And with all the work cut out for the Briceno administration, one of the main presentations made by the Prime Minister had to do with the General Revenue Supplementary Appropriation Bill. According to the Prime Minister there are two separate portions to this Bill, namely numbers five and six. The first portion went through its three readings two while the other went through its first. PM Briceno spoke on the reason behind these Bills.
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “What we’re looking at is pretty much what we have that the previous government, the previous UDP government, has left us their ending up borrowing approximately $510 million dollars this year. There’s a hole or a crater you want to say of $300 million dollars that we have to find a way how we’re going to close that. What we have to do today in the appropriation bill is to put the necessary monies for the emergencies that we have from the hurricanes and the floodings and the pandemic – I mean for instance we are approving $15 million dollars for the Ministry of Health, we are approving $12 million dollars for infrastructure to assist in the repairing of some of the infrastructure. We’ve approved monies for the grocery bags because the UDP spent everything, they left nothing so we have to be approving all of these monies so that is what we’ll be doing this afternoon. But in my presentation I’m going to give a complete overview of the economy and what we have found and as a preview to the consultations that we’re going to be having with our social partners, with the public service, with the unions, with the private sector as to how is it then that we can put to right this ship into the path of sustainable growth and how we’re going to work towards balancing the budget and how we’re going to grow the economy. Our mandate is to grow the economy, to create jobs, to create opportunities for people so that is at all times in our mind that that is what we have to do and we have to concentrate on that but we have this crisis on our hands as I’ve said before the UDP they’ve been borrowing to the tune of almost a million dollars a day to be able to pay salaries, to pay electricity, to pay the light bill and you know once you do that you’re virtually bankrupt.”
With the government operating in the deep red our newsroom asked about the wage bill which is costing the government an estimated eight percent of its budget. In that same breath we asked on the reports that the government has purchased new vehicles for CEOs.
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “We have to look at everything. As it is right now the wage bill and the pension bill combined is approximately about over 80% of the budget and we in December announced that we will start, we have taken a 10% cut into our salaries as a gesture of good will to show that we’re prepared to do what is necessary. We’re going to sit down with the unions and with a blank sheet of paper and we’re going to see what are the steps that we can take to be able to cover this huge crater in the budget, how we’ll be able to try to reduce the debt that we have. I mean the UDP alone just of late over the past year has borrowed almost a billion dollars all from paper from Central Bank and it’s unsustainable. We have to fix it and we can only fix it with our partners of which both the Public Service Union and the Teachers Union they are our partners and we have to do it together, it’s not myself or them but all of us together as to how we’re going to fix it.”
Reporter: Is there any truth to the government recently acquiring a fleet of vehicles for CEOs and Minister?
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “That is not true. We have acquired five vehicles for a total of I think $360,000 and the reason that we did that is because simply the previous government sold all of the good vehicles and the vehicles that they left are junk that you can’t use. Many of us are using our own private vehicles, I am using my own vehicle I have not had the government buy a vehicle for me simply because we don’t have the money. So we cannot be buying luxurious vehicles I mean when I hear that people in the opposition and some in the media are saying that we have bought vehicles that are costing over $200,000 that’s an absolute lie. We have been buying these small vehicles like the Rav4s but in the Ford brand which are cheaper than Toyotas because we need to keep the cost down. Some CEOs have decided to buy their own vehicle and they’re paying for that it’s not the government that is paying that because then with the vehicle allowance that is what they use to be able to pay for their own vehicles. We do not have the money to splurge and we’re doing everything possible to ensure that the little we have we spend it where it’s needed most and it’s not in vehicles.”
Of course the House Meeting would not be complete with some fireworks. Those, however, were contained as the Speaker of the House Valerie Woods had to put her foot down and return order to the house. We bring a snippet of the exchange involving Leader of the Opposition Patrick Faber.