Posted: Tuesday, March 26, 2019. 10:58 am CST.
Posted: Tuesday, March 26, 2019. 10:39a.m. CST.
By Aaron Humes: Spreading around more than a billion dollars is never easy, but the Opposition People’s United Party has presented sharp criticisms of where the Government has chosen to invest more or less.
In his opening address, Leader of the Opposition John Briceño said he reflected, as the Prime Minister Dean Barrow asked in his presentation ten days ago, on the more than 150 thousand employed in the labour force, of which between 15 and 16 thousand are public and security officers.
According to the budget as quoted by Briceño, the government plans to spend more for telephone calls at the busy Ministry of Works ($280,000) than fire hydrants ($197,000), covering vehicle and vehicle maintenance.
The Ministry of Works also gets $2.5 million under Capital II poverty alleviation, but last year spent about half that ($1.1 million). The Food Pantry pays out nothing for the Cayo, Stann Creek and Toledo but $3.5 million for Belize City, mostly Southside.
Asked Briceño, “How can we explain to the Belizean people the fact that we have a budget that intends to invest 21 million dollars in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and only spend eight million, eight hundred and six thousand; nine hundred and thirty-six dollars in the Ministry of Agriculture? Where are our priorities?”
And the hits kept on coming. In the area of oversight, the Auditor General’s office will send home at least ten percent of staff when as Briceño noted, more personnel is needed, not less, in order to properly investigate the various sins of the U.D.P. administration.
The Office of the Contractor General has remained vacant since 2018, when government dropped Godwin Arzu who failed to submit six annual reports during his term of office. Contracts have instead been directed to the Solicitor General’s office for revision.
The Opposition is equally troubled by the fact that Belize Infrastructure Limited, BIL, has not been (publicly) audited since its establishment in 2012. During the budget debate, Lake Independence Area Representative Cordel Hyde maintained that it should be the Auditor General’s office that handles these audits.
Former Prime Minister Said Musa targeted foreign affairs, questioning plans to open a Belizean embassy in Caracas, Venezuela when Belize owes more than 400 million dollars or 16 percent of the national debt and has not presented any plans to pay.
The Ministry also claims the establishment of a new call center in Chicago, Illinois, prompting Musa to ask humorously, “Now what is that call center supposed to be doing in Chicago? Is it collecting for visas and passports or what is it doing? I ask myself. Perhaps the minister can explain all these things when he comes to make his presentation.”
Today, Cayo South area representative Julius Espat made note of cuts in the Judiciary (losing more than 800 million from an already slender million plus budget) and other misplaced priorities, charging that Government has created a “budget of the haves” and against the have-nots.
With higher prices and stagnant wages, Espat said, the Government cannot justify its choices and priorities, and as it comes to the end of its third term, it is burdened and haunted by those choices – which impact the nation.
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