Prime Minister Dean Barrow has spoken at length on the future economic crisis that Belize will face post-COVID-19. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a major financial setback for many countries including Belize. Millions of dollars are being diverted from earmarked funds and millions more are being borrowed. These monies, according to the Government, will be used to assist the unemployed, to reboot the economy, and to help those in the agricultural sector. Prime Minister Dean Barrow has less than one year left in the office which means he will escape the repercussions of the economic decisions being made under this pandemic.
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “There is this now in my view deafening cry on the part of the International Financial Sector on the part of the multilaterals for some kind of debt relief, some kind of debt standstill, some kind of possible debt forgiveness to take place. We are naturally anxiously following this discussion. The next Superbond payment is due in August. We want to see where this discussion will lead before we take a position and begin some sort of a conversation with our bond holders. I don’t want to serve notice on them of any particular course of action we might be contemplating via a press conference, I don’t think it’s fair to them, I don’t think it’s the professional thing to do but as I may have said to you already when you had asked me a similar question on the other hand there are those who would say the writing is very clearly on the wall. And then as to your first question well if I wanted to take the view that because my departure from electoral politics is both inevitable and imminent, depending on how you describe imminent, I could not worry about various things; I will then cop out of this whole contrata with the unions. I could say “What does it matter if I agree with you that in two years time you get it back?” I won’t be here for you to collect it from but I don’t think that’s responsible. I don’t think that’s fair as long as I’m here I believe I must act in a certain way and so it is the same kind of analysis I bring to bear on this question of the salaries which the IFIs and in particular the IMF- which the IFI’s say are unsustainable. I therefore am not going to take the attitude that “Well let me be if you will the sacrificial lamb because I have nothing to lose politically and let me say let’s start to cut now.” No I think that it is part of my charge as long as I’m sitting where I am to try to protect the public officers for as long as possible but I will say this and that is what I also told them yesterday, I will hold on as long as I can but a day of reckoning is coming. All this business about our quibbling over when and if the economy will recover and the extent of such recovery that’s not idle but any sense of serious optimism about a strong early recovery in my mind is entirely misplaced. Look all the wealthy developed nations are taking a licking, all the projections are that this is worse in the US than the great depression, why would we fool ourselves, we don’t want to kill hope, but why would fool ourselves into thinking that there will be some kind of springing back with respect to our economy ?”
In addition to saying that there will be no immediate bounce back for Belize’s economy, the Prime Minister did say that his successor will have to deal with the IMF and the other International Financial agencies. This could very well result in an extreme tightening of expenses and even the public sector wage bill.
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “Ultimately and maybe that is the solution, ultimately as part of our efforts at recovery who comes next in my view will more likely than not will have to talk to the IMF. Who comes next will have to talk to the IFIs generally. Who comes next will need assistance, serious funding assistance. What we are hoping to get from the IFIs now those are holding funds, those are funds to help us with the food assistance program, with the unemployment relief program, with help for the farmers in agriculture; those have nothing to do with the kinds of structural changes that will be necessary for the economy and the fiscal position and public finances to recover. We will need help for that recovery in public finances and where else are we going to turn? Any chance of further commercial borrowing is shot so we will he have to go to these people and they will extract their pound of flesh I mean that’s not really the word to frame it. It’s a kind of automatic they won’t give you the assistance that you require except they say “aha. You will no longer be able to proceed as though you are heedless to what we have been telling you for years and years and years. A conditionality or a condition for the assistance you will need is in fact pension reform, is infact the trimming of the wage bill, is in fact retrenchment in the public sector. Now if I was still in play I could sit here and tell you I would find a way to dodge that but when you don’t have to face the music you can pretend to be the most skillful dancer in the world you know. Bottom line is I grieve for my poor Belize and I certainly extend my sympathy from now to those that will have to deal with that particular problem because Jules you are absolutely right there is no way we’ll be able to postpone for any period any extended period beyond this crisis coming to terms with the demands of the IMF and the other IFIs.”
While Prime Minister Barrow has no option but to bow out at the end of this term and while he will not have to deal with the ramifications of the loans and debt being incurred during this Covid-19 pandemic, Senator for the Private Sector, Mark Lizarraga says it is still on him to handle the finances responsibly. He added that it is not for him to casually say that the next government will have to deal with the post-COVID economic situation.
Senator Mark Lizarraga: “We can’t live in this dream that we could borrow, borrow, borrow either. That has an end that will come to an end as a matter of fact we’ve seen other countries beginning to get monies disbursed to them because they have a better rating than us. Goodness knows when we will be able to access the monies that we need and for how long and how much and this is not something you kick down the road, this is not something that you say “My sympathies to the Belizean people but the next government will have to deal with this.” No man you start to deal with it today, that’s what a responsible leader should do you start dealing with those problems now today.”
Prime Minister’s comments were delivered during a press conference held yesterday.