By Marion Ali, Staff Reporter
The year 2016 will not be as robust as 2015 as loss of revenues in various sectors has caused the government to take certain measures.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow highlighted the fiscal challenges in his New Year’s address:
“I say at once that the landscape is changed and the dynamics will be different…
“Among the challenges that we will confront, the reduction in PetroCaribe flows is perhaps the most pronounced. With the dizzying fall in oil prices, we expect to get much less from these Venezuela loan funds than we did in 2015. And already 2015’s intake was only half of 2014,” Barrow said.
But there will also be other areas where we will lose earnings, such as from our own petroleum exports, and an upcoming payment for the SuperBond and the BTL Compensation Award. These were what prompted the increase the duty on
fuel imports, the Prime Minister stated. But he added that “this is the only tax measure we will take”, and that the government will be able to meet its debt obligations and pay for expansion in services in national security issues.
Infrastructure development will also continue, he said, “though now there will be a mix of funding sources. There is enough that we have set aside from the PetroCaribe days of plenty, to complete the countrywide BIL sporting projects (such as the Belize City Center) and the tourism road network improvements that we began in the last quarter of 2015.”
To add to this, construction on the Lamanai Road, the Cristo Rey/San Antonio Road, and the North Ambergris Road to the new Efrain Guerrero international Airport will continue as planned.
Through loans from various lending agencies, Barrow said the Philip Goldson Highway from the Airport junction to Belize City will be upgraded, as well as the new Macal River crossing, the Hummingbird Highway, and the Belmopan to Benque stretch.
A new link road with a bridge, will extend over the Belize River and from behind Gentrac on the Philip Goldson highway to around Mile 8 on the George Price highway.
In the citrus industry, “factory consolidation should increase efficiencies, and external demand and payment for our by-products remain firm,” according to Barrow.
And while sugar is not fetching optimum returns in the European market, the Santander investment in a factory and cane fields in the Cayo district should see local production increase early this year.
“The initial amount of 350 thousand tonnes of cane to be milled, should go up in year 2 to as much as 800 thousand tonnes. Apart from the foreign exchange earnings and permanent employment that the coming of sugar to the West brings, Santander is also negotiating a power purchase agreement with BEL to supply cheap co-generation energy to the local grid,” the Prime Minister indicated.
But the biggest revenues come from our tourism industry. “In 2016, we expect to maintain and better the record-breaking, year-over-year increases in stayover tourism. On the Cruise side…the headline news for 2016 is twofold: NCL’s Harvest Caye project becomes fully operational by April and brings with it two thousand jobs for Southern Belize; and the Supreme Court ruling on Belize City Port exclusivity-or lack thereof-clears the way for us to greenlight a new, Old Capital alongside docking facility.”
This project is expected to significant improve on cruise calls at the Belize City harbour.
In Stann Creek, the Commerce Bight container port will also be expanded.
In 2016, the government will try to improve its public services by appointing “an official Monitor to work with the Civil Service to ensure quality control in Government’s interaction with the public. The Monitor will as well have responsibility to review the implementation pace and effectiveness of all Government’s manifesto commitments,” Barrow signalled.