In early 2015 the Ministry of Education spent 1.8M of the Petro Caribe funds on 9,000 tablets. General elections were held in November that same year. This time the Red Trickster comes bearing laptops for high-school students, is this a convention day gift or is it part of a general election gimmick? All the hypocritical emphasis placed on the importance of education and the difference these toys will make, for which taxpayers always foot the steep bill, seems cynical and unkind. The truth is Back To School is still not done for some families as they continue to struggle to meet the financial burdens of school fees, books and supplies. Yet, the Ministry of Education pays thousands of dollars for privileged people to attend beauty workshops in the USA. The GOB gifts well connected government employees their salaries and scholarships so that they are able to emigrate to greener pastures with the acquired expertise paid for with the back-breaking toil of Belizean patriots.
A government serious about the education of all its people, not just a select few, would do well to take the Republic of Cuba as an example of how to get it done right. Free education is a reality as is free health care in Cuba. They have not given free laptops nor tablets, and yet they boast one of the highest rates of literacy in the world. These freebies have done nothing to alleviate the burden of high school fees nor have they had any impact on lowering the dropout rates from university and sixth form. These dropout rates are direct consequences of poverty and the restrictive cost of education in Belize that this UDP government has failed to curtail or even address during their twelve-year mandate. Cuba has made education and health care their highest priorities and it is evident.
Currently Belize is held under siege by mosquitoes. Dengue runs rampant in the streets in rural and urban areas. There are no beds available in the North because the hospitals and polyclinics are filled to capacity with patients suffering with Dengue. The Ministry of Health whose first responsibility it is to prevent disease is silent on this issue. The vector control department instead of increasing the frequency of fumigation and adding routes are restrained by lack of available resources and are only fumigating schools and other high-priority areas. The only help the MOH can give for free is the advisory it has released to keep yards clean to avoid providing breeding grounds for the mosquitoes.
The IMF has issued their report on their latest visit. The 2019 Article IV warns Belize that correspondent banking relationships could become strained once more due to “misuse of international financial services.” In other words, it’s the Sanctuary Bay Scam coming back to haunt us. Belize is again on the disreputable list as one of only nine countries named a non-cooperative tax jurisdiction by the European Union. This black eye tells the world Belize is bad for business.
The IMF gave out its own advice, urging the government to reduce public debt by phasing out tax exemptions, streamlining tax incentives and reinforcing tax administration. It also councils the government to restrain current spending by reducing public sector employees. We recommend they start with the highly paid and politically appointed and unqualified cronies. The IMF suggests that an improved business environment may bolster the economy by attracting foreign investment and recommends facilitating access to credit, a credit bureau and expanding technical and vocational training. It also encourages fighting corruption and counsels that asset declaration through the integrity commission would be a great way to start.
The IMF also points out that our last poverty assessment is over ten years old and if government was inclined to channel resources where they were most needed, an update of the assessment might prove useful. The problem with the entire scenario is that this UDP government has shown that their interest lies in infrastructure. Investment in human capital is seldom profitable for cronies, kick-backs from contracts for buildings and roads that lead to no-where are infinitely more rewarding for crooked politicians than the well being of Belizean families. There is rarely any profit to be had when education is made free and quality healthcare available for all Belizeans. Gadgets, gizmos and gimmicks are just distractions for our youth from the very real problems of poverty, hunger and crime.