the entire tax code so as to provide greater fairness to the middle class and to the business sector. We will continue to bring down the cost of capital at our financial institutions.

"We will renegotiate the super bond.

"We will source Government fuel supplies out of Venezuela under PetroCaribe, so as to lessen the cost and expand the reach of our countrywide, job-creating infrastructure drive.

"We will create a national development bank particularly to service the credit needs of the productive and export sector.

"We will rehabilitate the roads to all major archeological and tourism sites.

"We will increase the size of the Police Department and the BDF so as to provide for greater national security.

"We will consolidate and defend nationalist gains, especially as these relate to public ownership of our essential utilities.

"We will broaden the legal and institutional infrastructure necessary to support transparency; work the oversight role and system of the Senate; and promulgate new Finance and Stores Orders to guide Government procurement practices and guard the spending of public money."


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