Hon. Dean Oliver Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize, held his first quarterly press conference since being reelected to serve in the highest office of Belize. Issues such as the upcoming budget presentation, overall status of the economy and crime fighting strategies are of outmost importance; however, the nation has been following the health of the Prime Minister’s wife closely and before he got into the issues of national importance, Prime Minister Barrow spoke to the nation simply as a husband and father.
PM Barrow thanked the people of Belize for their intercessory prayers during a very difficult time for his family. He said that his wife has been released from the hospital and is being cared for by in-house doctors. When she arrives in Belize, she will continue to be monitored closely by doctors as she recuperates from heart failure and continues her battle with breast cancer.
After providing that update on his wife’s condition to the country, PM Barrow summed up his thoughts on the status of the economy in one sentence. He said, “All things being considered, we are doing remarkably well.” The tourism sector continues to prosper. The Minister of Tourism, Hon. Manuel Herredia Jr., is expecting as much as a ten percent growth in tourism this year. Another bedrock of the economy is the agricultural sector. Belize just closed the books on an extremely fruitful sugar crop season. According to PM Barrow, there was a fifteen-percent increase in earnings this season. The sugar industry will also be boosted by a new strategic investor, American Sugar Refining, who plans to significantly increase production. The banana industry had improved yields and the citrus industry had an equally impressive stretch. Aquaculture is on the rebound, largely due to the fact that the Bowen shrimp farmers have found a new investment partner. There is also an investor interested in purchasing Caye Chapel and transforming it into a Four Seasons resort.
With all these welcoming news about the economy, one has to wonder what are the “things being considered” that preceded the remarks “We are doing remarkably well”. Well, one of those things being considered is the fact that government stands to lose up to $30 million due to the decrease in world oil prices and decrease in oil production by Belize Natural Energy. Another thing being considered is that Belize is now clearly at the compensation stage of its nationalistic takeover of Belize Telemedia Limited and the Belize Electricity Limited. PM Barrow spoke of the Supreme Court’s recent decision on the nationalization of BTL saying, “The Supreme Court has upheld the government and people’s ownership of the utility companies. We are now prepared to negotiate compensation.” Both companies will cost several millions of dollars but will eventually pay for themselves. The main thing being considered is the increasing upcoming Superbond payment in August which will be around $47 million. The Government of Belize is able to make the August payment but the Superbond is always one of the things that must be considered whenever talking about the status of the economy. PM Barrow said that the debt restructure team will meet with the media sometime in the near future to discuss their task of negotiating with Belize’s bond holders. Once successful in their negotiations, the economy should be greatly relieved.
Speaking of the economy, PM Barrow announced that the General Revenue Appropriation Bill for the fiscal year 2012/2013 will be presented to the House of Representatives on Friday, June 29. He also announced that Belizeans need not worry about any growth-stifling tax increase in the budget. It will be a tight budget however as the Prime Minister aims to cut wasteful spending by stressing fiscal responsibility. Budget cuts will not affect government’s poverty alleviation social programs. PM Barrow was demonstrative about the fact that he will never depart from the UDP’s pro- poor programmes. However, government departments must operate more efficiently under the new budget. The only ministry that is unlikely to be impacted by budget cuts is the Ministry of National Security. PM Barrow believes that gang violence is Belize’s number one concern and the government will spare no resource in its efforts to get the situation under control. The economy will continue to benefit from public spending under government’s Cap 3 programs; internationally funded projects will not be slowed in any way by government’s spending cuts.