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Discussion of the work accomplished at the Cabinet retreat as well as what the Prime Minister hopes to accomplish as he chairs the 33rd Intercessional.

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PRIME MINISTER HON. JOHN BRICENO'S NATIONAL ADDRESS ON CABINET RETREAT

Greetings from San Pedro where the Summit is about to start, but I have taken time out to report to you on Cabinet's first retreat which we held last week.

My ministers and I held in-depth discussions on the draft budget for fiscal year 2022 - 2023. We reviewed the IMF's concluding statement issued at the end of its recent Article IV consultation. While the IMF hailed our impressive economic performance, they cautioned that economically we are not out of the woods yet. Therefore, the Cabinet approved a budget that is prudent and pragmatic. We will emphasize an ambitious social policy agenda which centres on bringing relief to the more vulnerable among us, expanding the NHI program while continuing to rebuild the Belizean economy in partnership with the private sector, the Unions, and non-governmental actors.

We received a detailed report from the Ministerial Team which met with the joint unions. Significant progress was made in those discussion towards finding a path to restoring benefits for public officers and teachers. After careful deliberation, Cabinet has settled our position on these matters, and we will inform the Unions of the elements of that position which includes much needed pension reform. More importantly, we believe we have found a workable compromise which includes restoring the full 10 percent to public officers and teachers.

On COVID-19, the Cabinet has decided that it is time to re-balance responsibility in the fight against COVID-19. For some two years, the Government has responded to the pandemic by embarking on a massive public health campaign, securing hundreds of thousands of vaccines, heavily imposing restrictions on personal freedoms and curtailing social and economic activities. The Cabinet has decided that the time has come to restore personal and economic freedoms, while encouraging everyone to act responsibly.

Effective 1st March the curfew will be lifted. The Minister of Health will provide more details of the process by which we will lift all measures during the month of March as we move towards normalcy on 1st April 2022. We continue to urge Belizeans to get vaccinated and for those who have not yet been boosted, we urge you to do so.

My Cabinet recognizes that there is a pressing need to address social issues such as the rising cost-of-living increases. While price increases are due largely to external factors, we believe that there are steps that can be taken by government to ease the hardship. We are actively reviewing the basket of goods on which tax relief can be granted, will vigorously increase enforcement of price controls, and adopt measures to curb price gouging.

Another important issue discussed during the Cabinet Retreat was governance. In this regard there was a strong sense that constitutional reform is needed to strengthen democracy in Belize. The Constitution is designed around a dominant Cabinet, and two main political parties. These structures, which were designed in the previous century, must be reviewed and reformed to meet the needs of a more democratic Belize. To this end, a People's Constitutional Commission will be appointed to undertake this major task of constitutional reform and is expected to complete its work in 15 months.

Since taking office we have done what was necessary to rescue Belize from financial disaster, protected Belizeans from the COVID-19 pandemic and, we started to implement our social justice agenda set out in Plan Belize. We will continue the work and press on with delivering on our promise to build a nation where everybody wins.

I thank you.


Prime Minister Hon. John Brice´┐Żo's National Address on Cabinet Retreat

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Marty Offline OP
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Not A Cabinet Retreat, A Cabanas Retreat!

And from La Isla Bonita to La Isla Carinosa; The northern part of Caye Caulker was once desolate, with most of the locals and tourists preferring to visit the other side of the Split. But slowly, that north-end has been seeing development in the form of resorts popping up to cater to even more travelers. And El Ben Cabanas is the latest new addition. El Ben boasts that it is a combination of jungle themed cabins with a seaside scene and this weekend, our news team was there - not for a Cabinet retreat, but for a Cabanas retreat! Courtney Menzies has this story.

Courtney Menzies:
Located on the northern Caye Caulker, El Ben Cabanes promises to bring luxury and tranquility to much less trafficked part of the island. The question now is whether this largely unpopulated north-end will now face resource and environmental pressures. Still, the owners say that Belize was the perfect to realize their dreams of having their own cabanas on the sea.

Zaira McWhirter, Owner, El Ben Cabanas
"El Ben we finally see after 4 years, after the pandemic and everything else that goes along with, we finally see our dream come through. When we sold our first business, Brian took me to the Maldives, it was a long way and I fell in love and we stayed in the same concept, cabanas on the water. So we wanted something island-ish, natural, and we chose to go with this type of setting for El Ben."

Brian McWhirter, Owner, El Ben Cabanas
"Belize offers everything, we came here 12 years ago, and we were so blessed because we enjoyed staying here, we had no intentions of ever developing a project, never doing anything until this property became available, we bought it, didn't do anything for a couple years, then decided like she said, let's get something like we had in the Maldives."

"We just want them to come here, enjoy the reef, enjoy the ocean, enjoy this jungle setting and want to come back and tell their friends what they experienced. This is going to be an experience like no other."

But being on the other side of the Split, tourists who visit this mostly isolated area will be without the basic conveniences, such as grocery stores or streetside food vendors. So, aside from paying a fee to be ferried to the southside of the island, visitors will have to spend most of their time at the resort - but the general manager explained that they'll have everything they need right there.

Herold Ovares, General Manager, El Ben Cabanas
"Our rooms are equipped with air conditioning, hot water, cable TV as well, king sized beds, full sized beds, queen sized beds. Regarding the services, we are planning to offer for all our visitors and Belizeans as well any kind of tours here on the island and also inland. As well, we're going to have our own jet skis, kayaks, paddleboard, electrical bikes and people can rent them and go to the island across the next side and have fun."

"This is a place that we want to welcome all Belizeans visitors, we have two pools, we have a restaurant, so we're just waiting for everyone here."

And El Ben Cabanas - affectionately named for the McWhirter couple's grandchildren, Eleanor and Ben - is now taking bookings. Their opening ceremony was held on Saturday afternoon - complete with celebratory Texas-style barbecue.

And for BTB, this is welcome news because as director, Evan Tillett, explained, there is a pressing need for more hotels - and diverse ones at that. And El Ben comes at the perfect time - as the pandemic slowly subsides.

Evan Tillett, Director, BTB
"Obviously development and investment in tourism means that you have a real destination that can compete on a global level. In a time where COVID has decimated the industry for the past two years and you have an investor in terms of Mrs Z and Brian willing to invest in north Caye Caulker speaks volume of our destination. And so we welcome that sort of investment in a country where you have only 900 hotels and 9,000 rooms where the average size of a hotel is 10 rooms, we need additional development. Particularly when we focus on the air routes. Air route development is critical. One of the things when you sit at the table they ask you what will your accommodation landscape look in the next five years and so development like this is really important for the tourism product."

And El Ben Cabanas sports 28 rooms that can hold about 60 visitors at full capacity. And for the setting - visitors will pay top dollar: the basic rooms start at $275US with the Butler Suites costing as much as $750-$800US - surely steep for the average Belizean. But, Ovares explained that there will be Belizean rates and locals can enjoy the restaurant and pool without booking a room.

El Ben Cabanas currently employs 16 Belizeans and they're hoping to take that number to 24 in the near future.

Channel 7



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