Senate Debates Loan For Caracol RoadThere was a very robust debate in the Senate today about a raft of loan motions, and a sovereign guarantee that the Barrow Government took to the upper house today.
In total it's about 100 million dollars in loans, and a sovereign guarantee of 35 million dollars for BTL for the company to upgrade its fiber optic network to provide high-speed internet to homes and businesses.
We start first tonight with the loan motion to construct a fully upgraded road to the Caracol Archaeological Site. Last week, he announced in his budget presentation that the phase one of the project has already begun. The OPEC Fund for International Development has approved a Loan of 40 Million US dollars to the Belize Government for the Caracol Road construction.
It's a concessionary loan which has already passed in the House of Representatives, and it was tabled today in the Senate. Not to long into the debate, the Senators opposing the loan motion reminded the chamber that the Financial Secretary has said in an affidavit that Belize's public debt to GDP ratio is 100%. The Prime Minister stated in last Friday's House meeting that it's actually 92%.
But, whatever figure you choose, public debt is very high, and that's why sparks flew when the UDP Senate majority pushed through this 80 million dollar loan motion today. The Opposition and some of the Social Partner Senators made it clear that they did not approve. Here's an excerpt of that lengthy back and forth:
Mark Lizarraga - Senator, Business Sector
"I absolutely, in good conscience, cannot support this investment at this time. The Belizean business community, the economy, the taxpayers absolutely do not need to add to its debt burden. We need to be looking at ways to save money; to cut the cost of big, expensive, incompetent and corrupt government."
Anthony Mahler, PUP Senator
"I agree with the senator that almost $90 million dollars - they've spent $1.6 million dollars on consultancies already for feasibility studies- so it is going to be closer to $90 million dollars. At this time, adding to the debt that is already about 100% of GDP causes great concern for me. And today, the government will, in fact, get approval for an additional $135 million dollars in loans. So, $80 million dollars for the Caracol project, $35 million dollars for the broadband project for BTL and $20 million dollars for climate vulnerability reduction. These are alarming numbers, especially where we are at this time."
Elena Smith, Senator
"We want to make sure, we want to know that we are going to get value for money. This is a lot of money to be spending, especially in this kind of climate that we have. As I said, our debt is so high and we are being burdened with more debt that the working class will have pay."
Dr. Carla Barnett, UDP Senator
"The Caracol Road Project is one that we would have liked - and this definition of 'we' is all good thinking people - that we would have liked to have been able to do one-go. It is an important road not only for, and maybe not even primarily for, the development of tourism. But there is a need for proper road infrastructure deep into our forest in the west for proper forest management, for proper security administration. It is hard to put a return on investment numbers on those kinds of objectives."
Stephen Duncan, Senator
"It is a well-established fact that we are carrying today, Mr. President, quite a bit of debt that did not contribute positively to our economy and our country that had accrued under the administration of 1980 to 2008. And that is an established fact. But I think the question becomes that even as those debts impact our debt to GDP ratio, naturally, it is a debt, this question then becomes: do we take all our resources to service those debts that are doing nothing for us and did nothing for us rather than trying to find other ways to try to live and survive?"
Ashley Rocke, Senator
"What we are finding out is that the president of Ofit jubilantly recommended this loan for Belize and that is looking at that aspect. The second thing about this motion is that it is wonderfully pleasing that the contract to build this high way is not submitted to any private entity but is going to be built by the government, which I suppose indicates equity to some extent because it means that the government will have to make sure that they are diligent."
"Thinking about our economy, thinking about our children, thinking about our future, realizing that we already have a high debt burden, the question becomes is this the right time for investing this huge amount of money which comes as a loan on this project?"
Aldo Salazar - Senator
"I also cannot buy the argument that we are not in an ideal financial situation so we should not spend on a project of this nature. I simply cannot buy this argument because that is saying that we do not have funds so we should not buy bread. And why do I say that we should not buy bread? Why am I making that analogy? It is because tourism is our bread and butter at this time. There is no hiding from that, it is the truth."
Herbert Panton, UDP Senator
"When I heard the presentation of senator Lizarraga, if I did not see him I would have thought it was an IMF consultant that was speaking. Shut down everything. Don't spend on this, don't spend on that, don't do this, don't do that. Whatever is the state of our economy, we can spend all day discussing that, it is only investing in our people that is going to get us out."
Some of the Senators told us that the actual project will cost about 90 million dollars since the Government has already spent a couple million on feasibility studies, and they will fund the rest of that additional 10 million through counterpart financing.