Friday, March 8, 2019
It seems that the UDP which once stood as self-righteous and smug as its leader has begun to crumble and fold like the proverbial house of cards. It became apparent this week when the Chief Justice ruled in favour of an interim injunction of the ICJ referendum. This mess will continue to unravel as Belizeans realize that their pensions and other social security benefits are in grave jeopardy. Since 2008 the actuary hired by the Social Security Board has been recommending the increase in the rate of contributions from eight percent, as it now stands, to 10 percent over three years. The actuary has also recommended that insurable earnings increase from $320 to $520 over the next three years. This move will result in an increase in the maximum allowed sickness or retirement benefits from $320 to $416 per week.
This is where it gets interesting. The present Government of Belize (GOB) has known for eleven years that the Point of Equilibrium (POE) would have been reached sooner rather than later. Left unchecked SSB will record net losses to the tune of 13M by next year alone. That figure will balloon up to 114M by 2025. That will mean that the fund in effect will need to sell off assets in order to meet payment of benefits and operational costs. It will mean retrenchment of workers and an inevitable and total collapse of the SSB fund. Already SSB is extending the time it provides to claim sickness benefits from 4 to 14 days, most probably in an effort to slow down the payout of benefits.
In the coming days, Belizeans are again going to be bombarded with attempts to cast blame and aspersion on the past PUP administration. It is a common tactic used and abused by the UDP. While we listen here are a few facts to consider. This UDP government has been sitting on the “good advice they just couldn’t take” because they could not break the bad news themselves and risk losing elections. Their greed for power is greater than their concern for the working class Belizean. Their only priority is to remain in power, even if it is at the cost of the worker’s social security benefits or pension, point-blank!
The UDP campaigned on the promise of zero tolerance to corruption and complete transparency. Yet this year they will shrink the budget of the Auditor General who provides oversight on the ever-increasing number of bloated infrastructure contracts they dole out. The Investment Services Unit of the SSB recently warned against a multi-million dollar loan to the Airports Authority. They considered it a bad investment. In spite of the warning, SSB loaned the money to the Airport Authority who then awarded the contract for the repairs to the airstrip in Caye Caulker to none other than Imer Hernandez. Were it not for the Leader of The Opposition who broke the story that the SSB had, in fact, approved a loan to the Santander Group, they also would have benefitted from your social security monies.
The GOB has also sucked funds from the SSB to finance the acquisition of BEL and BTL. Senator Lizarraga during this year’s budget presentation said “Let’s look at the dividends from BTL and BEL. Now these were the investments that were going to bring Belize to glory…Well, I don’t know what happened to that fund and I have seen nothing built yet from that 200M plus.” He also claimed that the returns were dismal and invited the UDP to “do the Math.” He claimed Belizeans make only 10M in dividends per year (a measly 1.4% return) and urged “Divide ten million into one billion, how long will it take us to get a return on investment?” Responsible leadership, prudent fiscal management and consideration of the relevant information presented eleven years ago would have averted coming to the brink of the abyss that we now find ourselves on.
The changes in SSB must come now! We can ill afford any more delays. We must save the SSB fund, too many people depend on it. Belizeans simply cannot wait, for it to be politically advantageous to the UDP, in order to take action. Far from bringing economic stability and prosperity, this reckless and irresponsible UDP Government through their actions rooted in greed and their procrastination and entrenched in self-preservation have taken us to the point of no return. #DEMHAFFIGO!