Parliamentarians from both sides of the House of Representatives dissected and debated, at great length, the budget for fiscal for 2015-2016. Much of the discussion was agenda-driven, as has become traditional, and much of it was blatant politicking as opposed to a rational, logical analysis of the document, which will guide government’s fiscal path in the next year.
PUP Leader, Francis Fonseca, who refers to the budget as a “Tax, Borrow and Spend” Budget, empty on vision, opportunities, concrete plans to stimulate the economy and lacking everything but political rhetoric”, opened the debate. According to Fonseca, while Prime Minister Dean Barrow speaks about a time of plenty, the poverty level remains constant.
Fonseca also spoke at length about the country’s debt, an issue which was mirrored by the members of the Opposition who spoke. Perhaps the most constructive analysis of the budget was made by Orange Walk Central Area Representative John Briceno, who in his presentation asked – “do you know that since taking office this administration has borrowed over $700 million dollars? Do you realize that so far, from Petro Caribe alone, we have borrowed 286 million dollars? Did you notice that Government intends to borrow another $100 million this year? Of course the Prime Minister continues to say it is not the kind of borrowing like a “drunken sailor.” But borrowing is borrowing and someone has to pay it back.”
Briceno claims that even with a poverty rate of 40 percent, only $15M is being spent on the Ministry of Human Development, “which is actually on the ground delivering the goods and services to the people. This works out to twenty-eight cents a day for our poor.”
And where the interest rates at the commercial banks are concerned, the Orange Walk Central Area Representative says that its nothing to boast about, since on average banks pay 1.7 percent interest on savings, while they lend that money at 10.1 percent interest.
Briceno concluded his dissection of the budget by claiming that “if after seven years in government all that they can offer people on or below the poverty line is a part-time job and Christmas and Mother’s Day cheer in the form of handouts instead of a good job, that is not meaningful transformation. Perhaps we should say that we are condoning a culture of malformation. It is in reality an offense to Belizeans who were told to ‘Imagine the Possibilities.’”
Government representatives who spoke, on the other hand, were full of praise for the budget, claiming that it is visionary and addresses all critical components of economic development, including education and national security. In his presentation, Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega claimed that he is pleased beyond the ordinary to support the budget since it focuses attention on the rural areas of the country, traditionally neglected.
The debate continues thru Friday, and will be closed by Prime Minister Dean Barrow.