By Marion Ali, Staff Reporter
The fiscal budget debate went for an entire second day Friday and while the government side of the House supported it, the opposition criticised it.
Cayo South Area Representative, the PUP’s Julius Espat, went further by calling the budget “useless”.
“What we have in this book, Mr. Speaker, disguised as a budget is useless and has absolutely no credibility … because of the essence of what the Prime Minister said in his budget speech this year, and I will quote: … ‘I serve notice right now that I expect to come back to this House with a mid-year supplementary, for what I present today cannot long survive the tectonic shift caused by last week’s results.’ You see, Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister’s continued use of supplementary appropriation bills and special warrants underminds the essence and purpose of what a national budget should be. This is a continued abuse of the financial regulations of this country … he in reality, Mr. Speaker, uses this method of bypassing regulations to enable him to do his political spending”, Espat said, pointing to Barrow’s Christmas cheer, Mother’s Day and back to school programs.
Espat went on to compare Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s running of the country to “how a substance abuser would operate or behave. He has this economy totally addicted to an illegal substance and that illegal substance is called Petrocaribe.”
But before Espat could develop his thoughts, Speaker of the House
Michael Peyrefitte advised Espat that he couldn’t speak of the matter in that light because it is now before the court, through a lawsuit that Espat himself took out against Prime Minister Barrow.
Espat’s point was that the signing of the agreement by the Deputy Prime Minister was illegal because he didn’t consult the opposition elected members of the House.
“The illegality is that the government cannot spend money, cannot borrow money, cannot do anything that has to do with the people’s money, if it doesn’t come here for approval.”
But Peyrefitte pointed out that while Espat would have had a right to speak about the matter in the House, his lawsuit “handcuffs” that right on the matter because it is now before the court.
Espat moved on with his presentation by arguing that aside from the use of
Petrocaribe funds to finance their projects, the government and the prime minister have done nothing else to help to drive the economy.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow explained that his government has not imposed any new taxes for the last five years and about borrowing.
“There is no government in the world that doesn’t borrow. There is nothing wrong with borrowing, so long as you borrow on the right terms and conditions. So long as you borrow in the right way. So long as you borrow in the UDP way.
“Petrocaribe is only responsible for 4 cents out of every dollar that the government of Belize spends. I don’t know how you can call that an addict? Check your facts, check your figures. Mr. Speaker, we have spent their money, not just wisely, but transparently.”
Meanwhile, Orange Walk South Area Representative, Jose Mai, said the budget offers nothing to farmers and is without vision because the government’s only method of gaining revenue is to enhance tax collection. He spoke about the current controversy over the price of rice.
Hugo Patt, Area Representative, Corozal North, countered Mai’s criticism on rice by looking at Mai’s era when he was in charge of the Belize Marketing and Development Corporation (BMDC).
“During the time that he was the general manager of BMDC, BMDC was practically broke. …When this U.D.P. administration took over BMDC in 2008, there was no depot in Orange Walk, there was no depot in Belize City and there was no depot in Cayo. Literally, there was no operation as it pertains to the BMDC and Mister Speaker, back then as is now; BMDC played a critical role with the rice farmers in the south. Now he is speaking about rice policies and rice vision and ways forward in which we can better improve the situation with the rice farmers. Why is it then that the member for Orange Walk South, during his 18 years as general manager of BMDC, did not take the necessary steps to ensure a livelihood and a thriving industry for our rice farmers in the south? … He is talking about bad administration and corruption in the Department of Agriculture … during his tenure some of the most exorbitant salaries were being collected.”
The prime minister has said that he intends to return to the House later in the year with a supplementary budget to cater to those areas of the country that voted for the UDP in the recent municipal elections.