While the unions made their presence known outside the National Assembly, on the inside, it was business as usual for the first day of the Budget Debate, as the members took turns both criticizing and supporting parts of the budget that most directly affect their ministerial portfolios and constituents. News Five’s Isani Cayetano has excerpts from day one.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Kicking off the 2021 budget debate this morning was Opposition Leader Patrick Faber.  The area representative for Collet spoke for almost an hour, having a go at the government’s fiscal plan for the next twelve months.  Faber was critical of the financial blueprint for a number of reasons, beginning with the leadership of the new prime minister.

Patrick Faber, Leader of the Opposition

“But rather than manning up to the challenge that he knew to be forthcoming as the country’s new leader, he instead chose to create an atmosphere of the greatest desperation and panic with the hope of gaining sympathy for his inability to handle the job.  The PM lamented about the large mandate given to him and his party in November 2020 and also about their successive victories at the polls in March for the municipal elections, but he seems deaf to the cries of the masses of Belizeans all over.”

Those cries, according to the former Minister of Education, are about the existing hardships that are being faced by the people, particularly teachers and public officers.

Patrick Faber

“The teachers and public servants, about fifteen thousand in number, who now seem to be sending him and his party a new message after just a few short months, in fact, a few weeks after the victories he bragged about at the polls. Such a message, Madam Speaker, is loud and clear, resounding the point that he failed to convince them that he has a serious plan that is anything but self-serving for him and his party or riddled with the kind of practices that the people spoke overwhelmingly against in November of last year.”

In response to Faber’s criticism of the new budget, Freetown Area Representative Francis Fonseca laid the blame squarely at the feet of the previous administration for the present economic situation that the country is experiencing.

Francis Fonseca, Area Representative, Freetown

“You have the audacity to stand up and attempt to discredit the new government’s principled efforts to bounce back the broken economy and build back this shattered country.  You should be joining our efforts; you should be working with us, not against us.  You should be praying for our success, not for our failure.  Madam Speaker, this is not a budget we wanted for our first year in office.  This is a budget forced upon us and the Belizean people by a reckless, irresponsible U.D.P. government.”

In turning to the Belizean people, Fonseca made an appeal for continued patience as the new government tries its best to turn things around and deliver on its mandate.

Francis Fonseca

“You gave our prime minister and our party your full support and we will not fail you.  We need you to continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with us as we work our way through this economic crisis facing our beautiful and beloved Belize.  We need your support now more than ever.  We know that so many of you are in need of jobs, you want access to land, you want access to housing, you want access to education, you want access to quality healthcare, we thank you for your patience.”

The sole presenter for the opposition was the party leader himself.  In finding fault with the budget, Faber likened the Prime Minister’s approach to the folk tale of Henny Penny, or Chicken Little, who believes that the world is coming to an end.  In countering that criticism, Area Representative Dolores Balderamos-Garcia gave reassurance on the part of the Briceno administration that the sky is not falling.

Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, Area Representative, Belize Rural Central

“There is absolutely no panic on this side of the house and please do not blame COVID for the difficult, difficult times that we inherited because of thirteen years.  What we found was much worse than what we could have ever imagined.  The U.D.P. presided over times of arrogance, corruption, criminally reckless spending, aloofness to the people and neglect, especially of our rural communities.  Today, Madam Speaker, because of what we found, we must sacrifice, and I have to call on everybody without exclusion to .do our part.”

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

The Budget Debate continues on Friday.

Special Sitting of the House of Representatives, National Assembly in Belmopan.

Channel 5