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Senators debate loan for food assistance program

The members of the Senate convened today at the National Assembly where they discussed various loan motions. Several senators stood up to debate a ten million US dollar from the OPEC Fund for International Development.

The members of the Senate convened today at the National Assembly where they discussed various loan motions. Several senators stood up to debate a ten million US dollar from the OPEC Fund for International Development. The money is intended for the extension of the food pantry program across the country. Senator Mark Lizarraga rose to speak on transparency as it relates to these loans, and encouraged the government to ensure the money is being used for its intended purpose and that it benefits all that are in need rather than a select few.

Mark Lizarraga, Senator for Business: “This is not free money this money has a cost, there’s a three percent cost. We’re borrowing this money from the OPEC Fund for International Development and it’s going to have to be repaid the people of Belize will have to repay this money so I urge again as did the IMF in it’s recent country report on Belize just issued in July which covered the period up to January of this year where it called for us to be transparent and open in a lot of the programs that we have, in a lot of things that we do, how we account for and how we express and how we explain especially to parliament. And it goes as far as saying the details, the same details that we keep asking for and it recommends that those details should be given so that we could gladly comment, help, critique if we have to but all in an effort to improve on the existing program and to make the existing programs more transparent and more accountable. I understand that they’re trying to ear mark a lot of these funds just by hearsay, what you hear in public and what I heard in the house, that we’re going to have more aid to the people in the rural communities now. I don’t know what network of suppliers mean because I don’t even know how you get on to the network of suppliers and we’ve had many comments from the business community “How do you pick people. How do people get on this list. How do you qualify to be on this list?” and the details surrounding that. We’ve heard many comments I get a lot of calls on this issue about the lack of total transparency in the handling of these programs you hear a lot on social media and in the news that it appears that persons of a particular political persuasion seem to have first preference of benefiting from these programs whilst others have not benefited.”

Senator Elena Smith also rose to speak on a number of concerns.

Elena Smith, Senator for Unions: “The concern that we have Mr.President is really and truly some that have been raised by my colleagues before but I will nonetheless still mention them. So one of things that they spoke about was the matter of transparency and accountability as we go about with these loans and as we share with us those of us who are here information regarding these motions of these loans and what else comes before us. The other issue that they raised was the concern regarding persons who should be getting the assistance who might not get the assistance for various reasons and in their view one of those reasons would be due to political alliance if you will or political support. They also raised the concern as it relates to the matter of the campaign, the awareness campaign because we do recognize that while we are seeing on the television almost on a daily basis we are hearing on the news what is happening with COVID we still have persons who are not taking this matter seriously and because they’re not doing so they endanger the lives of other persons. The rural areas as was mentioned are really in need of the support but also of the education especially noting Mr.President that in another two weeks schools are expected to reopen and these border jumpers as we refer to them can create serious issues within our schools for our teachers and our students. So the matter of an education and awareness campaign is quite fitting and one that is despite the fact that we think people know we see that they are behaving in a manner that is showing that they may know but they might not be fully understanding the effects of what can happen when they cross borders to come around.”

Senator Osamany Salas rose to debate the loan motion, saying that there will be no funds allocated to public education. He emphasized the importance of the education, as many persons are still engaging in dangerous activities such as border jumping. However, the Attorney General, Michael Peyrifitte, stood up to say that providing needy families with food is more important than spending money educating border jumpers, who are essentially criminals.

We will have more on today’s Senate meeting in tomorrow’s newscast.