Another adjustment made in the national scheme of things is the dates set aside for the Budget Debate 2020/2021. The debate was slated to take place on Thursday and Friday but according to the Prime Minister, it may be limited to one day although he was hoping it could have been bypassed.
Rt.Hon Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “The actual budget debate scheduled for Thursday and Friday is up in the air. We talked about the possibility of not doing the debate at all but there is a need to pass a general appropriations bill and so while we could postpone that for three months I think it is, it would limit our spending. In other words that would in effect mean that instead of a twelve month budget we’d be doing a fifteen month budget and because we don’t want to be hemmed in since there will have to be accelerated spending to try to deal with the economic impacts of the crisis the better course of action is to pass the General Appropriations Bill and to add to that by way of an additional allocation that we would propose when we reach the committee stage of another $25 million that would be earmarked specially and exclusively for the underpinning of our response to the economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis.”
According to the Prime Minister, there will be an additional twenty-five million dollars requested in the budget to address the economic crisis that is being anticipated and that the budget will go through as is without a pre-debate.
Rt.Hon Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “In so far as the debate is concerned the leader made the case that this is a time when his own members feel an urgent need to express their concerns, criticisms of the budget in the context of trying to advocate for their people. So while we had hoped that the budget could be passed without any kind of a rancorous debate it doesn’t seem that to the extent we envisaged it it will be possible. Certainly I want to signal from now I haven’t spoken to my own members of Cabinet, the leader is saying at the very least they will keep their interventions to one day but we reserve the right in the UDP not to respond. We can understand how the opposition will feel that if they were not to talk at all that would amount to a sort of deprivation, I have to go to my own people but it takes two to tango and it take’s two to quarrel and so certainly it will be my advice that we say nothing , that we allow the opposition to have it’s say as I want to repeat the leader has guaranteed that he will keep those interventions to the bare minimum, actually I’d like to see that happen given some of the well known personalities on your side sir but in any event I leave that to you.”
As Belize prepares for the impacts of COVID-19 already being felt in the tourism and services industry, Prime Minister notes that the additional twenty-five million dollars and the other funds being sourced from the IDB, the CABEI funds and other agencies will be used to cushion the blow for employers, entrepreneurs, among others.
There is also another aspect of finances that the Government is looking to address via the support of the Central Bank of Belize. This aspect has to do with moratoriums from the local lending banking institutions. It is being suggested to the banks for ease in loan payments, refinancing for specific purposes such as a greater injection of capital.
Rt.Hon Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “Governor Grant from the Central Bank has agreed certain things already with the commercial banks and again if I miss anything please remember when you’re asking your questions Governor Grant is here, Mrs.Hyde is here so we can play catch up and any omission on my part will certainly ,the gap, will be filled in but as of now the time period to classify targeted non performing loans in affected sectors particularly the accommodations sector will initially be extended from three months to six months. The domestic banks and the credit unions are to provide grace periods for the servicing of interest and or principal components of commercial loans and mortgages as needed. The financial institutions are being encouraged by the bank to refinance loans in affected sectors including downstream service oriented businesses such as restaurants and of course transportation and distribution firms. The risk weights for tourism based loans go down from 100% to 50% and the business continuity plans of financial institutions will be reviewed to ensure that adequate levels of financial services will be available to the public. To cut through the jargon as I understand it what we mean to do is not just to have these moratoriums on interest and principal repayments but we are actually prepared to advance struggling businesses who will get the reprieve in terms of paying their loans new monies for them to recapitalize as they go forward once the greatest danger is behind us.”
As it relates to the funding identified for this crisis, both the Government and the Opposition have identified two financial experts to look at how the distribution of the monies would be carried out. The Government has identified Dr. Carla Barnett while the opposition will be using the services of Christopher Coye. While the government is looking at the loans and losses in business, they have also looked at recurrent expenses of the general public including utilities, fuel, and other commodities.
We will have more details from today’s press conference in tomorrow’s newscast.