Saudi Loan Agreement for Tertiary Level Care Hospital Sparks Debate in the Senate
Belize’s Senate convened today in Belmopan where several national matters were brought from the House of Representatives for ratification. The first to be tabled this morning was a twenty million dollar loan motion for the Development Finance Corporation (DFC). The loan will be gotten from the Social Security Board, a move that the lead opposition Senator, Michael Peyrefitte, condemned. According to Peyrefitte, this loan motion spells disaster, and is an indication that the Briceno administration is having trouble living up to the economic success they have been boasting.
Michael Peyrefitte, Senator: “Certain things just make you, without looking at any detail, just make you wanna object right away as you hear certain things, you get nervous. There’s a Holy Trinity Madam President, and there’s also an Unholy Trinity and that unholy Trinity comprises the PUP, DFC and SSB. Whenever any Belizean hears those three together we get nervous. We Tremble. We worry, we wonder what now ? Because nothing good ever comes out of that trinity when done by the PUP, which is redundant because they’re in the trinity. Madam President my first question to this motion is why? Why? Why? Why does the DFC need to borrow $20 million from Social Security Board? I don’t understand it. It’s not a little bit of money, but it’s not a hell of a lot of money to finance one of the central characteristics of this government’s promise to the people.
Because this money will be dispersed over a period of two years from how I read the motion. And so the question is, why can’t the government just simply budget for this money over the next two years or the next two to three years? Why do you need to borrow the money? Leave the Social Security Board’s money man you can’t help yourselves. The Social Security Board should be investing in public utilities. The Social Security Board should be investing in treasury bills, safe investments. The DFC has proven to be not safe investment.
Something always comes up short at DFC under the PUP. And so you are putting $20 million of people’s future to finance the DFC, which and I repeat Madam President, is not necessary. During the budget debate I heard the Prime Minister say that Belize man greater than Muhammad Ali. Rolling in money, we do better than everybody in the Western Hemisphere except Guyana or something like that. The IMF is proud of us and the IMF said we are doing good so why do we need to borrow $20 million Belize dollars over the next two years when we can just budget for that money? A lot of boassy. A lot of big talk from this government about how unemployment is so low and all of this and all of that, and yet you come to the National Assembly to borrow $20 million from Social Security Board. This government, Madam President, is like the man that’s dressed up that the bar but can’t even buy a drink at the bar. $20 million over two to three years is something a government shouldn’t have to borrow. We got $80 million plus two consecutive years from Taiwan just to help with budgetary support. $160 million dollars free money, and we have to borrow, well, nothing in life is totally free senator, but practically free. And yet we have to borrow $20 million. Come on, man. DFC borrowing from Social Security Board ? You are admitting then that you do not have the ability to make money, not even the most minimal of money over the next couple years to support this housing program. So Madam President for me there’s no justification for this loan. There is no need for this loan and this loan smells like disaster and it will be disastrous as time goes by.”
Government Senator Christopher Coye rose after Peyrefitte, and highlighted the benefits of the DFC loan. According to Coye, in thirteen years that the UDP was government, the DFC had lost twelve million dollars. Additionally, he highlighted the progress and improvements that the DFC has shown over the past two years.
Christopher Coye, Minister of State, Ministry of Finance: “It is particularly interesting that the SSB itself sees this as an opportunity for them. This is a decision by the SSB to lend to the DFC because they find that the DFC is managing its affairs properly. In fact rather than losing money the DFC has now turned a profit. In 2022 the DFC has turned over $1,000,000 in profit while at the same time improving efficiencies at its operations and improving the quality of service, the responsiveness of the DFC to its customers. The residential portfolio now comprises over 835 loans for a value of roughly $40 million, that’s a growth of over 64% in residential zones. The DFC in fact had just been awarded by the Latin American Association of Development Finance Institutions for its empowering women empowering business Loans for 2022. This association represents development finance institutions from all over the Latin America and Caribbean and Belize’s little DFC was able to win an award amongst all those countries. When we look at the finances of DFC not only has it substantially turned around, substantially improved, but now you see institutions besides the SSB seeing it fit to provide finance to the DFC that includes the IDB for $30 million that includes Taiwan direct for another $10 million, that includes the Caribbean Development Bank for another $12 million and these aren’t limited to only residential programs these go across the board. The government prioritizes MSME’s and $30 million has been set aside for MSME’s through the IDB.”
Lead Senator for the Government, Eamon Courtenay, also rose to speak on why the loan for the DFC is important for small businesses. He also spoke on the level of transparency that has been brought to the DFC through a careful selection of the Board of Directors. Of course, he also took this opportunity to lash at the the past administration and the little they had done in the housing sector.
Senator Eamon Courtenay, Leader of Gov. Business: “ I listened with a little bit of amusement to Senator Peyrefitte raising his objection to this loan. The first point to be made is that it is entirely understandable why he would object to this loan. He represents a political party that governed this country for 13 years and didn’t build one house. Millions approved by the Senate for the Ministry of Housing nothing to show for it. They have an opacity for housing, a lack of vision for housing but more seriously a lack of appreciation of the basic needs of the Belizean people. This People’s United Party government has a commitment to build houses for the people of this country and whether you support it or not we will do it. Once again you hear an unholy Trinity. PUP, Social Security, DFC. The DFC law, the DFC Act was amended in order to address abuses based on a Senate inquiry. The board of directors madam president who Senator Peyrefitte accused of being involved in an unholy alliance, an unholy trinity, consists of a person not holding the office of emoluments in the public service appointed by the Prime Minister that’s one. 3 government representatives, the Financial Secretary, CEO ministry of Economic Development, CEO Ministry of Agriculture that’s four are you counting? 3 + 1= 4. Five, representatives of the private sector nominated by the following organizations: Chamber of Commerce, Bar Association, Institute of Chartered Accountants, and one person nominated by the Association of Tertiary Level institutions and one person nominated by the Belize Credit Union League. Five. Madam President, members of the Senate the point of the matter is that government does not have a majority on the board. Senator Peyrefitte is – count five and four take your time- Senator Peyrefitte is here accusing people of being in unholy trinity. People from Chamber of Commerce Senator Herrera listen. Institute of Chartered Accountants, Bar Association, these are the people who he is accusing of being in an unholy trinity. I say again Madam President as has been pointed out by Senator Coye the Development Finance Corporation is not only making a profit but it is being proudly managed by a competent board and a competent staff of professionals and we on this side, the government senators are proud of the work that they are doing.”
The twenty million dollar loan is for a 25-year period.