It was widely speculated that this political term- 2012 to 2017- would end with an early elections to be called no later than the beginning of the year 2016. Some political observers even went as far as predicting that the elections would be called as early as November 2015; and for good reasons too. With the settlement of the longstanding dispute arising from the acquisition of BEL and BTL, the time seemed all too ripe. It so happens that anybody who had betted on that date would be a richer man today. The Prime Minister visited the Governor General’s House in Belmopan this morning where he advised the Governor General to dissolve the National Assembly and fix Wednesday November 4th 2015 as the date for the next general elections. This followed a Government press release where the two term Prime Minister gave the official announcement in a letter to the people of Belize. Here is a recorded audio of his statement earlier today.
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister: My Fellow Belizeans, when you turned to the United Democratic Party and gave us your confidence in 2008, it was for us to fix all that had gone so horribly wrong in the decade of misrule since 1998. Our country was burdened by the super bond; strait-jacketed by fiscal austerity; unable to operate a bankrupt DFC and a near insolvent social security; suffering from surging levels of poverty and neglect; and shunned by international concessionary lenders disgusted with the last Administration’s thievery of public monies. The UDP’s overwhelming priority was thus to replenish the state’s coffers; restore local and international confidence; rescue citizens desperately in need of relief; and bring back integrity to the Office of the Prime Minister whose outgoing PUP occupant had, in 2005, been presented with a certificate of corruption by Union and Civil Society leaders.
And so for almost 8 years now, my team and I have striven to clean up the mess we inherited, while simultaneously transforming the lives of the Belizean people. And our record on this 28th day of September 2015 is such that even our fiercest critics must concede the tremendous advances we have recorded: the super bond was restructured, saving the country $500m; public finances are robust; reserves are at historic highs; public officers are better paid than ever; the BOOST and Food Pantry programs are renowned poverty-fighting models for this entire region; tuition and scholarship grants have expanded educational opportunities for thousands of families; the economy has added more than 4500 jobs each year since 2007; the DFC is strong again; social security is safe and looking to increase benefits; and the new NBB has delivered thousands of small and midsize loans to the poor and the middle class.
Besides all this, investments in healthcare, education and citizen security have reversed the PUP decline, and affordable development financing is once again flowing freely from Belize’s IFI sponsors. Most dramatically, of course, hundreds of millions in low cost Petrocaribe funds are being invested in national infrastructure and community development. And this has resulted in an unprecedented proliferation of new highways, bridges, roads, streets, drains and sporting facilities in our cities, towns and villages. In recent weeks, in what can be viewed as the latest chapter in national resurgence, we have settled claims for both the BEL and BTL acquisitions. These vital public utilities are now and forever more part of the national patrimony, and benefits redound to Belizeans by way of the lowest light and telecom rates ever. Having secured this period of restoration, I believe the time has come to ask you for a fresh mandate. The clean-up having been completed, the UDP must focus now exclusively on the positive, on forwarding opportunity and change.
A New Belize must burst forth, where progress, prosperity and stability can reign untrammeled. This New Belize is to be one where learning and job opportunities vitalize the abundant skills of our young people; where families feel safe in their neighborhoods and homes; where rural dwellers have ready access to classrooms, clinics and industry; where our entrepreneurs and employers pay fewer, fairer taxes and where the innovations of governance serve all our citizens and the national interest. To forge ahead, to strike out in different directions, to fertilize this new bloom of change and advance and inclusion, we must re-inscribe our compact with the people. Accordingly, I have today advised the Governor General to dissolve the National Assembly and to fix Wednesday November 4, 2015 as the date for the next general elections, with Friday October 16 being Nomination Day. The Team of 31 candidates that our Party will submit to you is, in my view, the best ever. Conscious of the necessity and demand for clean, competent and compassionate leadership, I am especially proud that the democratic process in our Party has yielded such a superb roster of aspirants. I am therefore certain that a re-elected UDP would deliver transformative results, including the defeat of the remaining pockets of public and private sector corruption. You the citizen, the voter, hold the most important power in our democracy, and exercise supreme authority and judgment at election time. Because we know that your decision will be based on the record and character of those seeking your support, we in the UDP are confident of the victory. But ultimately it is a matter for you. My Party and I therefore pledge both our commitment to a peaceful election, and our absolute respect for whatever outcome you determine.
This election will be sixteen months before the full 5 year term would be over. So why the haste? Has the Prime Minister and his cabinet fulfilled their mandate from 2012 that they now need to seek a new mandate? In an interview today with the Prime Minister, he said that the rationale behind calling an early election is on the basis that an election is a distraction from real development, and in his words, “Let’s get it over with.”
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister: Well I said that the 4 year point is the marker and so since that was my calculus we’re not too early in terms of that yardstick. This particular juncture seems to be right. We’ve had a string of elections already in this current year. Everybody knew that the election was coming sooner rather than later. It struck me as let’s get it over and done with so that whoever wins can then concentrate fully on the business of governance and the business of development and on the business of improving people’s lives. If the longer I had waited the more difficult it would have been to continue to focus on issues of governance, all important issues of governance. I hate to put it like this but to some extent, the fact that this was an election season, was a distraction. And if we had prolonged it, if we had extended it a great deal beyond today’s date, it would have meant that that distraction would have been compounded, so as I say, let’s get it over with so that whoever wins can get back to the all-important business of governance.