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Senate meets on finance bills

Thursday, July 02, 2015. BMG: Both Supplementary Allocation Bills and the Petrocaribe Loans Act (Amendment) Bill, 2015, were narrowly passed by the upper chamber of the National Assembly, the Senate, which met in Belmopan.

Executive of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), Adelaida Guerra, was appointed a temporary Senator for this session to replace regular Senator Ray Davis, who was out of the country. She led the criticism of the supplementary spending due to its source – Petrocaribe: “And…. because of the source then we have to take again because the source of this has in the agreement – it has certain things as it’s to be used for. I’ve heard the senator from the business highlighting all the numbers and all of that…. my reason for standing and talking not in favour for this bill because of the Petrocaribe source.

It’s the fact that these projects don’t give us accountability, this paper has one sheet. We don’t see how the 10 million dollars or this whole 51 million dollars will be used.” lizarraga.july1.2015

Senator representing the business community/private sector, Mark Lizarraga, criticized the excessive spending – over $60 million above allocations in the General Revenue and Appropriation Bill or Budget for 2014-15 and 2015-16 – in both Bills, which he said exceeded the time allowed for reporting and seeking approval.

The PUP, represented by Anthony Sylvestre and Lisa Shoman, criticized the Government’s unwillingness to come forward and properly explain the spending other than citing proceeds of Petrocaribe funds as its source. According to Shoman, there is no evidence of that spending when enough people do not have enough to feed their children while their leaders are “wasting” money.

But the Government quickly hit back. Senator Gerardo Sosa asked the social partners to be “fair” in their criticism, because the law authorizes supplementary approval. Leader of Government Business Godwin Hulse disputed the claim that the amount is 10% of the estimates for 2014-2015 as stipulated under the Finance and Audit Reform Act, 2010.

On the Petrocaribe debate, the Senators pored over the bill that the House was not able to do in full due to Opposition members walking out. Senator Lizarraga argued that the amendments “do nothing to strengthen our management of public funds. On the contrary what they do is seek to validate and encourage poor budgeting practices. Mr. President, tax payers, shouldn’t we be concerned when independent reports speak to the failure of this administration to properly manage and account for our monies?”

Senator Shoman argued that there is still a constitutional problem with the borrowing of funds which the amendments do not correct, only say where the money will be kept and what it will be used for.

imagesHowever, UDP Senator Juliet Thimbriel questioned the opponents’ motives, stating that “bitterness and embarrassment” detail their actions. She pointed that the PUP has not been able to say what it did with the $42 million of funds it took charge of in the early stages of the project.

In contrast, says Thimbriel, “We have sugar roads, we have village council that have received funds through petrocaribe to improve their villages. Back to school, mortgage relief, home improvement programmes, ASUS tablet, Jaguar paw upgrading of the road. You remember that you guys did Jaguar paw prior to us? Man the place was broke up, broke up, embarrassing, shameful. We had to go and do Jaguar paw road the proper way with the use of the petrocaribe fund.”

Senator Guerra joined Senator Lizarraga and the PUP’s Shoman, Sylvestre and Patrick Andrews to vote against, while the Government senators and churches Senator the Rev’d. Noel Leslie voted in favour of all three bills, which now go to the Governor General for signing.

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