By Alexis R. Milan
The business community has voiced a number of fiscal concerns, following the budget reading by Prime Minister Barrow last week.
Areas of major concern is government’s continued borrowing, and the sustainability of the national debt, which ultimately affects the citizens of our country, said Mark Lizarraga, the senator representing the private sector.
According to Lizarraga, this year’s budget continues the trend of consistently borrowing to meet yearly expenses. “Now it appears that our leaders spend, as much as possible, without any regard or concern for the present and future generations that will need to repay the approximately 2,700 million we now owe, which still does not include the debts for BTL AND BEL, as well as the countless litigation, and liabilities pending against the government of Belize,” said Lizarraga.
Based on initial feedback, the business community believes this leads to unsustainable debt obligations that will continue to burden tax payers and citizens for years to come. The ‘super bond’, is now only 48 percent of the country’s current national debt so we have effectively recently doubled the national debt, Lizarraga noted. It is quite conceivable, when all our contingent liabilities are realized, including those for the utility companies, that we would have in fact, tripled our “super bond” debt, he added.
Creating an enabling environment for sustainable employment and economic activity is what the government should be focused on, he added.
Citing Social Security statistics, Lizarraga pointed out that from 2008 to 2014, only 10,000 new jobs have been created while there are over 5,000 students graduating from school every year. At a minimum, we should have created 35,000 new jobs during that period, Lizarraga said.
Lizarraga stated that sustainable, well paid jobs are the key to uplifting citizens out of poverty and dependency on political handouts for survival.
There needs to be a clear strategy that ties needed business skills to educational training for Belizeans. When both work in harmony, the employment opportunity pool is sustained and employers need not look elsewhere to import skills.
Lizarraga said Government must as well, start focusing on providing a fertile and supportive environment, for the thousands of entrepreneurial minds and business student graduating in our country, he added.
Government should leave no stone unturned when looking at ways to cut down on waste, and calls for government to look seriously at the recommendations made by the Committee to Evaluate and Advise on Cost Saving Measures (CEACS), including the long overdue audit of the public service employees.
The private sector has supported the unions’ call for there to be an audit of the public service to weed out redundant and politically appointed posts.
Tax reform is an issue that also needs to be looked at, Lizarraga said. Transparency and accountability leads to improved standards of living and economic productivity, Lizarraga said, emphasizing the urgent and critical need for a re-constituted Public Accounts Committee, the immediate appointment of the 13th senator and the activation of revised and reformed House Committees.