Photo: Hon. Patrick Faber, UDP area representative for Collet
“Check the feeling on the street,” Hon. Patrick Faber told the Prime Minister, Hon. John Briceño
by Marco Lopez
BELMOPAN, Sat. Mar. 25, 2023
Putting the 2023/2024 budget estimates “in context” was the objective of Collet area representative, Hon. Patrick Faber on the final day of the budget debate last Friday. He pointed out that a lack of transparency is a major deficiency observed in the billion-dollar-plus budget that’s now heading to the Senate. As mentioned, the budget was passed following its third reading in the House of Representatives and will go to the Senate for its official rubber stamp, thus marking the start of the new fiscal year. Hon. Faber, however, referred to that budget as simply a bloated copy-and-paste exercise.
During his presentation, he highlighted what he considers to be structural deficiencies within the budget, particularly when it comes to spending allocations, and he asserted that unspent budget allocations for previous years were not taken into consideration in drafting the current estimates—resulting, he said, in large sums of unnecessary money being estimated in some line items, while other areas lack proper funding.
“While the budget presents detailed estimates, if you open the budget book at any ministry you will see that they have the 2020/2021 actuals, the 2021/2022 actuals,” Hon. Faber outlined. “For example, Madam Speaker, previous fiscal years show that certain categories of funds were not fully spent,” he added. He went on to state that the budget was bloated across the board to possibly allow for ministerial grandstanding within the debate.
Hon. Faber further remarked that the budget exercise was not a genuine one, and also pointed to some of the positive indicators presented by Prime Minister Briceño as inaccurate. He went as far as to raise concerns about the accuracy of the figures provided by the Statistical Institute of Belize, the body which generated the data. The notion of 68,000 Belizeans being “lifted” from poverty as touted by Prime Minister Briceño is one to which Faber objected, and he noted that a multiplicity of factors must be considered before poverty reduction can be achieved.
“The Prime Minister announced that 68,000 persons have escaped poverty, which is an extraordinary achievement for our nation. If this is true – and apparently the SIB has claimed that same, I believe that’s your source, Prime Minister; they have said again that poverty has miraculously gone down, from 52% when the UDP was in power to 39.5% just miraculously. This is why I caution from the start of my presentation that what you all present in terms of the numbers on paper is a pretty picture, but the reality out there is different,” Hon. Faber remarked.
Access to land, education, and housing, according to PM Briceño, are some of the factors that have led to a reduction in poverty within Belize. Hon. Faber disagreed with that assertion and instead said that most of those PUP objectives are yet to be achieved meaningfully within Belizean society.
“Yo seh land, but yo nuh start to give out the land how yo want yet; yo seh house, but only 260 out ah the 10,000 done build. Yo seh education, but nothing really new di happen inna education weh mi di the happen before, soh how, pray tell, tell me how 68,000 people just miraculously got up out of poverty,” Hon. Faber commented.
Hon. Faber spent considerable time identifying programs within the Ministry of Education that he said were started largely under his watch. He called the “whole program of education bogus” and claimed that the PUP’s ministry copied and pasted the five-year strategic plan created in 2019 while he headed the ministry.
“So, in 2020, they create their own strategic plan. You know what they did? Copy everything that was in the 2019 strategic plan of the UDP administration. Everything they copy. In fact, let me correct that; it’s not everything they copied, because they, as I said in a previous point I was making, less is happening now in the Ministry of Education than what was happening. I watch how they are pontificating about free Southside; I listen to the member from Toledo West talking about education down south. Let me tell you what the UDP administration did for education down south and across this country,, because what you are putting forward now is pale; it’s a joke,” Hon. Faber outlined.
He went on to highlight how certain initiatives started under the past UDP administration and were “painted blue” by the current government. Of note, he highlighted what he referred to as the dishonesty surrounding the collaborative work of both parties on an initiative like the “Blue Bond”, which has been portrayed, he said, as solely a PUP innovation, which he said is far from the truth. He went on to highlight a number of projects and funding opportunities commenced under the UDP and onto which the PUP in essence “piggy-backed”.
Prime Minister Briceño in his presentation at the wrapping up of the budget debate shared, however, that an incompetent UDP had caused many of those projects to come to a standstills, without implementation.
“When we took office, we found close to a billion dollars in grants and concessional funding that were left behind because of the previous administration’s incompetence; lone duncy people, couldn’t get the work done. You want to know how we were able to reduce poverty? Because we used that money, the ones you were too incompetent to spend,” PM Briceño said.
He outlined that the funds were used to improve the conditions of schools, build clinics, and expand National Health Insurance in Belize.
While Hon. Faber’s contribution was fresh in the PM’s mind, he also spent some time reflecting and responding to the presentation of the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Moses “Shyne” Barrow.
“The Leader of the Opposition referred to himself as a former entertainer. Everyone listening would agree with him, except that for the former part, clearly, he uses every opportunity to profile with the hip-hop community in the US. That’s all he is worried about — to get that visa to go back to the States. Trouble is, where this House is concerned, he cannot come here to ply his trade. You don’t come here to entertain; you come here to represent your people and to do your job as the Leader of the Opposition,” PM Briceño said.
He added, “What we have seen of him as the Leader of the Opposition, and what we have gotten from him is once again the same — a representative who was unprepared with ill-conceived pronouncements which resulted in a performance that was most unmemorable and lackluster.”