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Senate meeting: Upper Chamber backs Budget despite concerns about inflation and crime

Posted: Wednesday, March 29, 2023. 9:27 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: It was the turn of the Senate to debate the 2023 General Revenue and Appropriation Bill passed by the House of Representatives last week, featuring deep dives into matters such as inflation and crime.

The trio of Opposition Senators filling in for their permanent fellows – Sheena Pitts, Orson “O.J.” Elrington, and Ashton McKenzie – argued that while the facts of high economic growth, lower unemployment, and an increased minimum wage are undeniable, the “divergence” as cited by Pitts is “…a manipulation of the creation of the facts. And there is a distorted reality from appreciating the facts…how far has [the increase of the minimum wage] taken or is taking the average Belizean in the grocery store? The government presents facts that 68 thousand fewer Belizeans are poor. Remember Madam President, I said there are facts created through some formula and treated as facts and accepted, and there are some facts where, you know, the reality gets distorted.”

Elrington went further, listing as Opposition Leader Moses “Shyne” Barrow did in the House critical goods whose costs have gone up in the last year: “sweet pepper has gone up in the last year alone by 48.9 percent, coconut milk, another essential ingredient for a good rice and beans has gone up 42.2 percent. Tomatoes have risen 69.8 percent, and cabbage by 70 percent, but it is not only the basket of goods itself and what is in this basket also included in this basket of goods is because these baskets of goods represent what is the mere and bare essentials for a family, so it also includes things like butane. … The truth is that the cost of living continues to cripple the Belizean people.”

But Leader of Government Business Senator Eamon Courtenay hit back, reminding that most of what we eat is imported and so we essentially “import inflation”, and that Government is planning a raft of measures to address the monitoring of price-controlled items and price gouging generally practiced at supermarkets.

The Budget for the Judiciary has noticeably gone up from $8.4 million to $14.022 million including increases in recurrent and capital expenditure, without considering the planned public-private partnership to build a full judicial complex in Belize City for all levels of the Judiciary and Magistracy.

Elrington also touched on crime and training for police officers – citing a need for more and continuous institutional training for beat cops who find themselves at the pointy end on many occasions, sometimes to sorrowful effect as demonstrated with the death of Dyandre Chee last Saturday – and health, citing former public officer and noted writer Glenn Tillett’s missive on his struggles with obtaining medication and services to address his various health conditions.

Courtenay said in closing that by supporting micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSME) and especially those of women and first-time owners, and through other initiatives, the Government shows that it “prefers empowerment to handouts…we want to get people off handouts and to get [a] hand up.” He added that “we are proud of this Budget, we are empowering Belizeans; we are developing the economy and we are moving forward.”

The Budget now having been approved, it goes to the Governor-General for her assent and will be implemented on April 1.


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