Mr. Speaker and Mr. President of the Senate, Honourable Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, My Lord, the President of the Court of Appeal and other Justices of Appeal, My Lord the Chief Justice and other Justices of the Supreme Court, Excellencies of the Diplomatic Corps, other distinguished invitees, ladies and gentlemen.
It is my distinct honour and privilege to open this new session of the National Assembly following the general elections held on 7th March, 2012. While it marks the fourth administration of the United Democratic Party, it is also the first time that the present Government has been returned to office consecutively for a second term. Belizeans have demonstrated once again that they have the capability of working the democratic process through free, fair and peaceful elections.
It is customary in a speech of this kind to outline the Government’s projects, plans and priorities over the next five years. While much has been achieved during the last term of office, my Government will continue the focus on economic and social programs, infrastructure and physical development, national security, public safety and the delivery of Government services. We will pursue all these and more under the principles of good governance, honesty and transparency.
Let me now highlight some of the key areas that my Government will be pursuing during the present term:
(A) Economic Management
During the next five years, my Government will continue the sound stewardship of our nation’s economic, financial and fiscal affairs. While the world economic conditions continue to be challenging, our commitment to economic growth and stability remains undiminished. Hence, the Government will modernize, restructure and streamline its delivery of services as well as create the enabling environment for the private sector to generate and hasten business activities and job opportunities.
While the Government will concentrate on the construction and rebuilding of the nation’s road and physical infrastructure to support productive sector activities, we will also direct our attention to making Government services more efficient. The Government will, therefore, be modernizing and restructuring its major revenue departments so as to ensure that the assessment and collection of taxes are both fair and equitable.
We will focus on attracting new foreign direct investment and new tourism investments to be important pillars in promoting sustainable economic growth and in expanding and diversifying the exports of goods and services. We will improve the Fiscal Incentives Programs, expand incentives for environmentally friendly investments in energy, bio-fuels, tourism and forestry management in order to assist such growth. Also, we will pursue favourable trade agreements and redouble our efforts to work shoulder to shoulder with CARICOM, Central America and Mexico.
The Government in conjunction with the Development Finance Corporation and the private sector will establish Small Business Development Centres with one-stop windows for small business financing. In addition, my Government will put systems in place to expand the Business Processing Outsourcing Industry, including call centres, with the objective of creating 5,000 new jobs by 2017.
(B) Tourism and Culture
My Government will continue to emphasize and steward the need for sustainable development of the tourism industry, to create even more jobs and more foreign exchange earnings while respecting our natural and cultural resources. We will, therefore, continue to improve infrastructure for tourism, invest in human capital and create the enabling climate to ensure that Belizeans of all levels benefit equitably from the industry and its related activities.
In addition, my Government will promote “green” development by facilitating access to affordable green technology sources, funding, incentive packages and public education.
We will develop and implement an Arts and Culture Strategic Plan to emphasize, preserve and promote our local culture and heritage. This will be complemented by the establishment of a Belize Heritage Trust to preserve Belize’s heritage buildings.
These plans and activities will allow us to achieve our tourism targets over the next five years. These targets include (1) increasing the number of visitors by 10% and 5% for the overnight sector and cruise tourism sector, respectively, (2) increasing hotel accommodation by an additional 1,200 hotel rooms and (3) increasing sector employment by an additional 2,500 tourism jobs.
(C)Agriculture and Fisheries
During the next five years, my Government will continue to integrate technology in agro-production and fisheries to diversify and maximize outputs and returns in sustainable ways while protecting the environment. This will allow the country to become more self-sufficient and to have larger outputs for exports. We will, therefore, need to focus on improved local and international market access for agricultural and fishery products and on providing small-scale producers with access to skills, resources and opportunities.
(D) Natural Resources and Environment
The Government will continue to implement the National Protected Area Policy and Systems Plan, the Land Management Program, the National Forest Policy and the Solid Waste Management Project. All these are to ensure the integrity and viability of our natural environment. In addition, we will establish the National Integrated Water Resources Management Authority, through the Global Climate Change Alliance Project, to strengthen the management of water resources throughout the country. Furthermore, we will collaborate with our regional partners to incorporate climate change and natural disaster risk management within national plans. Also during the next five years, my Government will implement phase two of the first time landowners program to an additional 15,000 first time landowners.
(E) Oil and Energy
My Government is committed to an energy policy that will put Belize on a path to energy efficiency, sustainability and resilience over the next 30 years, while maximizing economic benefits to the nation. We will develop a Petroleum Exploration Plan to guide oil exploration and a comprehensive Energy Act to enable our growing economy to maximize on the use of the variety of fuel and energy resources available. Besides, the Government will promote the widespread adoption of energy efficiency and conservation measures in all sectors of the economy. Such a transformation will also create high-quality jobs.
(F) National Security and Public Safety
My Government recognizes that an integrated and holistic approach is required to make Belize safe and where the entire nation shares responsibility and participates in the effort to restore respect for law and order.
To this end, my Government will improve the management, administration and general welfare of the Police Department, as we construct new dormitory facilities to accommodate officers and construct a new and modern police headquarters on the Chetumal Street Extension.
The Government will equip the police with new and secure communications and a GIS tracking system, a new DNA laboratory and forensic equipment to analyze firearms and ammunitions that are recovered from crime scenes.
(The last segment of Governor General’s Speech will be printed in the next issue of the Guardian.)