PM Barrow’s 12th Budget is Big On Infrastructure
Today was budget day in Belmopan - which is always the most important day on he parliamentary calendar because it's when government introduces the revenue and appropriations bill - which is what gives the government its power to tax and spend.
But, it also gives the ruling party an opportunity showcase its development projects and boast and beam about what it has done and what it promises to do. Jules Vasquez reports on this morning's presentation:
In his 12th budget presentation - Prime Minister didn't quite reach for the stars. In a speech stodgily named "Moving Ahead With Strong and Steady Economic Growth; Expansion of Opportunities for Business and Personal Advance; And Rededication to Basic Social Protection" - he did his best to scrape some poetry out of what can best be called a workmanlike effort, a 65 minute presentation that focused on the UDP's calling card - and what this PM hopes will be his legacy, as he dubbed it, "the fabled infrastructure narrative":
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister
"Madam Speaker, it gives me particular pleasure to announce that we have received a commitment from the Government of Taiwan for funding the upgrading of the Corozal Town to Sarteneja Road to paved standard. The funding also includes the construction of two new bridges to replace two existing ferries along what we should now call this Highway. The funding is for a total of US$50 million Us dollars. In addition, Madam Speaker, I also announce that our friends from the Kuwait Fund have preliminarily agreed the financing of the Orange Walk Town to Progresso Road upgrade."
"Apart from Corozal Town to Sarteneja and Orange Walk Town to Progreso, there is the Airport Link Road, the Coastal Highway and the Caracol Road. And before the end of this term we will have replaced the country's three most crucial bridges: the Hawkesworth, the Haulover and the Kendall. In this same vein we are also replacing, what has been necessary for so long, all the narrow bridges along the Hummingbird. And all this is in addition to rebuilding the two most trafficked stretches of the George Price Highway and the Phillip Goldson Highway: those between Ladyville and Belize City and between Belmopan and Santa Elena."
But it's not all about pavement and concrete:
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow
"That is non-negotiable in the balancing act we must perform, is steadfastness in our pro-poor policies. This Budget therefore continues the unstinting support for BOOST and Food Pantry; for the Apprenticeship Program; for the High School Subsidies; for the payment by GOB of students' CXC exams; for funding of the Second Chance Opportunities; for a plethora of Tuition Assistance and Full Scholarships; for construction of New Classrooms, Rural Water Supply Systems, Health Posts and Polyclinics."
But even with social and capital spending, Government expects a slowdown in the economy next year:
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow
"Going forward, the Central Bank projects that the pace of Belize's economic growth will decelerate slightly to 2.8 percent in 2019."
But not enough of a slowdown to stop he PM from doing some chest-thumping:
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow
"In commending this Budget for consideration and passage to the House, it is impossible for me not to feel pride at the spectacular prolongation of UDP fiscal and economic probity."
"Once again, this Administration configures a Budget for the new fiscal year that ticks all the right boxes: the attainment of another impressive primary surplus; the augmentation of the services and salaries of the public sector; the funding of an ever-expanding envelope of strategic capital investments; the rightsizing of the debt obligations placed upon this and future generations; and above all, the constraining of the cost of living and maintenance of the strength of the Belize dollar. And we do all this without any increase in taxes."
The budget will be debated on Monday March 25th and Tuesday March 26th.
Briceno Blasts Budget
But, opposition leader John Briceno isn't waiting those 10 days to tear into it. He said the budget is flat and uninspired:...
Hon. John Briceno - Leader of the Opposition
"We know what's going on with all of these projects, that is why more and more people are referring to this government as the kick back government. In effect this is a kick back budget, there's nothing for the productive sector, there is nothing for our ordinary citizens of this country. When you think about it, this government has spent approximately 11 billion dollars and ask yourself, are we better off today? Has poverty gone down? Has crime gone down? Has unemployment gone down? Has productivity gone up? By all the metrics that you take, this is a government that has failed the Belizean people. This budget is an empty budget that was presented today to the Belizean people."
"However, as the representative for the north, is there any excitement over the projects to, I believe again, pave the Orange Walk to Progresso road and the Corozal to Sarteneja road?"
Hon. John Briceno
"Well it was about bloody time don't you think? This government is about projects and we need a government that is about people."
"While you described the budget as a flat budget, the prime minister has not announced any new taxes and he's made a big deal of that. What's your comment?"
Hon. John Briceno
"Well what he's not telling you is that he is going to collect more taxes, he plans to collect at least 44 million dollars more in taxes because what they're doing is that they're going to every single body and trying to squeeze even what they don't owe. Yesterday, fuel gone up again, that's a tax, that's a direct tax on the pockets of the Belizean people. So don't let the prime minister try to fool you that he's not implementing any more new taxes, he's squeezing out more from the Belizean people."