Health care, wellness and safety are now priorities for Belizeans. All across social media, parents can be heard voicing their concerns on the opening of schools and the starting of the new school year. Parents do not want their children to be left behind but are wary about the challenges the new normal will bring and fear that preparations are not ideal for back to school. In places such as San Pedro, Caye Caulker and Placencia the apprehensions go beyond the readiness of the facilities at school. These places are particularly affected by the total shut down of the tourism industry.
Belizeans here are facing more pressing issues like unemployment, hunger and homelessness. The back to school prospects are grim. There is no money to buy books and pencils or even uniforms and school fees. Every penny is carefully spent sometimes on just a single meal for the entire day. The schools are being pressed to make do with the stingy funds allocated to them for the new health protocols, and they are relying heavily on parents to make up the difference at a time when there is simply no money to do so.
These tourist havens are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 because once the international airport opens for business this is where the majority of tourists flock. San Pedro for instance has been promised new classrooms for the past three general elections and the past four municipal elections. These promises have been heard from the mayors, the elected area representative and the now Prime Minister. In over a decade none have materialized. The financial crunch has forced many to forgo the more expensive private schools and now the government funded schools are even more congested and are turning away students for lack of space.
Tourist destinations are more exposed to contagion from COVID-19 and the health services there need to be especially prepared to deal with an outbreak. The UDP however have come up with a different plan. They have approved construction of a brand new polyclinic for Belmopan. There is yet no plan for a hospital for San Pedro, where emergencies must be air lifted to Belize City at a staggering cost.
The UDP continue to spend money on the Road to Caracol, stubbornly refusing to redirect the monies to healthcare, welfare or education in this crisis. The NHI is collapsing due to shortfalls in revenue, yet the MOH continues to build polyclinics where hospitals are needed and none where they are desperately needed.
The Minister of Health after twelve long years has not yet learnt that a building does not make a polyclinic or hospital. After spending close to $1M on an operating theater in the Corozal Town Hospital it is now used as a warehouse because there is no surgical team, surgical equipment or materials. Surgeries big and small must still be referred to the Northern Regional Hospital. The country is littered with colorful buildings claiming to be polyclinics but where there are often shortages of basic materials, medications and staff. Infrastructure projects are still the milking cow of the UDP, the investment is in buildings because it is easier to syphon funds from these than invest meaningfully in the welfare of people.
The World Bank has reported that almost a third of monies are lost to corruption worldwide, Belize is certainly not the exception under the UDP. As a matter of fact just like during the Petro Caribe Boom we must demand a proper account of monies spent and borrowed. It is indeed a mockery to the good people of Belize, the pretense of building polyclinics which will stand empty, while elsewhere in the country people have died waiting to be taken to the city. A building does not a hospital make and a dancing clown does not a Minister of Health make.