Friday, June 21, 2024

National budget debate: Leader of the Opposition responds

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A two-day debate followed the March 8th national budget presentation by Prime Minister Honourable Dr. John Briceño. A special sitting of the House of Representatives was held on March 20th and 21st in the Capital City of Belmopan to debate the 2024-2025 budget, also known as the General Revenue and Appropriation Bill, proposed by the current government under the People’s United Party (PUP). The budget prioritized job creation, economic stimulus, security, and significant education, health, and infrastructure improvements. The Opposition Leader under the United Democratic Party (UDP), Honorable Dr. Shyne Barrow, heavily criticized the proposal, labeling it as ‘out of touch’ and falling short of addressing critical national issues.
On Wednesday, Barrow stood alone for his response while other UDP elected members were absent. Only the Honourable Patrick Faber showed up later to join him. Barrow denounced the budget presentation as full of lies and deception. “This is a hollow budget that does not present any vision,” Barrow noted. “It has no bold, courageous policy decisions or numbers to support it.” The Leader of the Opposition touched on the spending on health, education, security, and social support.
According to Barrow, the BZ$3 million proposed by the PUP government for school food programs is insufficient. “It is not enough in the face of inflation,” he said. Barrow said that this budget would be increased under a UDP government to customize for the day’s issues. The PUP government proposes expanding its National Healthy Start feeding program to cater to 4,000 primary school students from 35 schools.
In security, he briefly commended the minister in charge of the police department, the Honourable Kareem Musa, but pointed out that his ministry lacks the necessary resources. “It is difficult for me to say if he is incompetent or is being sabotaged by his own government,” Barrow said. He then called out Musa on his reported promises to reduce crime. Barrow said more must be done to address this problem plaguing the country.
Barrow spoke about the importance of upgrading all medical facilities nationwide and criticized the BZ$90 million proposed tertiary hospital to be built in the Capital City. He also criticized the hospital to be built in San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye. Barrow asked how these facilities would be staffed, pointing out that the proposed budget has reductions in nursing scholarships and posts. He added that the government is not transparent regarding revealing the entities getting the contracts to construct these hospitals. “Give us the information. Tell us who is bidding. Tell us when the tender process begins and concludes; give us the information,” he said. He accused the Briceño administration of having no transparency.
The one-hour and fifteen-minute response by Barrow ended by presenting himself and his party as the best choice for the country. “This country deserves balance. I pride myself on being a centrist. This is the only way we will create the infrastructure that Belizeans need to access the pathway to whatever reality they want to create,” Barrow said. He called for no more budgets that, as he observed, only serve the chosen few cronies and nepotistic affiliates. Barrow ended by stating that the country needs budgets with vision and aspiration, leaving zero room for corruption.
The budget debate continued on Thursday, the 21st, with more presentations from the PUP members. Barrow was once again only accompanied by his colleague Faber.

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