Hon. Francis fonseca: Budget Presentation 2013-2014


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Hon. Francis fonseca: Budget Presentation 2013-2014

  1. 1. Presentation on Budget for Fiscal Year 2013/2014 By Hon. Francis W. Fonseca Leader of the Opposition March 21, 2013Introduction: Thank you Mr. Speaker. I rise to make my contribution to the debate on the General Revenue Appropriation Billfor fiscal year 2013/2014. I am honored to do so on behalf of the People’s United Party and in particular the peopleof Freetown, who have given me the opportunity to serve in this Honourable house. Mr. Speaker, each year the budget preparation and presentation provides our Governmentwith a unique opportunity to engage the Belizean people in a national dialogue on the priorities,goals and objectives we wish to set for ourselves as a nation for the upcoming fiscal year. Again this year, Mr. Speaker, it is deeply regrettable that we must record the absolutefailure of the UDP Government to carry out any consultations in respect of this years’ budget. This shameful failure is, of-course, consistent with the UDP’s total disregard anddisrespect of the Governments social and economic partners in development. No consultation with the Unions! No consultation with the Council of Churches! NoConsultation with the agro-productive sector! No Consultation with the Chamber of Commerceor the Belize Business Bureau! No Consultation with Youth and Student Government leaders!No Consultation with our artists and musicians! No Consultation with the Belizean People! Well,Mr. Speaker, once again this year I am proud to report that our Party has kept faith with itscommitment to consultation. We fully recognize and appreciate that in 2013, consultation is no longer optional for theGovernment of Belize, it is a requirement for Development. We in the People’s United Partyunderstand that no Government, present or future, will be able to meaningfully and sustainablyaddress the very critical, structural social and economic challenges facing Belize, if there is not a“National buy-in” to the Governments vision and work-plan for national development.It is for this reason, Mr. Speaker, that our Party appointed a team headed by the Hon. Memberfor Orange Walk Central, to consult widely over the past few weeks. 1
  2. 2. Our contributions to this budget are better informed and more meaningful as a result ofthese consultations, and we are grateful to all our social and economic partners who weregracious enough to participate in these consultations. Mr. Speaker, it comes as no surprise therefore that the UDP Budget for fiscal year2013/2014 reflects this absolute lack of consultation. It is a budget disconnected and divorced from the Belizean reality. This is a budget Mr.Speaker in which “full belly di tell empty belly – kip haat bredda”. “kip haat sista”!! Again thisyear, for the 6 th. budget in a row, the Belizean people are treated to a full menu of chest-thumping, whining and empty hollow rhetoric. For the first two years it was all about the $200M stimulus package which nevermaterialized. Then it was the Russian Millions on their way to Belize or was our PM to travel toRussia to bring back the sacks of $? And then in 2011/2012 we were told we were free to flyexcept the plane neva have no fuel and so we were all grounded. And last year it was back toexcuses, moaning and groaning and talking about the need for discipline. And this year, Mr. Speaker, the Member for Queens Square, didn’t let us down. His latestand perhaps greatest illusion is B.I.L. – Belize Infrastructure Co. Ltd. the Special purpose vehiclethat will float all Belizean Boats. What a sick joke Mr. Speaker. But, I will deal with B.I.L. alittle later on. The bottom line, Mr. Speaker, is that this budget continues a 5 yr pattern of excuses andcruel, empty rhetoric. Loud mouth, Dutty mouth and Sharp tongue is all we have gotten from theUDP for 5 yrs. After 5 years of UDP administration, Mr. Speaker, all of our major social and economicindicators are headed in the wrong direction and this budget for fiscal year 2013/2014 doesnothing to change course. Unemployment and underemployment continue to devastate our Belizean families,wreaking particular destruction on the hopes and aspirations of our youth and women. Some30,000 Belizeans actively seeking a job cannot find one. Loud mouth, Dutty mouth, Sharptongue mouth don’t create jobs. Mr. PM where is your jobs plan? Poverty too is on the rise and today in Belize under the UDP some 148,000 Belizeans areliving on less than $5.50 per day for food. Loud mouth, Dutty mouth and Sharp tongue won’t liftour people out of poverty. Mr. PM where is your plan to reduce poverty? Crime and Violence continue to eat away at our social fabric. Law abiding citizens live infear. Investment and economic growth are negatively impacted. There is a growing distrust of thepolice and our system of justice. Loud mouth, Dutty mouth and Sharp tongue won’t bring downthe cost of living. Mr. PM where is your plan to reduce the cost of living? Fuel costs are at an all 2
  3. 3. time high. This is putting a hurt on our farmers, on our commuters, on our fishermen, on our taxioperators, tour operators, on our businesses. Loud mouth, Dutty mouth and Sharp tongue won’tbring down the cost of fuel. Mr. PM where is your plan to reduce the cost of fuel? Mr. Speaker, the Belizean people are sick and tired of the excuses and blame-game whichhave come to define this UDP administration. Our people need jobs and money in their pockets,not excuses and lies about the past. Again in this year’s budget, Mr. Speaker, the PM continues to whine about theSuperbond even as he claims to have tamed it. By taming it of course he means that he hasextended the repayment period for 9 more years from 2029 to 2038. Mr. Speaker, Public Debt is serious business. We welcome any relief realized to Belize asa result of the new 2038 Bonds. The 2029 Bonds represented the PUP administrations recognition in 2006 of the need torestructure Belize’s commercial debt to allow for significant cash flow benefits to the economy. The Central Bank of Belize’s Annual Report for 2007 states: “payments during the first 9years of the 2029 Bonds are projected to fall by an average of US $48 M per year or US $431Mcumulative over that period.” It further states:”This positive development should improve the Country’s generaleconomic outlook, investment climate and credit rating. The longer repayment period should alsoafford the Country the opportunity to expand its economic base so that higher debt servicingobligations that fall due in the later years will be less burdensome.” Mr. Speaker, this was exactly the objective of the debt consolidation exercise carried outby the last PUP administration. To give the country space and time to breathe and grow. Andwhat of the composition of the debt. Again here it is politically convenient for the UDP and theirapologists to ignore the facts and continue to perpetuate their false propaganda that we havenothing to show for the debt. They conveniently ignore the fact that between 1998 and 2007, Belize was visited byhurricanes Mitch, Keith, Iris and Tropical storm Chantal which wreaked economic havoc on ouragricultural and tourism sectors at a cost of hundreds of millions invested in education, health,infrastructure, rural water and electricity and housing. Travel the country, Mr. PM, and take your ministers with you. The Real people in Realcommunities will tell you that for the great majority of them, the last time there was anyinvestment in their community it was under the PUP. Nothing, Nada, for five years under theUDP. 3
  4. 4. You see, Mr. Speaker, the PUP is about job creation, investment and development. TheUDP celebrates poverty and tell the Belizean people to catch the line for the food pantry andCheck Wid Boots Fu Wah Lee Boost!! Mr. Speaker, if we are to have an honest debate about the Superbond then the UDP canbe critical of the last PUP administration for pursuing an aggressive growth agenda that led tohigh levels of public debt, but they must also tell the Belizean people that it was that very samePUP Administration which recognized its own problem and fixed its own problem in2006, somuch so that in fact the fiscal deficit had been reduced to less than 1% of GDP before the PUPleft office in 2008. This UDP administration was left with a full meal on the table. Add to this the hundredsof millions in oil revenues collected over the past 5 years. It is their incompetence and inability to grow the economy that has forced us intoSuperbond 2038. Belize has stopped working under the UDP and that is why Belize can’t pay its Billsunder the UDP. That is the truth and the whole truth, Mr. Speaker, not the nonsense and half-truthsoffered by those who have nothing better to tell the Belizean people, those who can’t create jobs,those who can’t attract meaningful investment, those who can’t reduce the cost of living!! And while on the issue of Public Debt, Mr. Speaker, not a word from the Minister ofFinance in respect of the hundreds of millions of dollars owing for BTL and BEL. This is a realand existing liability. What is the plan to resolve this matter? Finally on Superbond 2038, Mr. Speaker. Let’s be very clear. The Bond Restructuringteam led by the Prime Ministers new RED eye boy, His Excellency Amb. Mark Espat was adisastrous failure. The Team Leaders initial high-risk strategy of low-balling the Bondholdersturned out to be a near-fatal mistake. The initial options were soundly rejected and what Belize ended up accepting was a far,far cry from any of the original indicative scenarios. The truth is that if it were not for the good faith of the Chairman of the BondholdersCommittee, Mr. Mediratta, and his longstanding relationship with Belize developed over manyyears under the PUP administration, Superbond 2038 would not have gotten done. So, PM, saveus all the bouquet throwing at your red-eye boy. We know the truth. In any case, he has beenhandsomely rewarded for his restructuring of the Albert Division, and I am confident he will bevery grateful and join your Party. After all he no got no way else fu go!! 4
  5. 5. Mr. Speaker, let’s turn to the economic outlook for 2013. It is regrettably, notencouraging. According to the Central Bank of Belize, the economy is forecasted to grow by2.7% in real terms in 2013, but they concede that even this low growth is subject to sizeabledownside risks and is based on a very weak assumption of a gradual upturn in global growth to3.5%. Agriculture and Manufacturing which together have accounted for some 17% of alleconomic activity since 2000, will decline significantly to low single-digit growth. In fact it isexpected that there will only be 1.8% real GDP growth in Agriculture in 2013 and inManufacturing there will be negative growth (-2.4%). Citrus is facing headwinds from lower international prices and a cyclical crop downturn. Even tourism, is expected to decline to 4.5% growth in large part due to the weakeconomic situation in the US. Output of oil and electricity will continue to decline as the oil wells dry up and the lowreservoir levels at the hydro dams will create further strains on BEL. The Belizean people havealready been taxed with a 17% increase in electricity rates. We trust that 2013/2014 will notbring further increases. The people can bear no more. And more bad news, Mr. Speaker, construction activity, a leading economic indicator, isexpected to decelerate according to the Central Bank. And in 2013/2014 inflation will rear itsugly head once again eating away at the purchasing power of all Belizeans. This brings me Mr. Speaker back to BIL. Belize Infrastructure Co. Ltd. which themember for Queens Square described in his budget presentation as a “newly registered, whollyGOB owned, private company. The special-purpose vehicle that will create jobs, stimulatedemand, purchase private sector material and supplies and generally raise that tide that will floatall Belizean boats. Now, as I said earlier it is fairly easy to dismiss this new company as more hot airconsistent with 5 years of empty rhetoric, but to do so would be a mistake. We should all takenote of BIL. I want to sound the alarm bells now. I expect this to be a UDP- hustle vehicle thatwill seek to avoid the rules and regulations of Government. Why is this private companynecessary to carry out the work of Government? Will this company be competing with theprivate sector? Who will it be purchasing materials and supplies from? Who will manage thiscompany? Will the contractor general and the auditor general have oversight of this company?Will it be subject to the Finance and Audit Reform Act? Mr. Speaker, we must see Belize Infrastructure Co. Ltd. for what it is, the latest in a longline of UDP political gimmicks. 5
  6. 6. For the UDP it is always about the show, the cutting of the ribbon, the ground opening,the big announcement. There is no follow thru, no vision, no plan, no work ethic, nodevelopment agenda. Just take a look at projects under the Capital II and III budgets, many ofwhich are simply recycled year after year by this inept and incompetent UDP administration. Mr. Speaker, the Belizean people have had enough of these gimmicks. They want us inthis National Assembly to talk about the future and about specific ways of making their livesbetter. To maximize economic growth, we need to competently and efficiently use the resourcesand comparative advantages Belize has available. Government must focus on its core function, the delivery of reliable, quality, affordablepublic services while reducing bureaucratic spending and enhancing its regulatory andenforcement capacity. The Private Sector must be viewed as full partners in development and enabled to attractand undertake investments, grow businesses and create jobs. Mr. Speaker, Investment is marketdriven. In this interconnected world, the market for investment is broad and fiercely competitive. Investment also requires certainty and our Party repeats its call for the enactment of aForeign Investment Promotion Act to achieve this objective. In pursuing investments, Mr. Speaker, it is all about creating good paying jobs for ourpeople, jobs for our young graduates, jobs for women, jobs for our skilled workers, jobs intourism, jobs in the information technology sector, jobs in the financial sector, jobs in agro-processing and manufacturing. At the same time, Mr. Speaker, we recognize that our economics must have an ethicaldimension grounded in our belief that economic growth must be accompanied by opportunityand humane treatment for the poor and disadvantaged, and that growth is not real progress if, inspite of it, many people, especially children are still going hungry and are unable to attendschool. And Mr. Speaker, as we seek to grow and reform the economy, so too, must we seek toreform the way we are governed. Again this year, we call on the UDP Government to support theproposals for reform our Party has advanced. Let us together enshrine in the Constitution a requirement for a Referendum on anyproposed amendment which in any way undercuts or degrades the fundamental rights andfreedoms of the Belizean people. (Stop playing games with OCEANA) Let us work together to set a fixed date for elections and review the term of office forfuture governments. 6
  7. 7. Let us put in place an elected senate. Let us heed the cries of the people and put an endonce and for all to the hustling and cronyism that have completely overtaken the LandsDepartment. Let us review the structure and composition of the Elections and BoundariesCommission. Let us review the structure, composition and powers of the Public Accounts Committee. Let us pass a Freedom of the Press Law to guarantee free speech and protect whistle-blowers who expose abuse, acts of corruption and waste of resources. Let us work together to appoint an Independent Commission to review immigrationpolicy and laws and implement its recommendations. Mr. Speaker, we need to move away from the politics based approach to governing whichhas come to define this UDP Government, and toward a solutions based approach todevelopment. And, Mr. Speaker, it is time for Government to deliver the salary increase our teachers,nurses, doctors, police officers, BDF soldiers, and other public officers have been demandingand deserve. The UDP can find millions for election spending, millions for contract officers andspecial Advisors, millions for Mark Espat, millions for fuel and allowances, millions for theirforeign travel and friends and family sitting in Diplomatic Missions, and millions for fancySUV’s, but they can’t find the money for our teachers and public officers. Mr. Speaker, we on this side of the house join with our teachers and public officers indemanding that the Government delivers, at a minimum a 5% salary increase this fiscal year.They need it. They deserve it. Not next year or two years from now. Mr. Speaker, the budget for fiscal year 2013/2014 presented by the Member for QueensSquare does nothing to offer our people hope and inspire them to become engaged in the work ofbuilding our Beloved Belize. The Belizean reality today is thousands of lost jobs, businesses closed, homes auctionedor re-possessed, loans defaulted on, children out of school, families unable to keep the lights on,the stove burning and increasingly often unable to put food on the table. The Belizean economy and people are struggling and no amount of chest thumping, self-congratulation and trumpeting of pseudo – nationalism will change this harsh, sober reality. 7
  8. 8. Where are the 5,000 new jobs promised 5 years ago? Where is the reduced GST, Whereare the lower utility rates, lower cost of living, shares in a National Oil Company, 6% annualgrowth, lower fuel costs. 5 years of UDP nothing! 5 years of UDP waste! 5 years of UDP corruption! 5 years of growing unemployment! 5 years of increasing crime! 5 years of higher prices! 5 tears of petty, arrogant leadership! But, Hope is awakening in our people, Mr. Speaker. The Belizean people know the UDP is the past and the PUP is the future. There is much to do, Mr. Speaker, but our Party is committed to the hard work that liesahead. If Belize is to grow and develop, all of us must be committed to a strong Belizeaneconomy and society grounded in credible, practical plans and solutions to the social andeconomic challenges we face. We are visiting with our people in every corner of this beautiful country, listening tothem, learning from them how we can better serve them and sharing with them our vision andmessage of hope for a better Belize. Mr. Speaker, I pray God’s blessings on our country and people and humbly ask for hisguidance over us in this honourable house as we do the nations work. END. 8