Posted: Friday, January 3, 2020. 11:14 am CST.
By Aaron Humes: 2020 will be a year of destiny for Belize’s major political parties as they gear up to fight elections due in November.
As it is believed there will be no redistricting of current electoral divisions, 31 will be fought, of which the United Democratic Party holds 19 and the People’s United Party, 12.
Both parties’ leaders, one of whom will be replaced before the election, opened the New Year with the usual contrasting visions of what has gone before and what is to come.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow said Belizeans can be grateful for “the blessings blanketing our nation,” citing diversity, social harmony, and democratic compact, stating that we can be certain that the end of a “good decade” brings the start of a “better one,” citing increased national income, life expectancy and years of schooling.
Despite ravages of drought, the P.M. claimed credit for an estimated 11 thousand new jobs, about half of which came between April and September, and the economy grew by an average of 1.2 percent, with inflation near zero.
The Prime Minister suggested that “Our infrastructure drive is panoramic, nothing short of spectacular, and unmatched in the history of our country. Historians, citizens yet unborn will look back at this era with wonderment, amazed at the boldness and breadth of our administration’s public works program,” adding that more has been spent this decade ($1.5 billion in ten years) than all of the previous half-century combined.
The Prime Minister cited a $50 million finance credit from the World Bank, with $25 million to go to disadvantaged citizens and $25 million to the agriculture industry, particularly small farmers.
Belize will see new direct flights between the Philip Goldson International Airport (PGIA) and London, Washington and New York City, and expansion of trade to Taiwan.
As for citizen security, he promised a “renewed push” by the Police with the installment of cameras, especially in crime hotspots.
In contrast, Leader of the Opposition John Briceño cited “too much crime and violence, way too many road traffic accidents, too little prosperity because of a struggling economy, and too much corruption.” He faulted the Government for a serious failure to keep down murders, with more than 1,200 in 12 years and various atrocities against the vulnerable, and drug planes, which he accused the Government of facilitating at its highest levels.
The various corruption scandals – land acquisition, B.T.L., Sanctuary Bay and many more – did not happen overnight, said Briceño; they were the result of lack of planning and arrogance, and have cost Belize much that could have been used to prop up the dying agriculture sector, the ailing tourism sector, and international attacks on our financial system.
The billions borrowed and paid in taxes have not resulted in value for money in the various infrastructure projects touted by the Prime Minister, he added.
But the Opposition is sharpening its focus on creating the enabling climate for new and good jobs, making government more efficient, education more relevant, and the nation healthier and safer, and Briceño said that 2020 represents an opportunity to “chart a new course.”
Making his pitch to replace his erstwhile friend in the job he holds, Briceño said, “everyone will be called to join in this national effort, to make our communities safer, and we will win the day and make Belize safe again. If we are to enter this second decade of this millennium with a serious commitment to make our country better, then we must work together,” and committed to continued dialogue.
Briceño announced plans to increase the minimum wage to 5 dollars an hour, relieve the overburdened productive sector by modernization and financing.
Elaborating on his opening message of giving thanks and hope, Briceño challenged Belizeans, “This cannot be the year of talking, of wishing, of wanting. This has to be the year we get it done” – it, of course, is returning the P.U.P. to government by year’s end.
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