The recently appointed thirteen Senators under the Briceno administration were in session for over five hours today at the National Assembly in Belmopan. The sitting served to debate and ratify the Bills and Motions brought over from Friday’s House Meeting. Among the Bills was the Supplementary Appropriation Number 5 that seeks to provide the government with additional monies not outlined in the budget for this current fiscal year. Rising to speak on the current state of public finances and what was inherited, was PUP Senator Christopher Coye.
Senator Christopher Coye: “This bill is a reflection of what was inherited. So when you look at that bill and the particulars of the bill the primary components, the primary line items speak to what is absolutely necessary. Now what I should add is that this bill is in fact a follow through, a follow through of this administration’s commitment to good governance. In 2020 alone the past administration had its approved budget estimate of a little over a billion dollars and then it had four supplementary appropriations laws enacted; one for $6.9 million, another for $9.2 million, a third for $2.2 million and a fourth for $27.3 million none of which spoke to any particulars, any details whatsoever. No information, no particulars. But that aside that amounts to $105 million in supplementary appropriations authorized but in the last month of the past administration from October into November just a month and a half if you will there are over $57 million in unauthorized expenditures not in any approve budget estimates and not in any supplementary appropriations laws , $57 million in unauthorized expenditures. No special warrants, nothing, simply expenditures at the will of whether it’s then Minister of Finance or Cabinet, whoever but entire unauthorized by the Legislature.”
Senator Osmani Salas: “You know the new administration inherited to put it simply a very big mess. A huge challenge. A crisis that was exacerbated by this global pandemic that without the vaccines we won’t see any end in sight. So I noted what is being asked and it’s mostly economic recovery support, COVID related etc and I understand that the new administration needs money to operate but I implore the new administration to please don’t follow in the steps of the previous one and provide us with more details. For example in the Ministry of Health and Wellness under CAP2 I found that medical supplies and equipment meant expanded testing, testing kits and equipment etc, HR support which I guess have been on the recount but provide us with that kind of detail, break it down a little more for us. To repeat, don’t follow in the footsteps of the previous administration that refused to provide us with information, did not make it easy for us. I don’t look forward to the very same happening under this new administration and to conclude Mr.President I go back to one of the sections in the Good Governance motion that will be approved today and I look forward to the new administration.”
Both UDP Senators Michael Peyrefitte and Sheena Pitts rose to accuse the Briceno administration of doing exactly what they had criticized whilst they were in opposition. The accusation surrounds fifteen million dollars that the government is seeking approval to access.
Senator Michael Peyrefitte: “I contacted the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Finance has told me that some of the estimates that are in this number five supplemental bill, some of them have already been used and spent by virtue of special warrants which is in the previous government we accepted as a legal form of expenditure. But this concept was railed against by the PUP when they were in opposition, that you can’t spend and then come to the National Assembly to ask the National Assembly to certify that spending. So if it is true that some of the money they’re asking us to vote on now has already been spent we want them in the spirit of – if you look at their motion in the – number nine – to insist on good and transparent governance.”
Senator Sheena Pitts: “I’ll be most brief with this one and that is because there isn’t enough for us to comment on and I anticipate and I hope, earnestly so, that perhaps the Leader of Government Business or even Senator Coye can assist us in understanding the numbers and the figures. I want to point out that we must now be beyond the point of obnoxious relativism. When I say that I mean this; we must be beyond the point where we continue to remind ourselves or even say and repeat that when the roles were reversed this is what used to happen as if though that is justification for us to now not complain. What would help and what happened at that time we were able to know how many persons applied versus how many persons were approved which translated to the amount of money that was used. So what I am saying here if we have $10 million for economic recovery support how are we using that ? Is it the same kind of idea where this is actual monies that would be given to Belizeans ? We don’t know. I move now to the Ministry of Health and Wellness. They’re asking for $15 million. I recall and most of us can go back to it being on record by the Minister of Health and Wellness stating that this same amount will be procured for the Ministry of Health and when he was charged to respond where it is coming from you know what he said; go and ask the Prime Minister he needs to answer to that because not my answer to give. The Prime Minister was asked and to this day we have no answer. What I want to know is at that time before this bill was presented the origin on that $15 million is it the same? Was that $15 million coming from a benefactor with a title beginning with ‘A’? I don’t know I’m just asking questions or is that $15 million at that time was envisaged to become a part of this appropriation bill that we’re now asking to agree to ? I don’t know. If that is the case then so be it.”