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2019-2020 budget avoids new taxes, P.M. hails economic rebound

Posted: Friday, March 15,2019. 1:40 p.m. CST.

By Aaron Humes:Prime Minister Dean Barrow and his Government colleagues were incautiously celebratory mood this morning in Belmopan, as he was able to report that by statistical metrics, Belize has turned the corner economically and is now looking to “Move Ahead,” the official theme of this year’s Budget.

Gross Domestic Product is now an estimated $4 billion dollars, grown by as much as 3.4 percent through 3 quarters of 2018 and projected to be 3.1 percent for the entire year (the Central Bank forecasted 2 percent and measured an even three percent.) This, said Barrow, outperformed both projected internal and regional forecasts.

 Tourism and service industries pulled the national cart, with overnight arrivals passing 400,000 and cruise ship arrivals going above 1 million for the first time ever. This outperformed the agriculture sector, paced as per usual by sugar and a rebounding shrimp industry offsetting falls in banana and citrus exports.

On the national debt, now standing at $3.6 billion, Barrow drew comparisons with the Opposition’s handling of debt, which he said nearly doubled in percentage of GDP whereas under the UDP it has only grown 5.8 percent, with more multilateral and bilateral arrangements rather than commercial banks.

Turning to the Budget itself, the primary surplus sits at 2.2 percent of GDP and the overall deficit at 0.3 percent of GDP even as projected GDP growth falls below 3 percent in the next term.

Barrow said, “our priorities for the Budget for FY2019/2020 are to continue to provide resources for investments in roads and bridges, for education and health, for poverty alleviation and for citizen security and defense; and to do all this while maintaining our commitment to fiscal and debt sustainability.”

Total revenue and grants amount to $1.226 billion compared to $1.256 billion in expenditure.

In capital expenditure, some $179.2 million is allocated, almost $75 million for Capital 2 projects and the remainder in Capital 3.

Projects covered include $12 million to the Ministry of Works to meet counterpart financing for various externally funded projects; another $12 million for land acquisition payments; and $5.0 million to commence construction of a new office complex in the Lake I area of Belize City, and $43.7 million for a number of smaller projects.  $64 million for Capital 3 projects include funding for works on three major highways, the new Haulover Bridge among others.

And the Prime Minister announced funding being committed from Taiwan for $100 million for the road from Corozal Town to the seaside village of Sarteneja, and $30 million from the Kuwaiti fund for the road from Orange Walk Town to Progresso village.

Additional financing for the Budget will come from Taiwan, funds for Capital 3 expenditure and domestic borrowing without dipping for more taxes.

But the Prime Minister had his complaints as well. In addition to settling the NEWCO and GDG Acquisitions/Intelco debts, the Supreme Court’s recent decision, being appealed, to allow the Belize Bank Limited to offset taxes owed against the UHS judgment issued in 2017, came in for the stick. Also pilloried was the European Union’s recent decision to “blacklist” Belize by the European Union’s Code of Conduct Group after harmful tax practices had been thought to have been cured by previous amendments to legislation, only to be told it was not enough. Further legislation was introduced and passed through at today’s meeting.

 But the Prime Minister concluded that Belize would continue to move forward together.

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