The Senate sat in session today at the National Assembly where concerns and clarifications regarding the budget for the fiscal year 2016/2017 were aired. The session began a few minutes before ten o’clock with Eamon Courtenay being officially sworn in as a PUP Senator. Senator Macario Coy was the first to speak and he opened his presentation addressing the comments made by Pastor Scott Stirm as they relate to the Garifuna culture and expressing solidarity with the Garifuna, saying that the Mayas are standing shoulder to shoulder with them as he pressed for an apology to the Garifuna from Pastor Stirm. Next in line was Senator Mark Lizarraga; he spoke on several concerns on the budget figures, outputs and lack thereof coming out of several ministries as well as the absence of compliance within some Government ministries.
“As you know program budgeting is an opportunity for ministries and government to tell us what it is that they intend to do with the monies that we give them in taxes. They identify targets and at the end of the year they give us measurable outcomes, what it is they did with the money, what they did achieve. This is helpful for the citizens of this country really to know what it is that our government it truly saying that they are going to do. What I found extremely concerning was that most of the Ministries were very deficient in complying with identifying what it is they wanted to provide as far as goods and services or targets, what it is that they measurably will achieve by spending our millions of dollars. I highlighted some Ministries that were very compliant and I highlighted Ministries that were totally non compliant. The Ministries under the Honorable Godwin Hulse I was very pleased and I congratulated him that he was totally compliant in filling in and identifying in the budget exercise what it is that he was going to be spending his money on and what it is that we we could measure at the end of the budget year to see what he has achieved. I was very disappointed that in the Ministry responsible for the budget the Ministry of Finance and Cabinet they were totally non compliant and did not tell us what they intended to achieve for the spending of their monies. So there were other examples that I gave as well but for the most part it can be said that program budgeting, the spirit of program budgeting has not been grasped by the vast majority of the Ministries and they still remain partially compliant or non compliant in setting targets that we can measure, in setting objectives that we can clearly say at the end of a budget year this is what they wanted to do and this is what they actually did with our money.
While Senator Mark Lizarraga commended Senator for Government Business, Godwin Hulse for keeping his ministries in-line, Hulse did comment on the matter, saying who is responsible to ensure compliance within the various ministries.
“The compliance matter – that is a Ministry by Ministry issue and clearly the CEOs sit down with their finance officers. My ministries have always been compliant; when I was Minister of Labor and local government Senator Shoman raised the matter that we were compliant and we were compliant again. I really can’t tell you what happens in the other Ministries but I know in our Ministry, both Ministries that I have managed so far we ensure that at budget time that our people get together, do the strategic work, all the details and items because we take that seriously, I’m not suggesting that the other Ministries don’t take it seriously. As you know the Ministries were phased in, some before others, it is my understanding that all should be reporting, that is as much as I can say with respect to that.”
As we mentioned, today’s sitting was to address the budget that was presented in last week’s house meeting. Senator Lizarraga, who represents the private sector, spoke on the limited inclusion of the private sector in this budget as he highlighted the some, one hundred and twenty two thousand dollars allotted for the private sector.
“Government has recognized that the primary sector, the agricultural sector and the secondary sector are not performing as well. The secondary sector being manufacturing etc. But while they identified and while we continue to depend mostly on services, the tertiary sector there is absolute silence as to what is going to be done to stimulate the primary and secondary sectors in this country so that we can hire these thousands of students that come out of school every year so that we can move some of those 43% of the people that live in poverty out of poverty. The Ministries responsible for economic development and private sector liaising are extremely silent as to how it is that they plan to stimulate this growth in the private sector, how it is they plan to give us this boost. An example that was very disappointing and highlighted it was that this $50 million dollars in new taxes that is being generated from the taxes in fuel could have been a much needed stimulus to the productive sector and to the private sector. While we are being taxed and while this new tax was put on us I made mention that we are being taxed almost 35% of GDP in other words almost .35 cents of all the goods and services that we produce in this country on a yearly basis goes to the government in revenue. That is extremely high, that makes us uncompetitive and here government had an opportunity to put us on a level playing field with the rest of countries around us that we have to compete against their price of fuel went down, ours remained high, that does not help our competitiveness as a nation. So if we want to shrink this trade deficit we all have to work at being efficient, we all have to work at lowering our taxes, saving money and making Belize a more competitive country in anyway that we can but if we have government consuming a huge portion of our GDP it does not help any at all for us to be competitive.”
Senator Godwin Hulse however rebutted by speaking of how the private sector will be included in the budget and will see some benefits in this 2016/2017 fiscal year.
“Well I don’t agree at all because clearly the budget has increased in some $60 million dollars in recurring revenue and that is pensions etc. and where does that money go? That’s money in people’s hand to shop and go right back to the private sector so clearly there is a tremendous increase and also when you look at capital 2 and capital 3 that money generally goes back to the private sector so I don’t know where the honorable gentleman is coming from. I hope he is not suggesting that government should have some hand out to the private sector, that is not how it works. So government collects taxes and as long as those taxes are spent domestically generally it goes back to the private sector, a very small portion ever goes externally in this matter so I don’t really support that comment at all.”
Also making presentations this morning were Senators Elena Smith, Pastor Ashley Rocke, Valerie Woods and Stephen Duncan. The Senate continued throughout this afternoon with each Senator having 45 to 60 minutes for their presentation. The session ended just after five o’clock.