The House of Representatives met this morning in the National Assembly Chamber, and during the first hour of the meeting, when Prime Minister Barrow was about to deliver his budget speech, the Opposition People’s United Party walked out.
So, in essence, PM Barrow’s last swan song, “Make Every Dollar Count” — the budget that the PM prepared for this parliamentary session — was played to only his supporters.
Barrow devoted the first few minutes of his budget presentation to lamenting the ills of the then People’s United Party government that his United Democratic Party government replaced in 2008, in a massive landslide victory on the promise of transparency and zero tolerance for corruption.
Following his cataloguing of the sins of the administration his government replaced 12 years ago, PM Barrow declared: “I can proclaim with pride, the longest period of fiscal and macro-economic stability in post-Independence Belize.”
Barrow said that from 2008 up to the end of 2019, his government has increased economic output by 87 percent.
“In other words, we almost doubled the economy, adding a net annual economic production of over $2 billion,” Barrow said.
The Prime Minister later added, “In 2008, the budget’s recurrent revenues stood at $591 million. Today, this bedrock factor of public finances stands at $1.184 billion, double the level of 12 years ago.”
“During this budget period, government will spend $540.5 million on salaries for its 14,000 public officers, which is comprised of police, BDF, nurses, teachers and an approximate 1,000 pensioners. This year’s wage bill is up from the $276.3 million that it was in 2008,” Prime Minister Barrow stated.
Barrow said that the economy of Belize grew by 6 percent during the first quarter of 2019.
“In our region, real growth in 2019 is forecast to be a negative 1.8 percent in Central America and barely 1 percent in the Caribbean,” Barrow said.
“Fortunately, the FY 2020/21 budget which we propose today, representing total spending and investment of $1.362 billion, plus $109 million for principal repayments, funds an extensive envelope of capital projects,” Barrow said.
Barrow said that last year’s drought negatively affected the agricultural sector; for example, corn production was affected, and in addition to this decreased corn production, citrus production fell for the fifth consecutive year.
Referring to the external sector, the Prime Minister noted that the balance of payment widened to 4.5 percent of GDP, in 2019.
Belize experienced a 7.8 percent rise in exports and that, Barrow said, was mainly driven by the sale of sugar and banana sales.
Belize’s gross international reserves stood at $555.8 million at the end of 2019. This is equivalent to 3.2 months of imports, which is higher than the 3.0 months that is recommended, the Prime Minister said.
Belize entered 2020 with its banking industry having $5 billion for the first time, Barrow said, and out of that figure, $3.5 billion is held by the domestic banks and 1.09 billion is held by the credit unions and $417,000,000 by international banks.
Barrow, in summarizing the state of affairs at the end of the last fiscal year, “…estimated the Central Government’s external public debt at 62.2 percent of GDP, approximately US$1.21 billion, along with domestic debt of BZ$1.116 billion or 28.7 percent of GDP. The total Central Government debt, both external and domestic thus stood at 90.9 percent of current GDP or about BZ$3.536 billion.”
Barrow said, “The Draft Estimates show total revenue and grants amounting to $1.239 billion for FY 2020//202l, comprised of $1.206 billion in recurrent revenue, $2.6 million in capital revenue and $30.8 million in grants.”
On the matter of the government’s recurrent expenditure, Barrow said, “The draft estimates of recurrent expenditure is proposing a total of $1.108 million in recurrent expenditure up by $34.0 million over the projected outturn of $1.074 million for financial year 2019//2020. Of this proposed amount, some $453.8 million is for personal emoluments, $95.8 million for pensions, $253.0 million for goods and services, $184.1 million for subsidies and current transfers, and $121.4 million for interest payments on the debt.”
Barrow also has allotted $5 million that is listed as legal fees for Belize’s case at the International Court of Justice.
Barrow outlined how the budget will be financed as follows, “Madam Speaker, the financing needs of the budget amounting to $232.1 million will be comfortably satisfied from the following sources: disbursement of $137.7 million from concessionary loans already contracted with our multilateral development partners to fund our Capital III expenditure program; disbursement of $20.0 million in budget support financing from the Republic of China (Taiwan) under the on-going bilateral economic cooperation program; and sourcing of some $74.4 million in domestic financing.”Amandala