Three loan motions that made their way through the House of Representatives on Friday were taken to the Senate today, where social partner senators vehemently opposed the government's new borrowing initiatives which will add almost $100 million dollars to the national debt.
One of the loans is for US$40 million from the OPEC Fund for International Development. The loan is for the upgrading of 42.5 kilometers of the Caracol Road - from the George Price Highway to the Caracol Archaeological site- which the government wants to improve. The loan is expected to cover 91 percent of the work on the road and the government will be coming up with the remaining 9 percent of the funds, which is reportedly some 3.96 million dollars.
Private sector senator Mark Lizarraga told the Senate, "I absolutely, in good conscience, cannot support the investment at this time. We need to be looking at ways to save money, to cut the cost of big, expensive, incompetent and corrupt government," Senator Lizarraga said.
PUP senator Anthony Mahler and Senator Elena Smith, the union senator, also opposed the loan motion.
Senator Mahler said, "We have to look deep within us to say, is it worth it at this time, and again, what is the return on the investment? Are we serious about making lives better for the people of Belize? I don't think so, because a project like this just puts additional burden on the economy, puts additional burden on the business community, puts additional burden on the people of Belize. In total, $90 million dollars for 26 miles of road?"
Senator Mahler also said that only about 9,000 people visited Caracol.
"So have the experts looked at how many people it will take to pay back this $90 million?" Senator Mahler asked.
Senator Smith declared: "This is a lot of money to be spending, especially in the kind of climate that we have right now, and so it has to be somewhere where value is received for money being spent."
The loan motion was supported by Church senator Ashley Rocke and government senators Stephen Duncan, and Dr. Carla Barnett, Senator Aldo Salazar, and pro-temp senator Herbert Panton.
Senator Duncan said, "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 1998 to 2008. And that is an established fact."
Government senator Aldo Salazar said, "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, 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."
The other loan motion that was hotly debated in the Senate was a loan for $17.5 million US for Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) from the Taiwanese government, which has already approved the loan. The Taiwanese government, however, is asking the Belize government to sign as guarantor of the loan, just in case there is a default by BTL.
Business senator Mark Lizarraga said that BTL is a private company which should have been able to guarantee its own loan.
"Taiwan is saying: look, I am going to lend you the money, but I want a national guarantee. I won't stand only on the guarantee of BTL. Do they know something that we don't know? I agree it is a public company when it suits people. But then again, it is a private company when it suits them as well. Why was this private company not able to guarantee its own requirements?" he said.
PUP senator Valerie Woods expressed similar sentiments about the private/public nature of BTL. "Why is government required by Taiwan to guarantee this loan? What is the state of affairs of Belize Telemedia that on its own merit, it cannot embark on whatever the national broadband program is? Nobody knows because it is not here. Should we not be given some measure of confidence assurance that the phone company that the government is going to guarantee $17.5 million US dollars for, the national broadband project that the country does not know its extent, where it will cover, and how many phases, if there is a phase?" she said.
At the end of the Senate meeting, all the motions brought by the Leader of Government to the Senate passed, with the six government senators and as usual, Church senator Ashley Rocke voting in favor of the government, making the number 7.Amandala