After consultation meetings with the public and private sectors, the Government of Belize will be presenting its budget for fiscal year 2021/2022 on March 26. In recent weeks Prime Minister John Briceno has been reporting of a five hundred-million-dollar deficit and the need to borrow some one million dollars per day to survive. At the end of the last fiscal year, 2019/2020, the Ministry of Finance had estimated Belize’s total debt at just over three point five-three billion dollars; that’s equivalent to ninety-point-nine percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is a deep financial hole to be in, but one that was expected. Former Prime Minister Dean Barrow described it as a poisoned chalice that was being handed down to the next administration. For context, here is an excerpt of Barrow’s press conference on October 16, 2020.
Rt.Hon. Dean Barrow, Former Prime Minister of Belize: “I’m afraid a poisoned chalice that’s going to be handed to the new Prime Minister but I continue to think that because the international environment will have to facilitate debt relief, will have to facilitate debt relief together with expanded financial assistance.”
Fast forward one hundred and forty-five days later, and the Briceno administration is maneuvering the finances to see how best they can meet the government’s operational expenses without a mass retrenchment. Love News spoke with Prime Minister Briceno this morning who explained that the consultations are necessary as there are no simple solutions to the country’s economic woes. He noted that the consultations are crucial which is why the budget debate is being delayed until early April.
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “The consultations have been extensive. I have met with the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Bureau, the Council of Churches, the Network of NGOs, the agro productive sector, people in tourism, and now we’ve been meeting with the Public Service Union, the Teachers Union, the Senior Public Service with as many people as we can to; first what we’ve been doing is explaining to them what is the situation and then now secondly is to be able to tell them “Well this is what has to be done to be able to move the country forward.” and that is where we are. We should have presented our budget this week but because of the negotiations with the unions, because we’ve been negotiating and meeting with them in good faith we’re extending the discussions with them so that we will be presenting the budget I think it’s next week Friday the 26th of March. We then will have the budget debate I think it’s going to be the 8th of April two days the week after Easter. So we will not be having a budget way into the middle of April and the only reason we’re doing that is simply because we want to ensure that we’re acting in good faith and trying to get the unions to understand what we’re confronting right now and hoping that they will join us in what we are proposing to them as we present our budget next week Friday to the Belizean people.”