Belmopan , Wednesday, 21st March, 2012
Two Wednesdays ago on March 7, 2012, Belizeans again discharged the most important of all our duties, and exercised the most fundamental of all our rights. In what is for this region a very high voter turnout, we freely, fairly and peacefully chose the Members of the House of Representatives and of the City and Town Councils countrywide. The tributes have been pouring in, Mr. Speaker, for what has been yet another demonstration of the abiding integrity and the inexhaustible vitality of Belizean democracy. And, indeed, congratulations are due all round: to you, Mr. Speaker, and to every Member of Parliament and the Local Government Bodies. But most of all to the Belizean people, whose devotion to freedom, whose demand for freedom, and whose defense of freedom, are what make our country great. Belize: rich, enduring land of our earliest days; Belize: rich, enduring land whose worth we rave.
Belize: today we in your National Assembly proudly, thankfully, joyfully, salute you. Belize: our country, forever. Mr. Speaker: these were hard-fought elections, with results that were very close and a testament to just how resilient the Opposition was, and just how robust our democracy is. In the end, though, the majority Party's three-seat margin in the House is enough to do two things: it underlines, not undermines, legitimacy; and it gives sufficient numerical wherewithal for the Government to govern legislatively and administratively in the strong and orderly manner that our system requires.
These elections, I remind, were conducted by our respected Public Officers in their usual professional manner. Further, they have been certified by the OAS as free and fair though not flawless. In an imperfect world, which Wordsworth's sonnet reminds is always too much with us, that is the best that can humanly be expected. This is a turbulent corner of a turbulent globe. But we have again provided ample vindication of Belize's brand of electoral politics.
It is also worth recollecting that the new Government won the majority of the popular vote as well as of the seats in the House. Add to this its two thirds share of the nine City and Town Councils, and the mandate is undoubted.
Nevertheless, the Opposition's strong general election showing demonstrates that we are a country that is divided almost down the middle. In such circumstances, the Government must and will act on the basis that the nation's large minority is to be respected both as to its rights and as to its entitlements.
Mr. Speaker, there are some that feel that the last UDP Administration was in a number of instances tone deaf to public opinion. Assuming that this was so, the greatly reduced majority will in and of itself act as a check to any such tendency. But the new Government also actively seeks reconciliation. We have already so demonstrated by reaching out to the social partners and civil society. We have used the opportunity, provided us by the Constitution and the election results, to appoint four Senators as Ministers whose background, qualifications, and integrity are rock-like and known nationwide. They all come from the professional, private, and NGO ranks; and the signal this sends should be lost on no one. We are determined to make this Administration the most talented, effective, inclusive and honest Government in the entire history of our country.
We want to embrace everyone, and this includes the Opposition. But partnership is by definition a two way thing. If there is to be no victimization by the UDP of Government open vote workers that campaigned for the PUP, there must similarly be no victimization by the PUP of UDP workers in the municipalities controlled by the Opposition.
In the same vein, I enter another word of caution. There is a right, which our democracy gives, to mount election petitions no matter how frivolous. But there is, and can be, no right to confuse or conflate the lodging of election petitions with denial of authority to a duly elected Government. The results of the March 7 general elections are official; the Government is in place; and we WILL discharge what is now our sworn duty to administer the laws of this country, all the laws of this country.
Let me turn now, Mr. Speaker, to what, in view of time and His Excellency the Governor General's already delivered Throne Speech, must perforce be just a bare listing of the Administration's headline plans for the next five years.
We will, without a doubt, continue and expand our trademark pro-poor policies and increase social and second chance opportunities for those at the margins. As just one example, we will now begin the extension of the food pantry program to every single district town.
We will scale new heights with our education subsidy, either by increasing the amount to first and second formers or by making it available to third formers.
We will offer a third tranche of mortgage write-offs to distressed, the long-standing homeowners, this time to those whose indebtedness is with the Development Finance Corporation.
We will guarantee the 10% equity deposit required by the private banks for individual building loans of 100 thousand dollars or less.
We will offer tax credits for new residential and commercial construction.
We will overhaul the entire tax code so as to provide greater fairness to the middle class and to the business sector.
We will continue to bring down the cost of capital at our financial institutions.
We will renegotiate the Super Bond.
We will source Government fuel supplies out of Venezuela under Petro-Caribe, so as to lessen the cost and expand the reach of our countrywide, job-creating infrastructure drive.
We will build, either alone or in partnership with the private sector, a local oil refinery to process Belizean crude. We will thereby at least cushion the punitively high pump prices that have been hammering our consumers as a result of skyrocketing international costs.
We will create a national development bank particularly to service the credit needs of the productive and export sector.
We will rehabilitate the roads to all major archeological and tourism sites.
We will increase the size of the Police Department and the BDF so as to provide for greater national security.
We will consolidate and defend nationalist gains, especially as these relate to public ownership of our essential utilities.
We will broaden the legal and institutional infrastructure necessary to support transparency; work the oversight role and system of the Senate; and promulgate new Finance and Stores Orders to guide Government procurement.
practices and guard the spending of public money.
We will strengthen our Democracy by making citizens’ rights more effective. For example, we will pass regulations to make the triggering of referendums and recall elections by constituents and advocacy groups more user-friendly and hassle free.
Finally, the Office of the Prime Minister will continue to be above reproach. That Office will now be staffed with additional high powered bodies to provide not just more of an economic and social outreach to the general public and individual sectors, but to enable it to act, in relation to Ministers and Ministries, as an honesty invigilator; an accountability monitor; as a whip and scourge against corruption.
Mr. Speaker, I repeat: this new Administration is in deadly earnest about giving new life to the old homilies: service above self; rigorous maintenance of the public trust; humility in office; and scrupulous integrity in financial affairs.
To slightly paraphrase the words of the TR song that was perhaps the greatest hit of the election season: always UDP will shine the light, always UDP will treat the people right.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, and God bless our beloved Belize!