Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow New Year's Message Print E-mail
( 2 Votes )
Written by Administrator   
Monday, 31 December 2012 00:00

My Fellow Belizeans,

From time immemorial, each New Year brings with it a rekindling of hope and a renewal of optimism. For Belize in 2013, there will be a very early realization of this promise of brighter prospects. Our national reset will receive an immediate stimulus by the signing, in the first part of January, of a legal agreement that will resolve once and for all the crippling commercial debt burden that has threatened to turn Belize into an economic basket case. The settlement we have reached with our Superbond holders is on terms very favorable to us. And the relief we have been able to secure amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars. For a physically and economically tiny country, for an Administration and a people unfairly saddled with a monstrosity not of our making, this is an accomplishment of historic proportions. And it is a great way to underline the annual refresh with which we mark every January 1.

But the successful restructuring of the Superbond is not the only good news on which we stride into the New Year. Indeed, the record shows that we leave 2012 extremely well positioned to build comprehensively on success. That is because after winning the general and municipal elections last March on a platform of economic nationalism, equal opportunity and social protection, my Administration straightaway set about the task of accelerating economic growth and national development. The Budget of 2012/2013 was implemented on a disciplined but ample fiscal basis, funding properly the priorities of education, healthcare, citizen security and poverty alleviation. We were able to program 157 million dollars in capital investments without a single tax increase. So the work on the Southern Highway, the new Macal River Crossing and the Southside infrastructure project, proceeded apace. Altogether, and according to the just received Central Bank third quarter report, we have moved things along handsomely. The figures through September of 2012 show that GDP grew by 5.8% for the first nine months of the year. And because of the traditional last quarter bump, we should end up recording an overall economic expansion of close to 7%. This exceeds all expectations, including the IMF projection of 3.5%. It is a fabulous achievement for Belizean workers, investors and entrepreneurs, especially when viewed in the context of a still anemic regional and global environment.

The picture is even more satisfying when broken down into a sector by sector analysis. The mainstays of our economy, agriculture and tourism, did especially well; and their trajectory into 2013 appears even more robust.

In agriculture, a bumper year in sugar for the 2011/2012 crop will be accentuated in 2012/2013 by increased production and better prices. These flow from the 200 million dollar investment of ASR into BSI. And already, even though the new crop year has only recently started, factory capacity has dramatically expanded with an average of 7,400 tons of cane being processed daily. This is well up from the previous high of 6 thousand tons. The Government of Belize which, after its previous bailout of BSI, facilitated the ASR deal, continues to stand by the cane farmers. In addition to the annual fuel subsidy and other concessions, Government has already spent in November and early December almost a million dollars on the rehabilitation of sugar feeder roads. As well, the DFC is implementing a financing program for replanting, with farmers able to borrow at the very low rate of 8%.

There has also been welcome improvement in the banana sector, with increased production yielding exports of a record 5 million boxes in 2012. 2013 will be just as good, and will also mark the start of a new marketing contract at higher prices for the farmers.

The citrus harvest for 2011/2012 was also 30.6% higher than in 2010/2011, and prices for both oranges and grapefruit jumped by an average of almost 60 cents per pound solid.

Rice production has also increased and new marketing arrangements are being set up to help especially the small farmers in Toledo.

In the livestock industry Government has completed the cattle sweep pilot project in Blue Creek, and exports to Mexico will now commence.

Aquaculture in Belize is also on the rebound with the major new shrimp farm foreign direct investment in the South. Production will grow by 4 million pounds to 17.5 million pounds in 2013, with an estimated value of 52 million dollars.

On another encouraging note, the Fresh Catch tilapia farm and processing plant has been bought also by foreign investors, who continue to come to a welcoming Belize.
Turning to tourism, there has been, through November, a 9% increase in arrivals over 2011. All flights into Belize were sold out in December so that the final figures for 2012 will show at least a 10% year on year jump. The early 2013 bookings make clear that the growth trend will continue, and that again we will outperform our Central American and Caribbean neighbors and even our larger global competitors. Our tourism story is thus one of wonderful job-creating, foreign exchange earning success, and all kudos are due to the stakeholders.

No doubt at least partially allied to the tourism growth, construction spiked by 12% in 2012. And even the troubled fishing sector recorded a 5% increase.

2012 also brought a historic tariff reduction for all consumers of electricity, water and telecommunications, as rates fell and standards rose.

Though production was down in the fledgling oil sector, ongoing exploration in the South and Northwest will, we have faith, yield compensatory new finds.

So then, my fellow Belizeans, let us now focus fully on the year ahead, and give voice to the overflow tidings of 2013 good news.
The surpassing triumph of the New Year will, of course, be the debt relief secured for Belize by the Superbond restructuring. When bondholders swap their current superbonds for new bonds that will carry vastly more affordable terms for Belize, it will mean that we will have stepped back from the abyss, avoided the fiscal cliff, and extricated ourselves from the sinkhole of default. And it is this stunning success that will be the wind beneath our wings for the rest of 2013, for the rest of the term. It is a triumph that will echo and re-echo across the years as a golden achievement of the UDP.

This huge debt relief, coupled with the anticipated flows of long term, low interest financing from the recently reactivated Petro-Caribe oil partnership between Belize and Venezuela, should provide rock-solid stability to public sector finances for the foreseeable future.

This stability, I want to make clear, will not be threatened by that other jewel in our nationalist crown, the acquisition of BTL and BEL. Government, as Belizeans are aware, has already made offers to pay reasonable compensation to the former owners of  both companies, and will be able to service such compensation on proper terms. As a further signal of our desire and ability to resolve these contingent liabilities, Government has proposed, in the case of BTL, to transfer to the former owners 50 million dollars of proceeds from our resale of shares. This down payment on compensation is irrefutable evidence of our good faith and desire for a just settlement.

My fellow Belizeans: as happy as this Administration is over the current economic expansion, over the debt relief and the Petro-Caribe restart, we go into 2013 also consumed by two challenges that we must overcome: the absolute need for better citizen security, and the requirement to create more jobs.

Crime is the great villain of the era, evading arrest and stalking our neighborhoods despite our fervent bipartisan efforts. It is a blot on our society, a stain on our coat of arms. It is what forces us to cry, like Lady Macbeth, “Out, damn’d spot!” But it does not heed our imprecations. And so prosaically, we determinedly set to work anew. Government therefore pledges to deploy every resource to stop the bleeding, the rampaging insecurity, the murder most foul. We are moving immediately to provide the police with more weapons, vehicles, and surveillance and communications equipment. Intelligence-gathering capabilities will be sharply upgraded and there will be more boots on the ground. Greater coordination among the AG’s ministry, the Ministry of National Security, and the Office of the DPP, as well as better training for the Police, will allow for more effective crime investigation, prosecution and conviction. On the social intervention side, Restore Belize will spend 1.5 million dollars on peace building and community rehabilitation initiatives. Accordingly, conflict mediation will be extended to all high schools on the Southside of Belize City; peace in the park programs will be hosted in various neighborhoods; improved physical infrastructure will be undertaken for the most vulnerable communities; and feeding and caregiver assistance will be provided to 300 more families and 250 more schoolchildren. We will continue to seek support from all the social partners as together we try to fill that moral void which, unchecked, leads to arbitrary and unpreventable violence.

At the same time that we hold lawbreakers to account, there is an immediate need to generate new jobs. In the year to come, Government will undertake a comprehensive review of tax policy, with the double objectives of nurturing job growth while rationalizing the tax load on business. Incentives by BELTRAIDE for genuine job-intensive enterprises such as call centers, will continue. New investments in the tourism industry’s seemingly unstoppable march will include hotel construction and a new cruise port, and will generate 1 thousand new jobs. Here, the principal role of the private sector is being undergirded by the public sector’s Sustainable Tourism Project. That latter is both creating employment and achieving spectacular physical transformations such as in the Memorial Park/Fort George area of Belize City, downtown San Ignacio, San Pedro and Placencia.

The Green Tropics sugar project in the Cayo District will also bring 600 jobs during the factory construction phase, and 1,000 once the factory and farms become operational.

Especially to build on the scores of new jobs already generated by the Belize City street concreting program and the Municipal Infrastructure Project in the District Towns, Government will initiate a 60 million dollar, domestically financed package of public works. This venture, to be planned, executed and managed using a specially chartered investment vehicle, will include the rebuilding of the Belize City Center and construction of showcase sporting/social use facilities in each district. I expect no less than 1,000 new jobs to spring from this stimulus package. And there will be myriad opportunities for contractors, sub-contractors and workers in the communities where the facilities will be built. These sporting and multi-purpose centers, along with the soon-to-be completed Marion Jones Stadium, represent a boon for a broad field of community and commercial activities. In this context, I must also mention the 2013 completion of the new Inspiration Center in Belize City, and the start of the new Pediatric Intensive Care Wing of the KHMH. These ventures are being financed completely by the donations of citizens and organizations from all walks of life, and are testament to a wonderful new spirit of volunteerism. Those, including my wife Kim, who spearheaded the fundraising, are to be commended for helping to bring out the best of Belizean social and civic solidarity.

Also scheduled for commencement in 2013 is the recently approved, CDB-funded 12 million dollar Youth and Community Transformation Project. This includes a 21,000 square foot resource and sporting facility on the Lake Independence side of Chetumal Street, plus the uplift of the Wilton Cummerbatch Field in Port Loyola, and the fencing of the Samuel Haynes Institute for Excellence. At-risk youth from ages 8 to 19 will have easy access to beneficial programs including the teaching of literacy, numeracy and adaptive life skills, employability training, and community support.

This project is but one example of a train of infrastructure financing and policy-based funding that Belize expects from the World Bank, CDB and the IDB.

A storyline of confidence, then, is being written by this Government so as to enable the private sector to rapidly expand investment and jobs. All the rare and fragile blossoms necessary for the full flowering of economic growth, are emerging: cheaper financing, more lucrative export markets, public sector fiscal stability, and a solid exchange rate peg, made fast by an unprecedented $558 million in foreign reserves.

It is thus not by coincidence that the Belize City Council bonds and BEL debentures have been oversubscribed by individual and institutional investors.

It is not by coincidence that the publication “Live and Invest Overseas” recently included Belize in the exclusive club of its Six Top Retirement Havens in the World.

And it is certainly not by coincidence that the citrus industry is able to celebrate in 2013 a century of continuous production.

My fellow Belizeans: the rhythm of our history is changing. Out of the crucible of recent trials and natural and man-made disasters, we are forging a new and modern nation. Surrender has never been in our DNA, in our Baymen’s bloodlines. And so we continue to call up our resources, summon up our willpower in order to persevere and prosper, overcome and triumph. We take our national destiny into our own hands, and we mold and shape it in accordance with the twin mandates of progress and development, reconstruction and reform. With pride and purpose then, and in brave Belizean lockstep, let us march together into the New Year behind the Poet’s imperishable banner:

“Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the love of common good.
 Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.”

Happy New Year; may 2013 bring tranquility and prosperity to everyone in this land; and God bless Belize!

Last Updated on Monday, 31 December 2012 12:03