Members of the House of Representatives are making final preparations for the marathon debate on the government’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2012-2013. The two-day event kicks off on Wednesday with the traditional rebuttal of the budget speech by the Leader of the Opposition Francis Fonseca. It will be Fonseca’s first budget rebuttal, and on the eve of his big speech in parliament, Fonseca told Love News that he has taken a long, hard look at the government’s proposed spending bill to see if there is anything in it to take the country forward.
DEAN BARROW, Prime Minister of Belize
“I try to find the positive in everything and you know, the budget, if you want to give some benefit to the government it maintains the status quo in effect so people improvise for public officers and the functioning of government to continue but there is nothing in there to move the country forward and that is my great regret and I do not see anything in the budget to move forward, investment forward. There is no plan in the budget to grow the economy. There is no plan in the budget to reform the tax system. There is no plan in the budget to engage the productive sector the agro-productive sector. So I think it maintains the status quo but the reality is that at this point in development we really need to be creative, we need to be innovative, we need to be looking at new ways of trying to create and stimulate the Belizean– create economy growth, stimulate the Belizean economy and my big regret about this budget is that there was an absolute lack of consultation. I really believe that that could have helped to better inform the development of the budget. As a political party we have made it our business to consult. We have had extensive meetings with the unions, with the church community, with the private sector, we have met with youth leaders and student government leaders, we’ve met with the musicians and artists and I really wished that the government had done that kind of consultation because certainly our presentation in the budget would be better informed because of those consultation, so that is regrettable. So I don’t see that kind of urgency and that sense of direction and that sense of purpose coming out of the budget, which I believe is so critically important at this point in Belize’s development. The Prime Minister call it a discipline budget in effect he’s calling on the Belizean people to make sacrifices and while people are going to be receptive to that because people in good faith want to do what is in the best interest of Belize. I think people also want to see that the government is leading the way, that there is some strategy for moving the country forward, that there is some strategy for economic growth, some strategy for driving exports, some strategy for attracting investment into the country. So those are critical elements that are missing in this year’s budget.”
With the stepped up payments for the nation’s foreign debt adding more stress to the national treasury, Fonseca says the proposed budget is short on a way forward out of the financial difficulty for Belize.
FRANCIS FONSECA, Leader of the Opposition (PUP)
“And I think even the government has recognized that the path that we’re on is unsustainable and that is one of the reason the government is engaged in this renegotiation exercise as it relates to the public debt of the country. As you point out the payments on the bond will be at 8.5% this year, our public debt now stands at about 1.2 billion US dollars and that does not take into account the compensation for nationalizations, so public debt is a very serious and real problem and real challenge. The question is how do you go about dealing with that debt? Renegotiating is obviously one approach and we believe that there can be success with the renegotiations as I have pointed out publicly. I believe, quite achievable goal is to get a decrease in the coupon rate to 5% and an extension in the maturity period from 2029 to perhaps 2040, I believe that is achievable. But you can’t just pursue one track in a country like Belize where you have a small vulnerable economy you have to be pursuing economic growth as well. So you have to be in your budget - your budget has to reflect an understanding of the need to drive exports. What is in the budget that will encourage the man down south or in the Cayo District to expand their firms, to invest in ten more acres of papayas or ten more acres of citrus or bananas or to expand their shrimp firms? What is in the budget to encourage that? Nothing. What is in the budget for a young entrepreneur to say I want to get into the information and communication technology sector? I see an opportunity there. What is in that budget to encourage that person to go to the bank and sit down and say, listen I have this idea, I want to see how it can be financed. I think that is what is missing, regrettably, from the budget: The sense of purpose, the sense of direction, the sense of urgency to deal with the critical challenge of economic growth and development.
On the issue of crime, Fonseca says his party is concerned for the personal safety of the citizens and says government must formulate a strategy that will put the criminals in check. He also expressed concerns that the drug war from the north may be making its way south into Belize.
FRANCIS FONSECA, Leader of the Opposition (PUP)
“I am concerned. I’ve been concerned for a long time. If you check the records in the House of Representative in National Assembly I think as far back as 2009 I asked that very question in the House of Representatives to the Minister of National Security and I asked the government of the day at that time to present to the Belizean people their plan and their strategy to deal with what I saw as an imminent problem and challenge facing us. At time Guatemala was downsizing their army, this is in the west but Guatemala was downsizing their army and a lot of criminal activity was taking place coming across the border but we also knew that there was a ravaging, raging drug war taking place in Mexico City, the government had declare war and the drug cartels and they of course were fighting back and looking for new areas to go into and certainly I think it was clear to me that Belize was on their radar and we had to be prepared for that because obviously these cartels have billions of dollars and they could completely overwhelm a small state like Belize. So again, we need to have a plan, we need to understand that this is a real and imminent issue that we have to deal with and we have to have a plan to deal with it. It’s a national security issue so we have to guided by what the government is saying, they know best, they understand the issue, they are getting information that we are not getting but so you know, I am hopeful that the government is paying very close attention to this matter because the potential for very very serious impact on Belize socially and economically is tremendous.”
Leader of the Opposition, Francis Fonseca. The debate on the 2012-2013 budget starts on Wednesday morning at ten o’clock. The proceedings from the National Assembly chamber will be broadcast live, right here on Love FM.<< Read other news