Senate meets to discuss 2013/2014 Budget

A special sitting of the Senate was held today in the Assembly Chambers. The session was to debate and ratify the Budget Bill which has already been read and approved by Parliament last week Friday; in order for it to reach the Governor General desk for final approval. Hon. Senator Lisa Shoman spoke this morning saying that the budget is uninspiring and lacks luster.

Lisa Shoman – Senator:
vlcsnap-2013-03-27-20h47m45s85Every year the slogans that headline the Budget presentation, which is made by the Prime Minister, aim for evermore grand, and dare I say grandiose, themes. And yet, on closer inspection, in the light of what we call the hats on hat, the day passes and the seemingly bright blooms invariably droop, like spent Hibiscus flowers after sunset.
Mr President, our Government thinks that if it says it loud enough things will get better, and they surely will, but only in Barrowlandia.  The [patriarchs] in that land, in that fair and bright land, seem to be the only ones who can boast that their economic expansion will be stimulated,. and that is no doubt thanks to the vision articulated by the Prime Minister as the reigning Wizard of Boz.

Shoman says that for the past three years Prime Minister Barrow has been speaking of numerous stimulus packages targeted at improving economic conditions. But according to Shoman, for the majority of the country this has only an been illusion.

Lisa Shoman – Senator:
For some three years now, as far as I have been here, every Budget debate our Prine Minister has been promising a stimulus package.  In January 2009 a 200 million dollars stimulus package was probably unveiled, and yet by December of that year we were asking if this was just an illusion.  Then in March 2011 we were informed that the Russians were coming, and only to have our hopes dashed.  And that announcement revealed as being another illusion.
During the Independence address of 2012, fresh off the euphoria of a narrow victory, the Prime Minister said, and I quote, “Talks will soon take place with Turkish investors that plan to invest in both container and cruse ports in Belize.  Wall Street then wants to come in to plant thousands of acres of grain, for export and for local food.”  Whether that is fact or whether that is [fiction], neither of these proposals is alluded to or included in this year’s Budget presentstion.

As you may recall, in his budget speech on March 1st; Prime Minister Barrow says that Belize’s “Houdini” like economic performance is the envy of the Caribbean. However Shoman noted that the famous Harry Houdini himself, died and we can only hope that such is not the economic faith of Belize.

Lisa Shoman – Senator:
It’s good to remember, when one is tempted to boast, that Belize’s “Houdini like performance” is phenomenal good news. It is important to remember that the artist known a Harry Houdini intimately died performing one of his legendary magic tricks, and he was in effect at the end of the day too clever by half, as our Prime Minister would no doubt say.  Too clever by half. The unfortunate demise of Harry Houdini is surely not the fate that any of us would ever wish as a metaphor for economic success or failure in Belize.  On page six of the Budget presentation, the Prime Minister brags that growth is “attributable to brisk activity in agriculture, agro-manufacturing, tourism, construction, and telecommunications, which more than compensated for the sharp downturn in petroleum extraction, domestic electricity generation, and cruise ship distribution. it sounds good until you pick it apart.  And when you pick it apart, you stary to realize, that although you may all wish to call it fruit, where we really di talk about the apples and oranges.  

This year’s national budget represents at total of $934 million.

During his budget speech Prime Minister Barrow introduced a 60 million dollar infrastructure package which is going to be financed and implemented by the newly registered wholly owned GOB Private Company called (BIL). According to PM, this special purpose vehicle will create jobs. Since its introduction though, many have been question the authenticity of the outfit and what it seeks to do, saying it’s only another UDP guise. It was also said of the program, by the PM, that it will float all boats; but not everyone is convinced of this.

Lisa Shoman – Senator:
I was discussing it with a friend, and my friend scratched her head and said, “I wonder if the Prime Minister di include Mr Martin Leekey or Doreen ina that too.”  ‘Cause this is the problem, you see. All boats are not equal.  All access will not be equal.  Everyone will not benefit on the same way. And the worst part of it is that when you say that this Special Vehicle Bill will “stimulate” demand, the immediate questions that arise are: For what and from whom? And those are the questions that not only the private sector but all citizens have every right to ask.

BIL according to PM Barrow, will purchase private sector materials and supplies. Shoman says that such a statement only begs other compelling questions as the following.

Lisa Shoman – Senator:
Well more questions immediately arise:  For what, from whom, and most importantly of all, for how much?  Too many of us you know, Mr President, remember horror stories about $900 toilet seats that the Pentagon used to buy, and hammers that would cost in excess of a thousand dollars.  Is that the kind of stimulation that we want?  The vehicle, which we are told will be drawn and driven by a Brahmin board of some very special sacred cows, will be a private company which is capable of making profits.  It hasn’t been formed as a “not for profit,” and will be authorized to pay dividends. But the question is: For what purpose and to whom?  For buying for GOB, and stimulating demand?  I no quite understand how Government could pay self profits for do something that it used to do for free.

She further stated that what this “special purpose vehicle” will do is replace the functions of the Ministry of Works and other Ministries.

Lisa Shoman – Senator:
How is it that this company will replace the very work  that used to be done by the Ministry of Works and other Ministries?  And why is it that a private company has to be set up for that purpose?  Is it to get around the rules and regulations of Government?  These are uncomfortable questions to be sure.  They’re uncomfortable questions, but they will be asked, and they will continue to be asked, and we will demand answers because the people of Belize have a right to know what this is about.  As the Belize Chamber of Commerce and industry says, it’s deeply concerned.  I myself share the concerns expressed by the Senator for the business community today.  Is this Vehicle going to be the Trojan horse of what my friend calls “State-led economic engineering?” We need to know.  Why does GOB need a commercial, for profit Vehicle, that earns dividends and pays illustrious and well connected directors, when we all know that there are dedicated Public Servants who try to do the right thing, who do do their jobs, who day in day out show up, and who make themselves responsible for the public purse?

Mark Lizarraga, Senator for the Private Business Community also raised similar concerns in today’s senate meeting.

About the Author