In today’s special sitting of the House of Representatives, the members of both the UDP and PUP debated on a US ten-million-dollar loan as part of the Education Quality Improvement Program. While a loan to develop Belize’s education system may seem harmless, former Prime Minister, Said Musa, had some concerns of his own. He felt as though the loan was being, quote, “sprung” on them, and he believes even the current Prime Minister is unsure of what the loan entails. The floor was then handed over to the Minister of Education, for him to explain the details of this loan. According to him, science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) students will see the introduction of their own lab.
Hon. Said Musa, People’s United Party: “I would like to hear from the minister in what way would it assist you and the Government of Belize to spend $20 million to carry out this quality improvement because clearly there is need for quality in our education system but I’m not too sure that this money will be spent on more workshops? Is that it ?
Hon.Patrick Faber, Minister of Education: “For the benefit of all the colleagues in this house as well Madam Speaker some of whom may not have been here for the EQIP 1 loan motion you will remember that this is the initial sum of $20 million that we borrowed that has significantly Madam Speaker improved on the training that we have given teachers over the last couple years. We have held significant training programs in science, in language arts and in mathematics as a result of that initial loan agreement with the IDB called EQIP 1. And so EQIP 2 is just a continuation if you will, it is us extending that training now to make sure that many more teachers are involved in the training as it relates particularly to STEAM education. In addition, in EQIP 2, the government through the Ministry of Education intends to build a state of the art STEAM laboratory in Belize, the first of it’s kind and I think Madam Speaker that in itself is going to be of tremendous value to this nation.”
The Leader of the Opposition, John Briceno, spoke up in agreement with Musa, stating that money is being spent on the education system, but there have been no tangible results.
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader, People’s United Party: “The Minister of Education have been saying or especially the Minister of Education that they have been spending a lot on teacher training but we’re not seeing the results when it comes to the PSE in the primary school level Madam Speaker so we’re spending all of this money but something is not going right and it seems to me, at least from what we’re talking about, that this is just another project. Another project where we’re going to be spending $20 million bringing people from MIT but what are going to be the tangible results? We’re talking about a laboratory? I mean great, one in Belize City how will that affect the rest of the country where we probably have even more needs outside of Belize City than where you’re going to be putting the laboratory. So my question again it seems here we go like just another project where again consultants are going to come in, consultants are going to be highly paid but at the end of the day what are the actual tangible results that our students are going to be getting from spending another $20 million on another project.”
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “Obviously our education system as the minster said isn’t perfect and obviously as he said that is why we continue with initiatives such as this one to try and make it better. Let us not get into why the results are where they are because I don’t want to point any fingers at anybody but the facts are the facts and given that those facts are what they are we can’t sit on our hands and do nothing. It’s a constant battle, it’s a constant struggle and every time a signature program such as this one can in fact be pioneered by the Government of Belize I believe that is a time for celebration.”
Briceno also stated that while he has his concerns about this loan, he still would prefer to support a loan for education rather than infrastructure, citing specifically the loan for the Caracol Road. Prime Minister Dean Barrow also defended the UDP’s spending on infrastructure.
Rt.Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “I don’t know if these people don’t educate themselves, don’t keep abreast of what is happening, don’t try to familiarize themselves with basic economics, they are intelligent people so I doubt that is the position. Again it is just the determination to be ornery, to be cussed. Look our neighbor Mexico, AMLO, just announced that in order to try to move the Mexican economy forward the focus will be on infrastructure and he announced $43 billion dollar initiative on infrastructure. Madam Lagarde who took over the European Central Bank is urging the member states to spend more on infrastructure. Narendra Modi from India announced a $1.3 trillion dollar infrastructure program; infrastructure is what helps to drive your economy. Trump announced before he was elected that infrastructure would be the key, apart from that wall that we won’t- and even the wall is infrastructure and now he’s singing the blues because he has not been able to get through any significant infrastructure project. This government has done exceptionally well with respect to infrastructure.”
The loan has a term of 25 years.