BARROW UNHINGED

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February 28, 2019

All was not well at the Prime Minister’s Business Forum last week. Media reported three hundred participants registered but clearly not in attendance. Still it was not without its moments. As usual the Prime Minister (PM) tried one of his favourite strategies. He went on the offensive, this time attacking the Judiciary in the person of Justice Abel. In the petty tirade, he seemed to take offence that Justice Abel was doing his job, and instead of playing nice with the Crown and its officers he instead “appeared heedless.” It hardly seems fair to blame judicial hostility as the reason for the miserable record of losses the Crown suffers under the less than stellar direction of the Attorney General. As usual PM uses diversion tactics to pull attention away from the real issues at hand. However this time he crossed another proverbial line. In a Trumplike fashion, the PM called the Financial Secretary a scrooge.

PM certainly did not seem his usual calm and composed self. The tantrum and outburst not in his character, he seemed out of sorts, even desperate. Perhaps it is all becoming just a bit too much for PM. His rationale is clearly muddled. Hopefully the reason is not a supply of subpar pain medication imported from a cabinet colleague. The reality for the majority of Belizeans is that cost of living is up even as the SIB claims it decreased in January. The PM claims that the economy is taking an upward turn. However, citrus, a major foreign exchange earner is not faring well. The number of boxes of oranges produced has been steadily decreasing from 5,866,000 in 2008 to 3,201,000 in 2017. Grapefruit production has diminished from 1,441,000 boxes in 2008 to 186,000 boxes in 2017 this is according to statistics gleamed from the Central Bank of Belize. In the Third Quarter Report published in November 2018 by the SIB, citrus exports are said to have fallen by 10.5% from 75.2M to 67.3M this is due to the diminished sales of orange oil and orange concentrate.

It is not only the agriculture sector and cost of living being adversely affected by this current barren fiscal policy. The banking and finance sector that helps the private sector move our economy is also taking a hit. In the independent auditors’ report for Scotiabank (Belize) Ltd. profits have been steadily decreasing over the last few years. It was reported that profits in 2016 were 19.219M that fell to 15.449M in 2017. However in 2018 profits fell by 47.38% and registered at only 8.130M. This same bank recently closed two of its branches in Placencia (the tourism Mecca of Belize) and Spanish Lookout (one of the biggest productive communities in the country). If this isn’t indicative of an anemic business environment and economy…what is?

PM boastfully commits the remainder of his administration’s term to improvement of the current “business climate.” Surely the private sector, and all Belizeans, would welcome an improvement of the existing arid, infertile and even hostile conditions. The inimical changing of tax laws and making them retroactive does not make for a welcoming environment for local or foreign investors. He claims he will “propel inclusive economic growth; realize Government of Belize (GOB) efficiencies to improve the ease of doing business; improve citizen security; and actively reduce corruption.” While we go about our business in the current socio-economic wasteland, he and his bunch have fashioned for Belizeans, we take the liberty of sharing a few suggestions. It might help to “propel inclusive economic growth” if infrastructure contracts were awarded more impartially and not just to a select few well connected, not normal family members and special friends. Might we also suggest that one of the first places that benefits from the new and improved GOB efficiencies is the Vital Statistics Office? This would surely improve the ease of doing business for thousands of Belizeans are waiting on their documents so they can become registered voters and can access identification documents, including passports and social security cards, used to conduct everyday business transactions.

On the improvement of citizen security, it would help tremendously if obsolete repressive policies were thrown out. Belizeans need to once again trust that the Belize Police Department (BPD) is there to uphold the law and rights of all citizens. To feel safe Belizeans need to believe that the BPD does not operate with impunity. On actively reducing corruption, we suggest that BPD starts using the material gathered at the Senate Special Select Committee in order to launch a full investigation into the matter and this time charge all individuals who were part and parcel of wrong doing at the Immigration Offices. The Attorney General might want to demand that monies gained through shady land dealings be returned. The PM is losing his composure because it is now enormously obvious that there is no way to hide or dodge the enormity of the mess they have created.

Finally, after 11 years there can be no doubt that the responsibility lies with this UDP Government. The chickens are finally home to roost!

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