The last time the unemployment rate stood this high, at over 14 percent, ‘twas in April of 1998. The UDP was in the back stretch of a most unpopular reign as government. Four months later in August of 1998 they suffered their worst defeat in 30 years. They lost 26 to 3, and came within 60 votes of losing two additional seats.
According to a recent labor force survey done by the Statistical Institute of Belize, the unemployment rate stands at 14.4 percent: that’s over 21,000 persons who are looking for work and can’t find work. The survey says that in the case of the Cayo District, the unemployment rate has more than tripled in the last 5 years, from 5.7 percent in April 2007 to 18.2 percent in April of 2012, the highest rate of any district.
That explains all too well why the UDP lost 2 of the 6 seats they held in the Cayo District in the general elections of March 7, and how they came within 60 votes of losing an additional two seats – which, incidentally, would have cost them the general elections. One of the seats they lost they had won by over 1,100 voters in 2008, and another that they barely won, this time by 44 votes, they had won by almost 1,300 in 2008.
Our information is that the UDP fully expected to sweep all six seats in Cayo. But, as they say, stats don’t lie.
By contrast, the unemployment rate in the Belize District, says the survey, is the lowest of any district – at 12. 1 percent it stands well below the national average. And that would explain, in part, why the UDP ended up winning 10 of 13 seats in the district, and 8 of 10 in Belize City. At its peak, 1,000 workers were reportedly employed with the Southside Rejuvenation Project and the Gang Truce Program. That no doubt contributed to the relatively low unemployment rate in the Belize District.
All that will change a bit if the government, in the months ahead, is forced to fire even more workers, and if they are not able to attract some major job-creating industries going forward. The unemployment rate will climb, and more and more people will sink deeper into poverty. Luckily for the incumbent government, there are no elections anytime soon, and no general elections for at least another 4 ½ years, so they have time to right the ship of state and get the economy out of its doldrums.
In the meantime, when you combine the astounding unemployment figures, and the constant rise in the cost of living, especially where the cost of basic food items like chicken, cheese, eggs, and milk are concerned, we are looking at a very serious burden for “everyday people.” Very serious burden indeed…
And what that may mean for a government that only just sneaked past the Opposition in the recently concluded general elections is that little by little, their electoral fortunes will wane. In KREM Radio’s “Two Cents Cam” for Wednesday, August 29, almost 80 percent of those interviewed could not say what benefit the country had derived from the nationalization of BTL – and that is this government’s crowning achievement, a source of much pride and chest-beating inside Belmopan.
It would seem to us that the government would be well-advised to exercise a tad bit more attentiveness to the electorate in this, their second term of government. Over 60,000 persons voted for the Opposition in the March 7 general elections - 12,000 more than in 2008. That’s a lot of people.
The honorable Prime Minister, we believe, may also at times want to practice his post- elections commitment “to extend a hand to the Opposition.” A spoonful of congeniality, at times, never really hurts anyone. He need not be a Nelson Mandela. But everything cannot be an endless series of brutal exchanges, us- against-them kind of governance. To some extent, the people rejected this modus operandi on March 7.
Apart from the Guatemala issue, crime and education are screaming for bi-partisan cooperation. Those two issues, no matter the government, should be above the petty bickering of electoral politics. Those two have bedeviled successive governments for the better part of the last 30 years.
In the case of education, the labor force survey has brought the painful truth forcefully home. Almost half of Belize’s workforce has no education – that’s almost 68,000 of our workers who have not completed standard 5. Additionally, over 42,000 workers have only completed up to the primary school level. In other words, 75 percent of the persons employed have only a primary school education or less. And the number is even higher for those who are unemployed. Those are some very depressing statistics. A very bad situation indeed, Belize…
What that means is that without the “infrastructure” jobs that were available over the last few years, the employment prospects for those who lost their jobs last week and those who were unemployed before are dim. The odds are not good that they will get decent jobs, at least not any that will pay anything near a living wage for any sustained period of time.
And that does not bode well for crime and violence here in The Jewel. In the case of Cayo, where 6,500 of the unemployed reside, more than in any other district, it has become Belize’s soft underbelly outside of the City’s Southside where crime and violence are concerned.
For sure, the government has its work cut out for it.
As a rule we believe that the voters are never wrong. Collectively, they always, always get it right, especially in times of general elections. The people voted in a majority government with a muscular Opposition on March 7, 2012. That’s what they collectively decided, after three straight general elections of voting in governments with a lopsided margin.
In concluding, we would want to submit that when weighty matters, such as the restructuring of the sovereign debt, come up the government should consider courting bipartisanism, in deference to the wishes of the people who voted on March 7. Be bigger than Her Loyal Opposition in practice, not just in principle.
Scripture says there is a time for everything under the sun. There is a time for peace, and a time for war. In times like these, statesmanship is the preferred armor. It would have been so much better if the country was totally united on this proposed restructuring effort. By not performing just a perfunctory consultative exercise with the Opposition, the government has given them the tiniest of reason some inside their camp may have needed to stand on the sidelines and “mek bad.”
Undoubtedly, the government will have to think big to solve the myriad problems that plague us. The labor force survey says as much. If the government expend just a little energy in the direction of bipartisanism, that would be time well spent, we believe. If the Opposition refuse to cooperate, at least the people will know it’s not the government’s fault. Hitherto it has been easy to blame those in Belmopan. That’s just our take on this here day, Thursday, August 30, 2012. It is written.