By Hilly Bennett
Honourable John Briceño and the People’s United Party launched the party’s policy and their vision to revive the Belizean economy gasping from a destructive, corrupt, incompetent United Democratic Party Government. The first presenter and PUP economic consultant Christopher Coye eviscerated Dean Barrow’s take on the economy as submitted in his swan song budget presentation 2020/2021. The then Prime Minister proffered that he “considered the results for this year and the proposal for the next, to be persuasively positive, born of dexterous public sector management and there has been an unprecedented span of steady growth, fiscal strength, and macro-advancement.”
The reality being experienced by the many unfortunate Belizeans is sinking deeper into poverty. Cost of living continues to rise as well as the light bill, the grocery bill, the water bill, the house rent, the mortgage payments, the school fees, and medical expenses. These expenses have become a burden on the masses, especially the ones at the bottom of the societal ladder mired in poverty and misery which has become unbearable.
Eventually, Barrow cunningly blamed the black swan situation, the COVID-19 pandemic for the economic downturn of the Jewel. Clearly, evidenced by Coye was that the state of the economy was not just bad but was atrocious and shockingly bad. The outgoing PM phony rhetoric that the state of the economy was doing well was upended. Coye reminded the populace that prior to the pandemic Belize was already in a year of contraction not expansion. National Income measured as GDP had shrunken by over 1% in quarter one of this year.
Pre-COVID the Belizean economy had contracted over 4 1/2 %. Pre-COVID unemployment was already on the rise at over 10%. The poverty rate had surpassed 50% and the debt was approaching 100% of GDP. Foreign reserves accounted for three months of imports. In addition, crime was spiralling out of control and corruption had become uncontrollably rampant and blatant.
The dreadful state of the economy is now worsened by the corona pandemic. In 2019, tourism accounted for 45% of GDP, 40% of total employment and 42% of total export. Since March of 2020 cruise tourism is non-existent, while overnight tourism has fallen to virtually zero. Although other sectors of the economy such as agriculture and construction was dealt a blow by corona, the tourism industry was hit the hardest.
However, the lack of fiscal stewardship pre-COVID, compounded by the utter mismanagement and incompetence in handling the approach of the virus by the Barrow administration, has placed the economy on life support.
In 2008, the UDP Government inherited an economy that more than doubled in goods and services from the PUP. At the same time average growth rate was 5% from 1998-2008. The fiscal deficit was less than 1% and the legacy of a primary surplus. The successful debt restructuring by the then PUP Government realised a net cash flow relief of USD 481.5 million for the period of 2007-2015. Also in 2008, the UDP Government had at their disposal BZ180 million in savings from the debt servicing. Additionally, the Petro monies and the oil revenues totalled almost a billion dollars. No other government had such a huge financial cushion in the takeover of the high office. The honourable Said Musa castigated the then PM Barrow for the squandering of the savings instead of investing in projects that would increase production, grow the economy, and create jobs. The money was spent wastefully and “feathered the nest of family members and cronies”. Seemingly if Barrow has learned anything during his three-term in office, it is, how to mismanage the economy of Belize in the most destructive manner possible.
Fortunately, the PUP and the Leader John Briceno and the team of economic experts has penned an economic policy to revive the economy. This includes job creation which is an important component for growth recovery. The economic engine will be jump started by increasing the productive capacity of the nation. Diversification of non-traditional crops and various incentives to the agricultural sector and the identifying of new markets and trading partners will be given utmost consideration. Land reform is on the list of priorities to prime the economic engine as well as the injection of new capital to stimulate investment and growth. Debt forgiveness and the rescheduling of the country’s debt under the World Bank resilient recovery initiative. There are other areas compiled in the party’s manifesto that intends to reignite economic development including Tax reform that would see PAYE Income Tax abolished.
Christopher Coye warned that we cannot sit idly by and allow the red regime to continue the abuse on the people of this sovereign nation. To give the UDP another chance of running the country would be akin to “gambling with the future stability and progress of the country.”
The future of Belize will be dictated by the polls on November 11th. The day of reckoning is nigh for the UDP with the soundest of trashing by the electorate and the blue tsunami. The People understand that Johnny is the Answer, BLU is the Answer, PUP all the way.
Hasta la Victoria!