By BBN Staff: Prime Minister Dean Barrow in his latest New Year’s address noted outright the difficult challenges facing Belize as 2016 comes to a close and 2017 sets in. Barrow described 2016 as having more than the usual set of challenges. Barrow blamed the country’s economic woes on cyclical and disease induced downturn in agriculture, Hurricane Earl and de-risking. He referred to the country’s three quarter recession as mild.
Barrow also once again placed blame for the nearly half a billion dollar BTL nationalization settlement on the Accommodation Agreement signed by the former PUP administration for making up 60 percent of the final settlement award. Barrow concluded that the benefits of the company more than made up for the overwhelming public cost. He said it vindicated his government.
He harked on the teachers strike in October saying it kept children out of classes and put a strain on the relationship between government and the union. But in Barrow’s entire address, lasting more than 10 minutes, Barrow never once addressed the issues Belizeans face with the Guatemalans at the Sarstoon. He offered no commentary on the fishing regulations recently implemented by Guatemala in Belizean waters.
Instead, the PM pointed to the infrastructural successes of his administration through the past year. He spoke of several sporting complexes being built, the fixing of sugar roads, the rehabilitation of several highways and the $17 Million renovation of the Sir Barry Bowen municipal airport.
Barrow noted large private sector investment including the opening of Harvest Caye and its economic benefits for villages like Independence, Placencia and Monkey River that occurred in 2016. He noted a $22 Million expansion at the Philip Goldson International Airport, the growth of investment in shrimp farms, the opening of operations at Santander and the construction of 800 new hotel rooms. He also noted new airline routes from Canada to Belize. He said these were signs of growth in Belize.
He also said the the country’s greatest pleasure should be a UNICEF quality of life survey which reported that 96 percent of Belizean households have access to better drinking water, 92 percent to electricity and 87 percent to sanitation services. He said 9 out of 10 Belizeans reported a high level of life satisfaction and 3 out of every 4 persons between the ages 15-24 felt the quality of their life improved in 2016.
Barrow advised Belizeans to maintain optimism through the difficulties and described 2016 as a mixed bag which included progress with problems.
He said government expects a full national recovery in 2017. According to the PM, the Central Bank is expecting economic expansion of 3.5 percent with growth in tourism, farming of shrimp, corn and banana. He said public servants, including teachers, soldiers and nurses will receive their 3 percent salary increase with interest, and that this latest increase brings the total raise to 23 percent over 4 years.
According to the Prime Minister, the new year will see government trying to put public finances and debt management in order by restructuring the Superbond. He said this would involve budget cuts but did not elaborate. He said while the new budget would cut spending it would also boast increased revenue. He added that though there is fat to trim and money to be collected it would not weaken governments pro-poor and education programs. He pledged to continue the food pantry Boost program.
Barrow also promised two new clinics and three new health centers for Cayo in 2017. He said dozens of new rural class rooms would be built. The economic rebound would see the construction of the new Caracol road, the Link road connecting the Philip Goldson and George Price highways, the new Haulover bridge and the paving of the Coastal road.
Barrow said tourism is expected to grow with new hotel investments, the introduction of new airline routes from Fort Lauderdale, Denver, and possibly Mexico City as a direct flight from Mexico City to Belize through a Mexican carrier is being negotiated.
But to go along with economic reform Barrow said there would be political and social reform. He assured that the Belize dollar is amply backed by enough foreign reserves and is strongly anchored to the 2:1 peg. He pointed to the installation of the Integrity Commission, the signing of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, and the commencement date of the appointment for the 13th senator as signs of his government’s commitment to reform.
The closest Barrow came to addressing the issue with Guatemala is when he spoke of national security, only saying GOB has provided the BDF and coast guards with new helicopters and boats.
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