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House debates new Budget

The newly renegotiated “Superbond II” has been fully subscribed, and the Belize Debt Exchange offer has officially and legally closed.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow made the announcement at Thursday’s House of Representative’s debate of the General Revenue Appropriation Bill for fiscal year 2013-2014, which was originally presented to the House on Friday, March 1.
“It happened yesterday [Wednesday] with the submission of all the relevant legal documentation,…consistent with the collective action clause in the original bonds, the entirety of those bonds have now been exchanged for the new 2038 bonds,” Barrow said.
He added that the rating agency Standard and Poor’s has also upgraded Belize’s credit rating to B/B minus and has rated the bonds themselves at B minus, as a consequence of completed restructuring.
Barrow’s “good news” aside, the Leader of the Opposition Francis Fonseca wasted no time to malign the government’s budget, accusing the government of not properly consulting the people.
Fonseca described the budget as being “divorced” from the Belizean reality. He took serious issue with the Barrow administration’s proposal for a $60 million company called the Belize Infrastructure Ltd.
The newly formed and fully government-owned company, according to the Barrow budget, is to carry out infrastructural projects.
Fonseca asked: “Why is this private company necessary to carry out the work of government? Will this company be competing with the private sector? Who will it be purchasing its material from, and where will supplies come from? Who will mange this company? Will the Contractor General and the Auditor General have oversight over this company? Will it be subject to the Finance Audit Reform Act?”
Fonseca noted that the company’s chairman is the Minister of Works Hon. Rene Montero, and former Construction Contractor Minister of State Hon. Herman Longsworth is the co-chair. The directors will also receive generous remuneration, and a stipend to attend board meetings.
The government, however, chose not to respond to any of Fonseca’s questions, and the session digressed into its usual retrospective arguments.
The government, instead, continued lauding the many infrastructure works which government will be undertaking this year, such as the new bridge across the Macal River connecting San Ignacio and Santa Elena, to be built with $58 million from the Caribbean Development Bank.
Montero also spoke of another $16 million to be invested in road improvements all over the country. Sugar roads would also be addressed in Orange Walk from San Lazaro to August Pine Ridge, from Yo Creek to San Antonio, from the Northern Highway to San Lazaro and to Shipyard, with funding from the European Union.
Fonseca later dismissed the new company as “the latest UDP gimmick”, which he said he expects will seek to avoid the rule and regulations of public scrutiny.
Continuing on the “superbond” theme , members of the government side lost no time in reminding the Opposition, that it was their unbridled borrowing that grew the public debt from a little over $500 million when the Peoples United Party took office in 1998, to more than $2 billion by the time they sought to restructure Belize’s external debts into the 2007 “superbond”.
Minister of National Security Hon. John Saldivar came to Barrow’s aid in underlining the nation’s economic success in the citrus and sugar industries, and how the good cane prices and efficient milling operation at the Tower Hill sugar factory has encouraged cane farmers to plant more cane.
He also noted his ministry’s moves to enhance the country’s security, with a new commandant, Brigadier-General David Jones for the Belize Defence Force and within the Police Department now under the direction of a new Commissioner of Police, Allan Whylie.
Crime offenders will also be encouraged to reform and rehabilitate themselves to become productive members of society at a new correctional facility in the Mountain Pine Ridge.
The government’s budget had anticipated a deficit of about $127 million, but Barrow explained, in detail, how he expected to meet this shortfall in revenue from loans, financing assistance from Taiwan and other financing arrangements.
Fort George area representative Said Musa latched on this to criticize the government for previous deficits of $129 million last year and $150 million in 2009, noting also that there also has also been a 6.49 percent inflation. He lamented that while crime was on the rise, the police budget had been cut. He also accused the UDP of simply feathering the nests of family and friends.
Minister of Education Hon. Patrick Faber also rose to cite instances of the previous administration’s financial irregularities, such as in the disbursement of scholarships and education grants, and how party followers were not held to their commitment and scholarship agreements when they returned from their studies.

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