Wednesday, April 29th, 2015. Aaron Humes Reporting: On Tuesday, Prime Minister Dean Barrow gave the press a preview of his arguments to be presented today in defense of his actions with regard to the Petrocaribe Loan Program and the recent passage of the Petrocaribe Loan Act, 2015.
Today he mounted that defense with the gusto resulting from successive election victories and the feeling of confidence that inspires. In explaining the origin of the Act the Prime Minister indicated that while they had already gone to the House of Representatives seeking approval under the Finance and Audit Reform Act, the uniqueness of Petrocaribe necessitated a return. The Act, says the Prime Minister applies more going forward than it does retrospectively, since Government already has retrospective approval through its supplementary allocations and motions – and now is secure in putting its spending out in the public eye and under the thumb of the National Assembly and even the Audit Department when needed.
Later in his presentation P.M. Barrow quoted figures fast and furious as to how the monies were spent – millions here, millions there, $126 million everywhere and much more to come, mostly in road infrastructure projects and sports centers as well as in the National Bank. But in an effort to show the Government’s prudence and recognition of the possible finality of this boon, the P.M. announced concrete plans in relation to savings for payment of the expected compensation for nationalized Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) and Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL).
All monies in current financial year – April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016, will be set aside both for this purpose and, after 2017, provide funds for buying back the Superbond commercial debt and reducing obligations therein. In discussing why the Government chose to spend the monies obtained thus far mostly on infrastructure rather than other social services, the Prime Minister said he was open to other options, but retained the final say. Rollouts of programs involving Petrocaribe funds will begin in several majority rural constituencies, many led by the PUP, in the coming months.
The Prime Minister also reported on gifts to the Citrus Growers Association (CGA), which has resolved its internal dispute over the running of Citrus Products of Belize Limited (CPBL) after Government intervention, and paid back a sum borrowed last year for financial purposes. It is now asking the Government for another share of that money of about $4 million, of which the Government has committed half and gone to Heritage Bank for the remainder, though it is prepared to cover the entire amount.
On hand to express thanks was CGA director and chair of the part-owner of CPBL CGA Investment Company Limited, Denzil Jenkins who reiterated that this is a worthy investment for the Government as the citrus industry looks to take advantage of favorable world prices.
And there will soon be an ecumenical chapel on the grounds of the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital to be built from Petrocaribe monies, as asked for by the Belize Council of Churches and Evangelical Association of Churches.
But none of it fazes the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP). While they have officially given the Prime Minister 21 days to repeal the 2015 Petrocaribe Loans Act, the PUP took the opportunity provided by today’s Prime Ministerial press conference in Belize City to create the first major political showdown after their thumping electoral losses this year and against the backdrop of coming elections. Leading a group of about 200 protestors in front of the Belize Biltmore Plaza Hotel, PUP leader Francis Fonseca reiterated the party’s stance that the Act is wrong for Belize and represents a government determined to buy its way into a third term, ignoring the call of Belizeans who are more interested in upholding the rule of law and democracy in Belize.
Fonseca says the UDP have abandoned and left aside those who helped bring it to power in 2008 on the triple towers of accountability, transparency and good governance. Both he and incumbent standard bearers such as Belmopan’s Patrick Andrews, Lake Independence’s Cordel Hyde and Orange Walk Central’s Johnny Briceno say they continue to oppose not the program itself but its implementation.
Andrews cited as an example this week’s news of a rodent infestation at the Western Regional Hospital’s storage unit in Belmopan. The news has frightened and outraged some given a hospital’s necessity for cleanliness. Andrews pointed out that this is not the first incident of uncleanliness at that hospital and an example of Government’s lack of priorities.
The Ministry of Health continues its investigation of the incident.
Hyde cited high poverty rates and low opportunities for education and advancement in his constituency and says the Government has been allowed to feel as if it is infallible and can get away with anything because it has money in apparently unlimited quantities.
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