Playing Hot Potato

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It is obvious and frankly not surprising the misinformation, half-truths and omissions this UDP government is willing to spread.  What is disappointing, honestly is that they have now enlisted the help of a few of their friends.  It is too bad that they did not get the story straight amongst themselves before the hot potato drops.

The alarm first sounded by the media that Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) owed some 29M in General Sales Tax (GST) and with interests and penalties that figure could well be in excess of 50M.  The Chairman of BTL assured the public no such debt exists and publicly challenged the media to verify with the Financial Secretary.  On his part the Fin Sec may have been caught off guard or may just have been unwilling to participate in the charade any longer.  He did not deny the debt, rather he stated that BTL was the subject of an audit by the GST department. The GST Department handed off that hot potato to the Chairman of BTL when it issued its own press release confirming the audit. The audit is now complete and we just can’t wait for the findings to be revealed.

So far, we have not heard a peep from our otherwise vociferous PM who also happens to be the Minister of Finance and whose son was CEO of BTL in 2012 when the shenanigans first started.  The Chairman of BTL apparently has appealed to the Financial Secretary to waive the 29M GST debt.  He insists that BTL does not owe any GST, is it maybe because that debt has been forgiven?  Rochus Schreiber in the meantime is heading for the hills.  Coincidence, or is it?  The new Tax Administration and Procedure Bill 2019 makes Directors and Managers or Representatives of a company liable for unpaid taxes, and maybe Mr. Schreiber doesn’t intend to stick around to become the scape goat for this mess.

Another hot potato is the Labour Force Survey by the Statistical Institute of Belize.  The SIB reported that residents in urban areas earned a median wage of $1,409.00 and those in rural areas earned a median wage of $1,101.00.  That would mean that the average person in the city is making $7.23 an hour and those in the rural areas are making $5.65 an hour.  Both of these are well above the minimum wage of $3.30 an hour.  It does not seem like those figures reflect the reality of living in Belize.  In 2014, the Inter-American Development Bank published a paper entitled Improving the Quality of Statistics in Belize.  In this paper it outlines the several weaknesses of SIB most critically in “two aspects methodology and the source of data used for producing statistics.”  The paper also notes that “Belize resembles a data demand–constrained country, which is a country where statistics are not used for decision-making because policymakers lack the incentives and/or the capacity to use them.  However, due to the fact that there is an acute lack of both data and reliable data sources Belize can also be considered a data supply constrained country.”

The lesson to be learnt here then is that before we jump for joy that unemployment is down, let us first consider the source of the information.  Is that source credible, reliable and untainted by political agendas?  Next, we should make sure it has some semblance with the reality on the streets and that in relation to other indicators it actually makes sense.  How is it that our unemployment is the “lowest ever recorded” but our indices for poverty and absolute poverty remain high?  This UDP crowd has been known to manipulate figures and words, they are good at that.  Remember the good old days at City Council where Moya coined her famous “under depositing” catch phrase?  It is the same they intend to do with the GST and BTL.  It is the same thing they are doing to these economic indicators.  Belizeans will not fall for the cooked books or the half-baked statistics!

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