Last Week Thursday and Friday, we brought you coverage of the marathon, 2-day, Budget Debate in the House of the Representatives which went all the way past 11:00 on Friday night.
Well today was the Senate's turn to take a go at it, and they were no less thorough. Each of the senators pored over different elements of the budget, exploring - or, as the case may be - magnifying the strengths and the weaknesses.
On one side, there were the opponents of the budget who say that the increase in taxes and the deficit financing will make it the next fiscal year very hard times. Then, there were the supporters of the budget who acknowledge that there will be a deficit, but they assert that public spending will continue to remain stable for the most part.
It's a long day and the meeting is still ongoing at this time, but here's an excerpt of some of the daytime presentations:
Hon. Eamon Courtenay, PUP Senator
"Once and it has become the hallmark of this UDP administration, what we have is nothing more than a cocktail of Barrow-nomics. We are being taxed upwards of 25% of our national income, which is an unsustainable level and is higher than most countries around us. In fact, most developing countries. A debt to GDP of just about 100% and we have real risk of continuing deficits."
"What is government's answer to this crisis and uninspiring budget, a budget lacking in vision, no new ideas, just more of the same. More taxes and more hard times. You cannot tax your way to prosperity."
Hon. Osmany Salas, NGO Senator
"According to country indicators, for 2017, Belize export value was just under 458 million. While import was just under 849 million. A negative trade balance of 391 million. This means that a serious attempt needs to be made to reduce imports, to substitute import products and to promote exports. While there is an increase in budget allocation for agriculture research and development from almost 6 million to almost 10 million. This is way below the almost 27 million that was budgeted for 2015/2016. Only what I consider meager 140 thousand dollars was budgeted for agriculture diversification and only 35 thousand dollars is budgeted for agro-marketing development. Again, I need to ask how can it be expected that the development of new products will be catalyze, will be promoted for the local and export market with that kind of budget. How can it be expected that new markets will be develop for the producers with this kind of budget? It is clear that as a country we must invest in areas to promote product development, export, marketing development and import substitution."
Hon. Mark Lizarraga, Business Senator
"Government had to borrow 55% more than budgeted for to balance last year's budget - 55% more to balance their budget. And it will do so again and again, because if you look at the program budgeting that is before us today, balance budget is not in our future. It is not even on the horizon. The size of government has gone up by 7%. We have hired almost 1,000 more public officers. Government continues to get too big. In the absence of an audit to see what we are really getting from these departments. In an absence of meaningful goals and targets, we see government just growing and growing. Shouldn't we strive for less persons in the public service, but better resourced and better motivated?"
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney General
"Unlike Senator Lizarraga and he will run now and jump up and say he didn't use the word, but anybody who was listening, anybody with ears and hearing and everybody looking through the cameras that he likes to look at when he is giving his speech heard him loud and clear that he is calling for retrenchment of public officers. Well unlike Senator Lizarraga the Attorney General's ministry is looking to improve and increase the personnel within that ministry."
Hon. Steven Duncan, UDP Senator
"What is very important is that today as we run a deficit, there is a mark difference between the deficits we saw under the People's United Party's administration and the deficit that we are seeing under the United Democratic Party's administration."
Hon. Valerie Woods, PUP Senator
"So I remembered the conversation, I remember the contributions made last year about what are we doing to collect the taxes that are uncollected, the arrears. So I went to look, because we are in 2017/2018 looking now for 2018/2019 and on page 65 I kid you not, I could have just put the same page from last year. On page 65 it says amount of tax arrears outstanding for more than 2 years, 32.4 million. In 2016/2017 that was the exact figure."