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“The Jewel in the Heart of the Caribbean Basin” The Challenge: Let’ s Start Thinking Outside of the Box Print E-mail
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Written by Rudolph Williams   
Thursday, 31 May 2012 00:00

Belizeans, if we really want to make our country, as the late Sefe (God bless) used to say on Radio Belize, “The Jewel in the Heart of the Caribbean Basin”, we need to start making some changes to what we do.  Sefe used to say that every day and yet we remain a rhinestone in the Caribbean Basin.  We urgently need to move from rhetoric to action or we will not become the Jewel we wish to be.

There is no doubt that Belize has the natural resources to become a major economic player in the region.  We have seen American, English, Canadian, and Caribbean strategic investors advantageously pursue Belize’s potential in all sectors.  Until the recent nationalizations, we Belizeans have sat on the bleachers and allowed them to do so, at times assisted them to do so.  We have seen the results; either the resources have been exhausted and what remains is of little value or the strategic investor has had his bellyful and moved on.  Almost all the time the profits from our resources are siphoned outside of Belize and all we got was a job and the loss or degradation of the natural resource.

I know that this opinion may get me into trouble with the Belizean people.  It is my hope that it will spark some discussions among the general populace, economic and financial advisors and the major economic operators.  It is simply a challenge for us to think outside the box.   Before you dismiss me, I agree with you that I am no economic and financial guru, who wants to juggle any balls.  You know that my area of expertise is water resources and water resources management and thanks to those annoying compulsory non-engineering training requirements, there were some economic and financial management instructions.  That is my limit in this field and as I said I hope it will spark some discussions that will change, for the better, the way we look at and do things.

I think I know why we are comfortable within the Box.  All our local, regional, and international economic and financial advisors have attended American or European Union Institutions or Regional and Local Institutions that teach the same principles and concepts.  As professionals we rely on these principles and concepts in the defense of our recommendations and decisions and our Regional and International Examiners and Rating Agencies use these principle and concepts in their evaluations of Belize.  They work in that environment; but are they working for us?  I do not think so.  You ask the question, the answer may surprise you or me.

You see, when things are not working for us, we change it and we have not been afraid to make changes.  When the Privy Council was not working for us we changed that to the Caribbean Court of Justice.   When we needed to change the Constitution we changed it.  We had extensive consultations but we changed it.

I agree with Bill Lindo, not everything he says.  Belizeans need to get involved in light manufacturing.  This practice of importing consumables that can be manufactured in Belize has to stop.  Yes, stop!  Last year, we had excesses in grain production and because the only plan, to gouge the Belizean consumer, was not possible, there was ruckus.  Is there no other option?  Why is it impossible for us to look at value adding?

The first detraction is that Belize’s economy is too small and that it cannot be profitable.  We need economies of scale.  Economies of scale, my back foot!    That is what you were taught and you are comfortable residing in that silo.  It is not working for us and it behooves us to find solutions that will make it work for us.  When electricity was needed, Michael Faraday found a way to make it viable, when we needed the light bulb, Thomas Edison provided one, when telecommunication was needed, Alexander Graham Bell charted the path, when we wanted mass-produced automobiles, Henry Ford set up an assembly line.  If we want to be the Jewel, we need to really want to be that Jewel, and then, and only then we will earnestly start thinking outside the box to identify pathways for Belize to really become “The Jewel in the Heart of the Caribbean Basin”.  We cannot continue to buy cereal, candy, meats, juices, milk, ice cream, ketchup, corned beef, luncheon meat, sardines, biscuits, etc. with orange and grapefruit, banana, sugar, papaya, livestock and tourism, etc. dollars.  These dollars should be reserved for non- consumables that Belize cannot produce.

In addition, we Belizeans need to begin to invest in Belize and stop prostituting Belize.  We have adopted the styles of those strategic investors.  Our successful retailers should explore reinvesting their profits in Belize in value adding to locally produced and imported raw material and light manufacturing.  You can make more profit.   A mechanism or some enabling environment should be established to encourage those willing to risk relatively small amounts of monies in medium to large Belizean investments.  This individual investor approach limits the size of the investment, very risky and it makes the cost of money very expensive.  The encouragement of the formation of Belizean investment consortiums will encourage Belizeans to participate in the economy and to assume ownership of Belize.  Maybe, the Government should institute a revolving fund for starter projects that are funded and developed beyond the teething stage.  The seed funds can be recovered through divestment to Belizean entrepreneurs and reused to fund other starter projects.

Innovation is required to circumvent the hurdles and barriers established by regional and global agreements that, because of our small economy, put us at a disadvantage.  If we resign ourselves to the ills of a small economy that is supplied with consumables manufactured by workers in the American, Caribbean, and even the Chinese economies, then, “dawg eat wi suppa” and we will not be able to escape economic slavery.
Belizeans, this is a challenge to spark discussions and thinking outside the box and to make Belize “The Jewel in the Heart of the Caribbean Basin”.