In  his  address to the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry as guest speaker last week, Prime Minister Dean Barrow delivered one of his most illuminating speeches accounting for the last twelve years of his career as Prime Minister.

Reviewing twelve years of tumultuous economic times, Barrow reminded the business community of  the crises his early administration faced, and what he has done to mend the situation.

The speech contained also a preview of what his administration plans to do to put Belize on a safe and progressive track.

Mr. Barrow recalled the bleak economic landscape when he came to power. The world was reeling from the melt-down of  international business which included all the major banks of the United States, Canada and Europe, the big auto makers  and primary industries around the world at a time when OPEC reigned supreme with punitively high oil prices.

In Belize interest rates were repressively high, topping 16 percent in some cases, while banks were on their way to accumulating an unbelievable 322 million dollars in bad, non-performing loans.

The Belize economy also had a peculiarly troublesome problem represented by the Ashcroft conglomerate which had nurtured Belize as its favourite milking cow.

Telecommunication services were poor, but expensive, and the various companies under the Ashcroft banner had enjoyed two and a half decades of tax-free favour.

Out of this chaos, partly brought on by past  government corruption and bad judgements, has emerged a stable government which has managed to keep inflation low, the  dollar steady, and a consistently modest growth of GDP which has averaged out at 2 percent over 12 years.

By creating the National Bank of Belize the Barrow administration has put pressure on high interest rates and reduced them by more than half.

Since 2008 private sector credit  has grown by 280 million dollars , and money for investment is no longer impossible to come by.

The Barrrow government has consolidated the foreign debt to  a manageable size, lopping off a quarter of it (amounting to some $53 million) while  bailing out the sugar industry and the citrus industry with timely low-interest loans.

One area of sheer genius, where the Barrow administration has excelled, was its foresight in taking over the petroleum distribution business by buying over the Esso interests and  establishing the PetroCaribe Fund on a  firm and formal footing.

Money from this fund has been used extensively for infrastructure: to upgrade highways, build bridges, establish markets and sports stadiums, though some of it has gone to politicians to support their constituencies.

By harnessing the powers of the Central Bank, overhauling the Customs Department’s way of assessing and collecting revenues and by tweaking the General Sales Tax apparatus the government has been able to provide substantial salary increases to teachers, public officers and pensioners, strengthen its financial position and increase its revenue share to withstand the determined attacks  against it by forces intent on reducing Belize to the status of a financial pawn.

In its third term the Barrow Government has been plagued by scandals, mostly in the Ministry of Lands and the Ministry of Immigration.

These are  serious  negatives. We  intend to talk about these and other missteps in subsequent editions.                                          .

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