Posted: Thursday, March 5, 2020. 8:50 am CST.
By Aaron Humes: Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who also acts as Minister of Finance, is expected to present the General Revenue and Appropriations Bill 2020-21, also known as the Budget, during today’s sitting of the House of Representatives in Belmopan.
It is expected to be his last in both capacities.
It has been a more disappointing year than expected, as, after a strong start with 5.2 percent growth in the first quarter of 2020, gross domestic product declined increasingly over the latter three quarters. Two consecutive quarters of GDP decline means that Belize is officially in a recession.
The agricultural industry suffered from a combination of problems including a drought that blighted corn, sugar and other agriculture crops as well as pastures for cattle, while tourism growths slowed due to hits from high-profile incidents of crime and vehicular accidents.
The promised help to farmers has been slow in coming. The the land amnesty approved late last year was extended to the end of March this year and should bolster government revenues a bit.
And while the Government’s infrastructure boom proceeds apace, unemployment has taken a turn up to above 10 percent in September.
With a general election looming and the Opposition re-energized, the Prime Minister will be hoping to avoid raising taxes even though there may be a deficit in revenue generated. In at least two recent budgets Government has had to raise revenue from re-balanced taxes including on vice consumption (cigarettes and alcohol), electricity consumption and data consumption.
The trade unions are awaiting the Government’s response on making specific provisions in the Budget for anti-corruption measures such as the Integrity Commission and UNCAC.
The Opposition hopes to topple the Government before its time with a motion of no confidence but this is not expected to generate enough votes.
Prime Minister Barrow had targeted this milestone budget presentation to beat his trumpet and maybe even use it as a potential time to announce general elections. However, it is believed that he will wait until the United Democratic Party has picked his potential successor in April before he calls the elections.
We will have more from the National Assembly through the course of the day.
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