The second day of the Budget Debate 2016 was held on Wednesday in Belmopan. Various aspects of the Budget of 2016/2017 were highlighted and one of those was the monies allocated to National Security; 141 million dollars. Minister of National Security, Hon. John Saldivar spoke about plans for the budgeted money .
“This budget is good for Belize; it is also good for my Ministry to which I now turn. This budget invests in our security and safety, This Government Mr. Speaker has increased the Budget allocation to the National Security Ministry each and every year since we have been in Government of Belize and this year is no difference. The Ministry of National Security has moved from 2 million to 141 million dollars in the current budget. Out of last year’s budget Mr. Speaker we were able to grow the police department by a whopping and unprecedented 320 new Police Officers, The BDF we were able to grow by 160 soldiers and the Coast Guard we’ve been able to grow by 94 sea men. In this physical year Mr. Speaker we will complete the forward operating base at Haunting Key, We will commence the ground work for the patrol base at Northern Ambergris Key. We will complete the multipurpose building within the coast guard headquarters compound, We will support the construction of the joint forces bases at Consejo, We will commence construction of station Punta Gorda and we will commence construction of Station Big Creek and we will acquire Mr. Speaker for the first time in history of this country 2 hundred foot Patrol Boat Craft valued at over US $10.2 million. This Mr. Speaker will allow our Coast Guard to properly police and manage even our economic zone which is over 200 miles out. In the BDF over 2 million will be spent on training for our helicopter pilots. Yes Mr. Speaker we now have 3 helicopters in the BDF.”
Member for the Opposition, Lake Independence Area Representative Hon. Cordel Hyde, questioned the increase in the budget for National Security.
“The member for Belmopan says that the budget for national security has increased every year and it’s true, it has. But every year the ministry of natural security spends less than is allocated for them. So it looks good on paper and make that boast that the budget for national security has increased every year. But in point of fact, they spend less than what is approved for them, and someone needs to explain that. And our soldiers complaining that they don’t have boots, they don’t have bullets, their uniforms are faded. So something is amiss here, we have this big budget and everything seems fine and dandy, but it’s not translated into better support for our soldiers. And so we have to get that right, someone has to account for that.”
Hyde went on to berate the budget, saying that Government spent more on new vehicles than some of the more important programs aimed at lifting people out of poverty.
“Scriptures tell us that we may live by faith, that we must believe in things not seen and that there are better days ahead but Mr. Speaker this draft estimate of revenue and expenditures for physical year 2016-2017 is abusive of that faith. It takes way to much liberty with that faith. It will not make the lives of the 175,000 poor persons in this country better. The Ministry tasks with fighting poverty Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty alleviation will receive a mayor 3% of the entire budget for poverty that hovering 50%. But poverty has never been a priority for this Government despite all their hearty protestation to the contrary. What priority is as expressed in budget after budget is the purchase of new vehicles what priority for the Government is the construction of buildings, streets and drains. What’s priority is the handful of contractors who can do no wrong. Mr. Speaker every year the Government spends more money on new vehicles than they spend on the entire food pantry program for the entire Belize City, Every year the Government spends six times more on new vehicles that the Ministry of Education spends on their entire school feeding program for the many thousands of primary school age children’s who need the assistance. Every year the government spends 3.5 million dollars in new vehicles but only spend 573 on school feeding programs even tough 600 dollars is allocated each year. In fact Government spends more on the purchase of new vehicles last year than they spent on the apprentice ship program youth for the future the National Sports Council and the Ministry of Housing combined. You know Mr. Speaker the Government boasts a lot about winning three straight elections and I suppose they are a big deal after all political parties exist to win elections. But for me, I measure success by how many lives you have made better house many person you have lifted out of poverty.”
“Rewind and compare mister speaker. To what was happening in the eight year of the former prime minister, my friend the Rt. Honorable ember from fort George. Let us take a look back at what was happening when he presented his budget and an eight year mark after being in the government eight years. It was so bad under the PUP’s administration eight years in, that they were saying not even the usual increments that teachers and public servants used to get can we continue with, they froze that. They increased taxation. This was when he had just a little while earlier boasted that in fact who said the government is broke? The taxes are performing. And then he had to own up to the reality here, trickery mister speaker. We see a contras with the prime minister the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister today paints the picture of the reality, but nowhere in that is he saying mister speaker that the growth will be discontinued, that the programs of this government mister speaker to aid the poor and the needy and to assist our teachers and public servants now complete that would see them get 25% salary adjustment, unprecedented mister speaker.”
Faber went on to speak about the salary increase for teachers.
“With working with our partners in the Public Service and the Belize National Teachers Union who are all a part of the comities Mr. Speaker that were set up to reduce spending and also to increase revenues. It is as a result of that joint effort Mr. Speaker that the Rt. Hon. the Prime Minster is able to offer once again that kind of significant raise to show love and appreciation to our teachers and Public Servants and Prime Minister on behalf of those teachers especially I thanks you. But when a raise is in place like that Mr. Speaker and when the Government is bending backwards to accommodate because we value so much the contributions of teachers and public servants there is a flip side to that Mr. Speaker and we want four our teachers to be the best that they can be. We want for them Mr. Speaker to go the extra mile and we know that many of them do, don’t get me wrong but Mr. Speaker there is a lot to be desired in terms of getting to the kind of quality that we want to see. So we are great full for the raise and I hope that on behalf of the teachers but certainly on behalf of the wider education system Prime Minister I want to say that we will continue to work hard in order to make sure that the investment that you have made Sr. in the Education System. This year the numbers will show $260 million almost on the recurrent side and $275 on the if you add it all together with cap two and cap three investment Mr. Speaker that is unprecedented more than 27 to 28 cents almost of every dollar that is being spent is being spent on education so I don’t understand how they can talk nonsense.”
Cayo South Area Representative, Hon. Julius Espat, basically said that the budget presentation is a futile exercise.
“It is futile to try and analyse the numbers of the budget when we all know that it will eventually change anyway, this is due to the fact that the party in government has consistently made a mockery of our system of governance on this honourable house. Every year Mr. Speaker we come to this house to listen to the budget purposed by the Prime Minister and every year Mr. Speaker the Prime Minister ignores it once it is passed and eventually spends any amount of the people’s money in any way that he pleases. I can appreciate doh Mr. Speaker all the hard work that the Public Servants put in, in preparation of the technical work because it is from them that I find out the frustration that they go through when they put in all this effort all this knowledge and it really means nothing. You see Mr. Speaker the Prime Minister continued use of supplementary procreation bills and special warrants undermine the essence and purpose of National Budget. This is a continued abuse of the Financial Regulations of this country. He in reality Mr. Speaker uses this method of bypassing regulation to enable him to do his political spending.”
“Mister speaker in the last attempted audit, the audit of general is saying as was said for many previous years. She could not satisfy herself as to the money collected and spent and as to the where about of stocks, vehicles, heavy duty equipment and other assets that our hard earned taxes paid for. Mister speaker, in chapter one of that report, 1.5, the auditor general said ‘ as explained in the analysis of financial statement, 23 commercial bank accounts presented for auditing not reconciled. Bank statements from the financial institution were not reconciled with accounts held with the accountant general. Pay roll clearing account, which are temporary accounts used to transfer deposits to financial institutions, holds a significant amount of transaction which require immediate reconciliation. Adjusted budget columns includes unapproved supplementary appropriation made without the requested approval of the national assembly. Statement of arias of revenue does not include arias for most ministries. She then includes in chapter 1.7 mister speaker, and she say and I quote, in my opinion the financial statements do not give a true and fair view of the government’s financial position in accordance with the finance and audit reform act 2005. You can say that maybe I am a politician and maybe I will lie. But you can’t say that the auditor general is lying.” Then there is the issue of the lack of open tender process for most of the contracts, most of which go to Belize Infrastructure Limited.
“Mister speaker let me turn to a point that public officers have asked me to deal with specifically, and that’s the matter of the $1.5 billion the government says they have spent on infrastructure over the last eight years and the in treed in creative accounting creature called BIL, not Bilindo you know, but Bill as in Belize Infrastructure Limited. One company alone built memorial park, BTL park, Battlefield park, do you know that one? Falcoln field in Cayo, the San Pedro football field, another one down South and they have the Belize city centre contract. Now that’s maybe $50, $60 million in contract for one solitary company. $50, $60 million for one company. Now you know the dust eckist commercial says everytime a man goes for a swim dolphins appear and that these owners of these companies their blood smells like cologne. You get the picture, no open tender procedure, forget about transparency and accountability. In the good old days of open tender procedure, they would insist that bidders must have experience, prior experience with dealing with certain contracts and certain sizes. That way most companies need that apply, but now they don’t even have to bother with that. They make the contract a shade under $5 million and that way they don’t need to follow the finance and artifact. We have to give it to you guys you know, you’re really creative. Month after month, year after year, we’ve watched millions of dollars being poured into the mother of all public fleecing the Marion Jones stadium. You would think that after two terms the feasting at that stadium would come to an end by now, but it seems to be no end in sight. The government spend a wapping $10.5 million over the last three years at the Marion Jones stadium. And they’ve been spending millions every year. Ever since they started with that ridiculous $2 million fence way back in 2009, you guys remember the fence? There is no telling how much money they have spent so far, some say the figure may be as high as $40 million. If it’s that high someone needs to go to jail. It’s more like $25 million, somebody still needs to go to jail. They use that place once a year, band fest uses it once a year. And now there is another $4.5 million in this year’s budget for the Marion Jones stadium. Could you imagine that? As if $25 million wasn’t enough. Now it becomes clear of the conspiracy at the MCC garden because if you have millions to spend on the Marion Jones and millions more to spend this year. You mean to tell me you couldn’t find your own money to fix your own parking lot?”
Prime Minister Barrow will make closing comments at the end of today’s budget debate.