Posted: Monday, February 28, 2022. 7:42 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: Prime Minister John Briceno issued his first national address in months, reporting on the recent Cabinet Retreat which came to critical decisions on key national issues.
As we have reported, the joint unions are to be told of the Cabinet’s position on “finding a path to restoring benefits for public officers and teachers” after “significant progress” was made on previous discussions with the unions. Briceno explained that the Cabinet had agreed on a workable compromise which includes restoring the full 10 percent to public officers and teachers. They will also hear about pension reform.
And on COVID-19, the Prime Minister said that it was time to “restore personal and economic freedoms while encouraging everyone to act responsibly,” after two years of a campaign of public health, vaccination, and heavy restriction and curtailing of social and economic activities. As we have also reported, the curfew is gone from March 1, and Minister of Health Kevin Bernard will hold his promised press briefing as the Prime Minister broadly hinted at a process “by which we will lift all measures during the month of March as we move towards normalcy on [April 1], 2022.”
Turning to other matters, Cabinet discussed the draft of the General Revenue and Appropriation Bill 2022-2023, otherwise known as the Budget, and went over the International Monetary Fund’s Article IV Consultation Concluding Statement, about which they agreed that Belize’s “impressive economic performance” had not quite led us out of the woods as yet. The P.M. described this year’s budget as “prudent and pragmatic. We will emphasize an ambitious social policy agenda which centers on bringing relief to the more vulnerable among us, expanding the NHI program while continuing to rebuild the Belizean economy in partnership with the private sector, the Unions, and non-governmental actors.”
Concerning cost of living, the Prime Minister says that even with external factors, his government recognizes that it needs to take steps to ease hardship. Thus, he reported, “We are actively reviewing the basket of goods on which tax relief can be granted, will vigorously increase enforcement of price controls, and adopt measures to curb price gouging.”
And on the issue of governance, the People’s Constitutional Commission will be appointed to undertake a major review of the founding Bible of Belize, now more than 40 years old and designed, as Briceno noted, “around a dominant Cabinet, and two main political parties,” and must “be reviewed and reformed to meet the needs of a more democratic Belize.” A timeline of 15 months has been set for completion of its work.
Briceno concluded, “Since taking office we have done what was necessary to rescue Belize from financial disaster, protected Belizeans from the COVID-19 pandemic and, we started to implement our social justice agenda set out in Plan Belize. We will continue the work and press on with delivering on our promise to build a nation where everybody wins.”
For now the Prime Minister is turning his focus to chairing the 33rd Intersessional Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government on Ambergris Caye starting Tuesday, and the CARICOM-SICA summit to be held on Thursday.
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