Prior to the arrival of COVID-19 to Belize, the health sector stakeholders and union leaders were concerned over the limited resources at the hospitals. The resources discussed included the personal protective equipment for the front line workers as well as the issue of isolation areas for those infected with the COVID virus strain. Prime Minister’s response to these concerns was a commitment that the Government would work at sourcing the funds needed to prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, the Prime Minister updated the media and the public on the progress made in acquiring funds not only for the health resources needed but also for the financial aid being given to the unemployed.
Rt.Hon Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “There is the $10 million from Lord Ashcroft, although I believe he heard me when I said that we’re perhaps getting more than ample monies for the battle on the health front but no enough with respect to the economic collapse that has been precipitated on all those who have lost their employment and their livelihoods because I see that a press release suggests that that $10 million will sustain a mix of flows some as well to deal with the economic aspect of things. I’m going to talk in the round, let’s say that the $10 million is principally reserved for health there is the $2.5 million from Taiwan that’s for health, the $2 million that came from Cabei that’s for health. There is another loan that we’re trying to get for Cabei that’s going to be for health. The IDB is making $13 million, 10% of the unspent resources in the country program for Belize for this year- that’s going to be made available for health so you can see we’re beyond $20 million. Yesterday I thought that what I said would make its way to international ears and that’s why I complained about the fact that the international financial institutions are too absorbed in terms of the funding flows they will give to us; too completely focused on the health front where we are already very much to the good. Well, I had an extremely productive phone call with Madam Tahseen Sayed Khan who is the World Bank’s Country Director for the entire Caribbean and I’m very pleased to be able to announce thanking her as I do so that in consequence of that conversation $21 million US dollars that was part of the CRIP, program the Climate Resilient Infrastructure Project program, $21 million US dollars will now be diverted. We had already been told that we can reprogram but initially the decision was that it would have to go principally to health, all that will now be able to go for assistance to be put into the pot with the $75 million that we’re borrowing from the Central Bank that, that entire $21 million US dollars will be additionally put into the pot to assist people who are out of work and out of livelihoods. I had also spoken to the President of the IDB Louis Alberto Moreno and he had promised that he would try to fast track somethings, we got additional good news yesterday on the IDB front that the $12 million US that they had already agreed would be given to augment the BOOST program run countrywide by the Ministry of Human Development, we had been told initially that it would take six to eight weeks to unlock those funds; we’re being told now that that time will be cut in half. Madam Tahseen Sayed Khan indicated that she would call me back in two days time to give me a sense of how quickly the funds that we spoke about that will be reprogrammed from the CRIP project can be in hand but in addition to those funds we had when she visited Belize a couple of months ago agreed on new funding for this country to the amount of $50 million US dollars- $25 million is for agriculture and I told her I didn’t want to touch that drought seems to be upon us again this year and that program would be very useful to the farmers on whom we’re relying for self-sufficiency in our staples but the other $25US was going to be for social protection; she’s agreed that that too can be reprogrammed so that in fact that will also add to the pool. I had said yesterday that I hope to double the $75 million that we are going to borrow from the Central Bank so if you put the $42 million from the CRIP, if you put the $50 million from the social protection program if you put the $24 million from the IDB that will go to BOOST you can see that I am well ahead of the target that I had set for myself. Additionally the OFID, OPEC OFID people, those that fund the South Side Poverty Alleviation Project there’s $10 million dollars in that project that was to go to infrastructure we are negotiating with them to divert that to particularly the Ministry of Human Development to help to fund the extension of the food assistance program that would be aimed as well if not particularly at the rural areas at the district towns and the villages. So all together I am extremely pleased to have been able to give you that bit of accounting which shows that we are well on our way to getting something close to the kind of funding that we will need to see us through this crisis.”
Leader of the Opposition, John Briceno, in his address today assured the public that there will be transparency in the way these monies are being used under this COVID-19 crisis.