Earlier today, one of the hot topics of debate was the Supplementary Appropriations bill - in layman's terms, it means the government is asking the House for approval for additional expenditure outside of what was allocated in the budget. And in this case, they're asking for over 45 million dollars - this in addition to the 70 million they asked for in October - and all this in what is supposed to be a time of austerity.
But to the PM's credit - he went into copious detail of what the money will be used for.
To summarize some of what he listed, $1 million was allocated to food assistance through the Ministry of Human Development; $300,000 is for a small grant program through the Ministry of Tourism; $3 million for KHMH; $2 million for MOH for COVID related expenditures; $1.6 million towards scholarships through the Ministry of Education; a whopping 12 million for public utilities; and more.
The PM then explained that while it isn't easy for them to ask for more money, it's necessary:
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister
"In total, recurrent expenditures add up to a little over 23 million dollars, the cumulative sum of domestically finance cap two expenditures, amount to 15.9 million while the externally source cap 3 expenditures amount to a bit over 5.8 million for a grand total of additional supplementary appropriations of $45,124,674. Now Mr Speaker I just want to make this point clear, that unlike the previous government we are coming to this house to get approval to spend these monies and we're being transparent, we're informing the house, including the opposition and the nation why is it we need to spend this money and how is it that we are going to spend."
"Mr Speaker I take no pleasure in coming to the house and saying we have to spend another $45 million dollars but we have to get the work done. We promised this country that we're going to fix the economy and that we're going to make this country once again work for everyone and that we're going to report to them how we're going to spend the money, and that is what we're doing today."
UDP Opposes Supplementary’s Inclusion of Something Suspiciously Like “Christmas Cheer”
The Leader of the Opposition stood afterwards and pointed out the issues he found in the PM's list - like the 12 million to BEL for streetlights. He lamented that it was a slap in the face for public officers who are still battling with their pay cuts for the government to allocate so much money for a company that is still reporting profits. He also noted a $1.5 million allocated for teachers and public officers recognition, but no further details as to how that recognition will be done.
But another thing that stood out was the constituency development fund - $3.15 million for December. The PM says it's not Christmas Cheer but Faber says a rose by any other name costs just as muchâ€¦
Hon. Patrick Faber, Leader of Opposition
"The supplementary constituency development monies and I would have hope that the prime minister would have given an explanation as to how this is to be done, not to me, because I already got a bit of what he has said he intends to do with these monies. Its 3.1 million dollars roughly. This is addition to the 3.5 million dollars that was asked for in the supplementary I think in October where the fund was developed. And so this 3.1 million is for December alone for the prime minister's version of Christmas cheer. You call it what you will, it is Christmas cheer and I am not going to be hypocritical like when they were on this side of the house Mr Speaker and say that the people don't deserve this kind of assistance around Christmas time especially, they deserve it all the time, but the truth of the matter is that these kinds of sweets to area representatives and I say that because the power of these funds lie in the hands of area representatives, be they red or blue. They lie in the hands of area representatives and we know the politics that some area reps play, so that an area representative that receives this kind of sweet, if you will, will use it to reward his friends and punish his enemies."
"We must point out that this is being done against the backtrack of saying to the teachers and the public servants that despite the hardships, despite the struggles, in fact most of those teachers and public servants are those who are in vehicles as well as and is paying up to $12.50 almost in premium gasoline and almost close to $12 on regular gasoline and you want the people to say thanks for the 1 cents reduction."
Faber made the complaint that the government had just brought another supplementary appropriation bill back in October, and that he believes the breakdown for those funds should have been included in the information they received today. He also says that in that bill, the government had asked for money to allocate towards the fight against drug planes, but that there is no sign of that in today's bill.
Hon. Patrick Faber, Leader of Opposition
"And then the things is about these things if you don't have the memory and you don't have the documents in front of you to remember. What the prime minister's document should look like, the document that you sent over prime minister to the honorable house it should show what the approved estimates are coming out of the budget, but it should also show those figures that have been approved by supplementary in this honorable house. So when we look at this document we see that oh the approved estimates was 12 million and now you're asking for additional 2 million. But if you didn't have the memory of the fact that you came here in October and ask for 10 million dollars too, then you'd think that this is okay. But it is not okay. It shows either incompetence on your part or the fact that something else is going on there that you don't want to tell the Belizean people about."
"The same arguments can be made for the work in infrastructure. You came here a few weeks ago and you ask this honorable house to approved more monies for the Haulover Bridge project. You came here a few weeks ago and you ask this honorable house to approved more monies for the Caracol project and then 8-9 weeks later you are back here again asking for more money for the same projects. Is it that you did not understand what you were doing a few weeks ago when you came? Is it incompetence? or something else going on, you want to sneak these things."
"One of the things that was in the last supplementary appropriation if you remember was an airstrip destruction. They ask us for $77,000 for airstrip destruction. Well, that did not help us. I would have been glad to lend my voice to approve some new monies to destroy airfields in this country that are used for drug landing. You don't see any allocation for that now, so apparently those ones that exist, they landing on the roads, landing all over the place - no monies are being ask to beef up the fight against those planes landing. The prime minister and the minister have gone mum on these issues. They had a lot to say when they were in opposition, the prime minister even went far as to say a government minister at the time must have been involved, so who is involved now? Your party is in power."