By Alexis R. Milan
The 2014 Central Bank annual report puts the country’s national debt at around $2.3 billion. But the actual figure may be higher, factoring in the borrowings of 2015 and unknown, unreconciled debt figures from pending litigations.
In this year’s budget, the government requested external financing for more than $174 million, and since the start of the fiscal year, has requested supplementary allocations totaling around $51.75 million, with several months still left on the fiscal calendar.
Other domestic debt totals in certain departments are a little harder to determine. Earlier this year, the Report on Proposed Cost Saving Strategies prepared by the Committee to Evaluate and Advise on Cost Saving Measures (CEACS), revealed that the actual government debt owed through the Lands Department is unknown.
According to that report, the Committee requested information relating to land acquisition and was provided a list of outstanding principal balances in which the government owed more than $150 million without interest.
The report added that some of these cases date back to the 1980s and many times the government ends up paying four times the original cost, due to poor record-keeping.
The Committee also noted that the Commissioner of Lands in a letter officially explained that his department inherited an outdated and inefficient system. He noted that every day, new acquisition cases pop out of the wood work.
According to the Committee, the Commissioner also noted that about 50 percent of records lack important information, which prevent a true reflection of the government’s debt in this regard.
On a legal note, the government has unresolved litigations reflected in nationalization cases involving Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) and Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL), which may yet cost the government several hundreds of millions.
The 2014 Central Bank report did note that the 2038 “Super-bond” accounts for 46.8 percent, less than half of the country’s external debt, while loans from multilateral institutions account for 28 percent of its debt at the end of the year.
The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) were the principal multilateral creditors, the report said.
Due to sizable disbursements from Venezuela, the share of bilateral funding agencies increased from 22.3 percent to 25 percent, with Venezuela accounting for a little more than half of the bilateral debt stock. Venezuela has officially overtaken the Republic of China on Taiwan as Belize’s largest bilateral creditor.
All things considered, it is difficult to pin down the value on Belize’s debt. It is widely believed however, that the national debt exceeds the Central Bank’s $2.3 billion estimate.