“Delivering on Plan Belize” is the title that Prime Minister John Briceño gave to his 2023/2024 Budget Speech. In his seventy-seven minutes oration on Friday inside the National Assembly, the PM touched on the external factors affecting Belize’s economy, developments in the financial sector, public debt, his administrator’s performance in 2022 and its projected performance in 2023. Annually, the government in power introduces its budget in speech form weeks before it is debated inside the National Assembly. A well-planned budget is of utmost importance to any government to maintain stability and control over public finances as well as to provide accountability by way of financial reporting. News Five’s Paul Lopez takes a closer look at this year’s budget speech.

Paul Lopez, Reporting

At the end of March, the Briceño Administration will complete its second full budget year. And, according to the Prime Minister, like the first, his administration has attained surpassing success for Belize and its people yet again.

Prime Minister John Briceno

“The economy is growing, expanding in 2022 by an estimated twelve point four percent, more than ten times the average annual growth rate of one point seven percent experienced under the United Democratic Party Administration, ten times. Yes we said it, we meant it and everybody wins under a P.U.P. administration . More Belizeans have jobs, ninety-five percent of those who seek employment are working. For the first time in the history of Belize we have an unemployment rate of five percent, thanks to a P.U.P. government. Forty-two thousand, nine hundred and sixty-five workers have received one dollar and seventy-five cents or fifty-one percent per hour salary increase by the recent raising of the minimum wage to five dollar per hour.”

Prime Minister Briceño also highlighted the restoration of full wages to public officers, teachers and security personnel and the restoration of their increments. He announced that in 2022 his government forborne three million dollars a month in taxes, in order to keep the price of fuel at a moderate level.

Prime Minister John Briceño

“How distant now do those bleak, final days of the U.D.P. appear, those desperate times when the government had to borrow one million per day to pay public officer salaries and borrow just to keep the lights on; those traumatic times when Belize had effectively defaulted on its international commercial debt and when devaluation of our dollar seemed inevitable? To that chaos and hopelessness, we shall never return, Madam Speaker. Not so long as we remain faithful to our sacred pledge that “Everybody Fi Win, Todos Ganamos”.”

But, the 2023 outlook for one of the global economic power houses most closely connected to Belize’s economy, the mighty United States of America, is not all good. It is expected that GDP growth in the U.S. will fall by almost one and a half percent, along with the global rate of economic growth. These external conditions do not speak well for a country that remains vulnerable to external shocks.

Prime Minister John Briceño

“As a small, open and vulnerable economy, external factors such as extreme climate events, global economic shocks like that caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, high inflation suffered by our major trading partners like the US, US and other global benchmark interest rates, US and global economic growth, supply chain disruptions, trade regulations, among others, can either help or hinder our fortunes.”

But, back to the local economy, largely driven by the rebound of the tourism sector, Belize’s annual economic growth reached twelve point four percent in 2022, an achievement praised by the IMF. Such growth however, was not equal across all sectors. Meanwhile inflation almost doubled from the previous year, and spending went over budget by some seventy-one million dollars.

Prime Minister John Briceño

“In the primary sector which edged lower by zero point nine percent during 2022, lobster, chicken and yellow corn saw increases while banana, citrus, shrimp and cattle experienced contractions. Inflation in Belize rose to six point three percent for 2022, up from three point two percent in 2021. Still, these rates were far below the global rates of eight point percent in 2022 and four point seven percent in 2021. On the expenditure side, total spending, including supplementary allocations approved during the Fiscal Year is expected to be one thousand four hundred and thirty-six million, which is seventy-one million or 5 percent more than the original estimate.”

For the new fiscal year the Briceño Administration estimates that it will receive more than one billion, four hundred million dollars in revenues and grants an uptick from this year projections, with expenditure estimated at around one and a half billion dollars. Areas such as education, land distribution, health and national security are listed as high priority.

Prime Minister John Briceño

“An additional four million to expand the Free Education Program to schools in the Southside of Belize City and in the Toledo District., an additional ten million to fund the surveying and processing cost for lots for first-time, low income homeowners, an additional seven million for the expansion of the National Health Insurance Program in the Orange Walk District, an  additional three million for municipal streets and drains, an increase of five million to meet the recruitment of an additional two hundred and twenty five police cadets, one hundred and ten B.D.F. recruits, and some sixty coast guard recruits. As we look ahead my administration will not fear, we will not weep, we choose to be bold, and we are determined to do more and to be extra for Belize. From Consejo in the North to Barranco in the South, from Benque Viejo in the West to the Lighthouse Reef islands in the East, a brighter sun shines, a different, more confident nation awakens.”

Channel 5