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Prime Minister warns of COVID-19 relief audit following question on whether programs will continue

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Posted: Saturday, February 6, 2021. 4:51 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: Prime Minister and Minister of Finance John Briceño has warned that unlike his predecessors, his Government will account for every dollar spent in COVID-19 relief under both administrations.

He was responding to an official question by Mesopotamia area representative Moses “Shyne” Barrow, who wanted to know what was the plan for such relief to continue after hints by the Ministry of Human Development that relief was only budgeted for until the end of the current financial year.

The P.M. pointed fingers at Barrow himself, saying he was one of several supporters of the United Democratic Party allowed to direct relief funds when his father, Dean Barrow, was in office. Briceño said he found it strange not only that such a question would be asked of him by the younger Barrow, but that he did not direct such questions to the elder Barrow and uncle and predecessor as area representative, Michael Finnegan.

After some prodding by House Speaker Valerie Woods, the Prime Minister revealed that some $7.9 million was found to keep the program going until the end of the financial year. But there should have been, even more, he said, were it not for alleged squandering of the resources by giving out the monies to UDP supporters and cronies, with 3 or 4 members in one family getting pantry and even Mickey and Minnie Mouse lined up.

The Unemployment Relief Program funds, the P.M. further complained, was “bankrupted” after debit cards were given to voters in exchange for their vote, only to find there was no money.

The “grocery bags” will be given out starting this coming week to the neediest Belizeans, and next week will start the rollout of the Belize COVID-19 Cash Transfer Program, supporting 21 thousand households nationwide with funds from the World Bank.

“Madam Speaker, we are doing the best we can under the dire circumstances the UDP [left this country in],” Briceño said, noting the re-opening of the Commercial Free Zone which would help 800 families in Corozal District. And the re-opening is being smartly done, with an emphasis on testing that wasn’t seen under the previous administration, as the country learns to live and work with the disease, he added.

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