Belize Presents at the United Nations’ Recover Better Together Action Forum
Friday, June 26th, 2020
Minister of State for Labour, Local Government and Rural Development, Dr. Hon. Carla Barnett was invited by the United Nations Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed to participate in the “Recover Better Together Action Forum,” which took place today, June 26th.
A key objective was the raising of resources for the United Nations COVID-19 Response and Recovery Trust Fund to implement the United Nations Framework for Immediate Socio-economic Response to COVID-19.
As a recipient country of the Fund’s investments, Belize was invited to “share your country’s perspective on what has been achieved as well as the urgent needs that remain.” Belize and Jamaica were the only presenters from Central America and the Caribbean. During the forum, several countries shared their experiences and some pledged contributions totaling US$16 million to the Fund.
Presentation to the United Nations’ Recover Better Together Action Forum,
26 June 2020
By Minister of State Carla Barnett
Allow me to express appreciation to the Deputy Secretary General Mohammed and staff of the
UN for inviting Belize to participate in this important session. These are indeed unprecedented
times. There isn’t a part of our world that has not been affected by this pandemic.
In Belize, we have so far had a relatively low infection rate – 23 confirmed cases between
March and June including 2 deaths in a total population of 400,000 people. Our public health
authorities have followed WHO and PAHO guidelines for testing and contact tracing as well as
protocols for wearing of masks, handwashing and general sanitization of public places such as
supermarkets, banks etc and a nightly curfew has been strictly implemented. These
procedures have been effective in controlling the spread of the virus and as a result there has
been minimal community spread. Indeed, those good results have placed Belize among the top
countries in terms of managing the health impact of the covid19 pandemic.
However, the economic impact has been huge. The main economic driver – tourism has been
closed since March. Unemployment has skyrocketed from a low of 8.5 to 9 percent pre-Covid to
as much as 30-40%, as some estimates project. The Covid-19 Unemployment Relief Program,
had 81 thousand applicants in 4 weeks which was 42% of an estimated labour force of 190
thousand. The impact is being felt in all sectors.
Government lost a quarter of total projected revenue for the current fiscal year forcing
cutbacks across government even as we have had to increase spending on supplies of tests,
equipment such a ventilators and PPEs, other protective equipment and security; and spending
to ameliorate the economic impact. We are projecting a decline in GDP this year of between 10
and 20%. Clearly the negative impact on the economy and on the people is tremendous.
To ease the impact and strengthen social protection and safety nets, government ramped up
its food distribution program to persons in need and implemented the unemployment relief
program which is providing a minimum income to persons who have lost their jobs and we will
be doing even more with the support of World Bank lending for an expansion to our conditional
cash transfer program.
At the level of business activity, the financial sector is easing credit requirements in the banking
system and allowing greater space for rescheduling credit facilities for those affected.
We are also at this time completing the design of a program of support to small and medium
enterprises which will include employment support, access to some financing for working
capital as well as access to specific capacity building for enhanced marketing, integration of ICT,
management systems to help these business to strengthen themselves for accelerating activity
in a post Covid-19 economy.
Our Government has had to borrow – even in the face of already very high debt levels – to
undertake these measures because the alternative would have been total a collapse of our
economy and society.
As we organise to rebuild our economy and seek to protect the development gains we have
made over the years – gains that this global pandemic is threatening to undermine everywhere
– we are grateful for the support of our bilateral and multi-lateral partners, including the UN
agencies, especially through the UN COVID-19 Response and Recovery Multi-Partner Trust
Fund. PAHO assisted very early with the timely provision of testing equipment and supplies.
The UNDP has provided timely support for critical strengthening of the public health capacity to
respond, including especially facilities and services in rural areas of Belize and is continuing to
assist through leading in impact assessment to inform further interventions and impact
As we look ahead and seek to commence rebuilding, we do so with great caution. Our Prime
Minister yesterday announced the re-opening of the international airport – which has been
closed for over two months – and the first stage of the reopening of our tourism sector. We are
doing so fully cognizant of the risks involved in opening up and we are managing that risk
through education of our workers and the general population, and through the establishment
of new protocols for the safe provision and enjoyment of tourism services. And we are fully
prepared to take the necessary action to protect against the spread of the corona virus if and
when it appears again.
For those of us whose livelihoods are so heavily intertwined with travel and tourism, winning
the battle with the corona virus outside our countries – especially in our source markets – is as
important to the stability of our future as winning that battle against the virus inside our
countries. This requires resources; and to those countries that have already contributed to the
UN Fund which is assisting us, the gratitude is real and heartfelt and we ask that you continue
to do as much as you can, to ensure that all of us can effectively address this global pandemic
and its social and economic impact.
I conclude by emphasizing how important it is to continue to take a global approach, bringing
multilateral institutions and resources together to study this virus, develop of the treatments –
including vaccines – and ensuring that all countries have access to what we need to properly
address the crisis. For wherever – no matter where – we are incapable of adequately control
this outbreak, there is the weak link in the global chain.
Thank you, Madame Deputy Secretary General and your staff, for inviting us to participate in
this important forum to tell our stories and invoke the need for us to work together to win this
global battle. I thank you.
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