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Reflecting on the 2020-2021 budget speech and Belize’s economy…Between these lines

Posted: Monday, March 9, 2020. 8:30 pm CST.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News. 

By Glenn Tillett: Between these lines …
I tried to listen to Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s budget speech, but his florid language had me zoning out at times and I finally tuned out. His insistence on excoriating the 1998-2008 Musa administration as a basis for praising his administration’s efforts as significant progress is a turn off for non-partisans like me who simply prefer facts to rhetoric.

Today more than ever, I want factual comparative analyses and less of the cherry-picking. It is time for that serious business because the circumstances and events dominating world affairs right about now are anxiety-producing. My unease grows daily, and more and more uncertainty is the order of the day.
I agree with the knock on the past PUP administration that insists that it should admit to its more egregious mistakes, and that there should be a truth commission type exercise to determine more precisely the scope of alleged corruption in the ballooning of our national debt.

Such an admission should go along with an examination of the doubling of our economy as measured by GDP per capita, the fastest growth rate ever in our history. It is time to dispense with the near-naked lie that Belize has nothing show for that historic increase in the national debt which was accompanied if not resulted in a historic economic increase.

Twice during the Barrow administration, the figures would show you and him, if you cared to look, that we took steps backward economically and that our economy grew far slower overall than during the previous administration. This is not a criticism, just a critical comment.
The economy went into recession following the 2009 world economic crisis which was as a consequence of oil and energy prices skyrocketing to unprecedented levels, the implosion of the US housing market and the international financial markets crashing. Since then the Belize economy grew slowly but steadily in part on the infusion of infrastructural spending courtesy of the Barrow administration roll-it policy of spending 100s of millions of PetroCaribe debt.

In 2015-2017 the Belize economy again went into mild recession and the Barrow administration, perhaps because it is facing a tough re-election fight, has again embarked on a huge infrastructure spending program that will again add hundreds of millions of dollars to our national debt. And again, this is not a criticism just a critical comment.
Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic is crippling travel and tourism, having already provoked a huge decline in the financial markets worldwide. Belize has grown dependent on tourism even as it has seen a decline in our traditional agro-exports. There is also the perception that we are nearing the point of exhaustion of the sale of our real estate, that is to say our land, which has been beset by mega scandals particularly in recent years.

In my opinion, Belize managed to sail relatively unscathed through the 2009 crash in large part because the Musa administration had been forced by the insurrectionist 2005 G7 movement to change its public fiscal policy course and tighten its sails. As oil and energy prices started seemingly inexorably to rise by 2006 it further implemented more conservative policies that further reined in public expenditure and stopped the growth of public indebtedness. And while tourism slowed appreciably due to the world economic turmoil, our then mainstay agro-exports remained comparatively stable.

I am disquieted because our former mainstay agro-exports are declining, and while our services industry has continued to grow, a sharp decline in tourism as is forecast due to the pandemic could be crippling.
Let me end here by saying that I am not an economist, I am just a citizen observer, unlettered and untrained. My conclusions from my observations cannot be comprehensive but your feedback my dear readers, will provoke a wider discussion, increased consideration, and greater understanding.


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