Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2019. 9:51 am CST.
By Aaron Humes: Ahead of next week’s debate of the 2019 General Revenue and Appropriation Bill, the Senate met to deal with other matters arising from last Friday’s meeting of the House of Representatives.
As announced at that meeting, Government has acquired 40 million dollars from the Kuwaiti Fund to partially finance the second phase of the upgrading of the Caracol Road, covering 26 miles and including asphalting, lighting, drainage and reconstructing bridges. Separately, thirty-six point five million U.S. dollars has been secured from the Caribbean Development Bank for the rehabilitation of thirty-four miles of the Coastal Road. The loans have been both questioned and championed. Detractors like Leader of the Opposition, John Briceño, say the money can be better used elsewhere. Supporters believe the new roads will not only benefit tourism and other established industries and create jobs and more livelihoods.
At Wednesday’s meeting, noted financial critic of the Government, Senator Mark Lizarraga, reiterated that there needs to be justification of the Government’s priorities as regards infrastructure, as opposed to sugar and farmers roads in the north and west or other streets in other areas. Estimating the cost to be about three million dollars per mile, he questioned if the same result could not be gotten by keeping the road properly graded as it is not considered a highly-trafficked road.
Opposition Senator Paul Thompson suggested that reducing poverty, fighting crime and unemployment, housing, and education should be higher priorities. He claimed that the unemployment rate is only measured at 9.3% because “people have just stopped looking for jobs.”
Of concern for trade union and civil society Senator, Elena Smith, is the debt, which she reminded that workers will have to pay back one way or another. She also insisted that to question these loans is not to be against infrastructure and development, but in favor of priorities.
Opposition Senator Valerie Woods questioned whether the feasibility studies for each project have been completed, suggesting that in one case there was a signing for such a study some sixteen months ago.
But the Government’s senators counseled their opponents to look on the bright side. Senator Aldo Salazar cited improvement of the communities along the road, better access to the Chiquibul for tourists and the Belize Defense Force; in the case of the Coastal Road, he cited better access to the South, saving on fuel costs and alternative routes for citrus and shipping.
On the Coastal Road, Dr. Carla Barnett, UDP Senator, a former vice-president of the Caribbean Development Bank, made note that the C.D.B. has a particular design and approval process that must be followed for projects to be concerned. She also mentioned that the engineering designs for the road take into account the need to ensure climate resilience.
The loan motions have been approved and will now go to the Governor General for final assent.
BBN will take a more in-depth look at the Government’s plans for each road in future articles.
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