The Ministry of Transport is often considered one of the less significant in terms of importance to the economic growth and development of our beautiful Belize. It is only when the Minister and his brood, infamous for their highly suspicious performance in cycling races or their several notorious run-ins with the Law, make headlines do we remember about the Minister of Transport. Were it not for immigration scandals, checks for unauthorized expenditures, or contraband beer, Belizeans may well have forgotten about Castro and his bunch. Bus operators though, had not been happy with a Minister whose only preoccupation is to clear the land for his cane fields, and has no involvement in a ministry plagued by inefficiency.
The problems at the Ministry of Transport go well beyond the systematic assignment of routes, which favour friends and party supporters. There is also the granting of routes to foreign companies with no previous consultation with national stakeholders. This was the latest in a string of grievances. The Ministry is quite like a rudderless ship cast to sea with no direction and no captain to steer it in the right course. At the Belize Times we pride ourselves in doing our part to educate, inform and provide solutions. Public transportation is essential to economic growth and productivity because it improves a business’ ability to provide goods and services. An efficient transport system improves accessibility to both education and employment because increased economic opportunities are directly related to the mobility of people.
Rodriguez and Nottleboom of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in a report titled “Country Infrastructure Briefs” in April 2019 stated that “When transport systems are deficient they have an economic cost such as reduced or missed opportunities and lower quality of life.” They also noted in their report that in sanitation, transport and telecommunication Belize presents a negative gap. The Transportation Master Plan for Belize (2018) also identifies a capacity weakness in public/private transport sector as well as deficiencies in road maintenance and lack of alternative routes in road networks. This last point has been highlighted by the World Bank in their 2016 report as it states that the road designs are not adequate for extreme weather events and roads are unsafe during flooding. The report continues to cite that Belize has on average more road traffic accidents than other Central American countries. These deficiencies in quality of roads and port facilities affect the growth of the most important driving forces of the economy, namely agribusiness and tourism.
Of particularly important note is that the World Economic Forum reports that Belize has not participated in any Global Competitiveness Report since 2011 when it earned a dismal 3.52 points out of a possible 100. Development of a society means improving social, economic and political conditions. The results of development must be felt through qualitative improvements of human capital by advances in income, education and living conditions. Development must be seen in quantitative improvement of infrastructure of transport, utilities, and telecommunications. This is why highly connected networks are most commonly connected with high levels of development. Within this region we have only to look to Barbados that has invested heavily in its transportation and transformed its economy from one based on agriculture to an economy where tourism and off shore banking are its main industries. Similarly, industrialized countries around the world have excellent public transit systems because it reduces pollution, traffic congestion and increases efficiency while cutting down on costs. They have incorporated the use of technology by using reloadable cards to pay for service, this information is then used to plan, improve or add routes and services to the public.
Enrique Peñalosa Londoño said that “an advanced city is not a place where the poor move about in cars, rather it’s where even the rich use public transportation.” As Mayor of Bogotá he pioneered the construction of TransMillenio, the first Rapid Transit Bus system, which transports 2M people daily. There is much work to be done in the Ministry of Transport, but it requires hard work and effort. Belize cannot hope to capitalize on its ideal geographic location if it does not revamp its public transport system, and stream lines its logistics to make it easier and more cost effective to transport goods through our ports and borders. Development will not come easily and with as little effort as it takes to catch a bicycle ride while hanging on to the back of a pick-up. Nation building is a task for hard workers, not for people used to an effortless ride!