Prime Minister Briceno Reflects on Third Year of Briceno Administration
As Cabinet meets at this hour in San Ignacio, this past weekend saw the third year of the Briceno administration. It was on November 11, 2020 that the People’s United Party was brought into power by a resounding majority of voters across the country. Love News spoke with Prime Minister Briceno last week where he reflected on the challenges faced.
Hon. John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize: “When you are told by the IMF well you don’t have money so you have to stop spending and you have to fire people because you can’t pay them, you have to collect more money so fire three thousand government workers, raise GST to 19.5% and we immediately said we can’t do that. Obviously people are not working. How will they pay more tax ? And those that are working if we were to fire them where are they going to find a job when there were no jobs available. So we said we’re going to come with our own plan. We met with the owners of the Superbond and they told us we’re not talking to you unless the IMF gives a stamp of approval on what you’re doing. So we had to meet with the unions and said please help us we are in a crisis. It took some time to convince them but they finally agreed to cut their salaries by 10% and a wage freeze for three years. We had already cut our salaries before them 15% and our allowances by 15% and once we did that then we managed to be able to sit down and have some serious discussions with the bond holders and then working with TNC to make funding available for us to be able to pay that off. So a debt that was over $500 million dollars we paid that off to $363 million dollars that we borrowed to pay them off to set up a trust fund for marine conservation that by 2040 we expect to have $100 million dollars in that trust fund. In that one transaction we reduced debt to GDP by about 12%. We are saving Belize about a billion dollars but we did not stop there. We then went to Venezuela and said the PetroCaribe funding and again that took a lot of delicate negotiations because of the sanctions that the US government had on Venezuela and then we managed to get another 60% cut on the debt that we had which was about some $500 million that we owed them and working in agriculture, working in tourism, working in services we managed to grow the economy and so the economy has grown considerably.”
Just prior to the 2020 elections, the then Prime Minister, Dean Barrow had conceded during a press brief on the economic crisis that the country was in. As it was his last term in office, Barrow expressed pity on the next elected leader. It was a statement that Briceno says had stayed with him, and made his administration more determined to fix the economy.
Hon. John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize: “We’ve managed to reduce our debt to GDP from 134% to 64% something that has never been seen before and issuing the Blue Bonds then we did something very innovative in the sense that whilst we have reduced debt we’re also making some very bold decisions when it comes to the protection of our some call it oceans some call it the sea and our waters. So for instance they have this initiative of the UN of protecting 30% of your ocean space by 2030 we have said we’re going to do it by 2026. The government has just decided about two months ago that we’re going to take 20% of the barrier reef and protect it as a complete no take zone that you can go and dive and benefit from that but you have to leave things as they are. We have to think long term what are the things that we have a responsibility not only to our children’s children but also to the planet in protecting this asset that was given to us by our creator.”
In the past three years, Briceno has only made a few adjustments to his Cabinet and the portfolios. He noted that the success of his administration comes from the passion of his ministers to ensure that they get it right.
Hon. John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize: “People look at Belize as an exciting place to be and always people are seeing if you look now more and more tourists are coming to Belize. By the end of this year we’re going to be at 2019 numbers, something that the IMF never expected and more importantly in 2019 there was an average of 6.3 days that tourists would visit we are at 9 days so people are spending even more money. So it’s a remarkable achievement and I must tell you I am very very proud of the Cabinet, of our ministers, of our representatives. It has been a team effort. Everybody tells me oh as the Prime Minister, I say it’s not me alone. We have good ministers. We have hard working ministers, we have ministers that are dedicated to their work and they go to work every day trying to see how is it that we can continue to deliver to our people. How we can fix the challenges that we have, the issues in infrastructure, of education, of housing, of health you know ? These are basic issues that we have to be addressing in this country and I really and truly believe that we are moving in the right direction.”
In the November 2020 elections, Briceno’s party gained some 26 seats while the opposition won 5 seats.