Black Immigrant Daily News
Photo: Senators Eamon Courtenay and Beverly Williams
by Kory Leslie (Freelance Writer)
BELMOPAN, Wed. Dec. 14, 2022
On Monday, Prime Minister Hon. John Briceño presented the government’s fourth Supplementary Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2022/23 at a special sitting of the House of Representatives. The apparent reason for this fourth introduction of a bill in the House to secure funding beyond what was allocated in this year’s budget is unexpected damage caused by Hurricane Lisa, which made landfall just south of Belize City on November 2—and the cost of repairs and recovery in the aftermath of that storm.
During his remarks in the House on Monday, the PM presented in itemized form the specific ways in which the additional funds will be used. According to Prime Minister Briceño, $2.3 million will be used for additional grocery bag distribution, 3.2 million for NEMO-related emergency relief (including the purchase of supplies such as mattresses and other essentials, and the covering of the cost of fuel and other expenses related to the BDF’s emergency cleanup efforts), $2.7 million for major repairs and construction works in Price Barracks in Ladyville and other national defence facilities, $6 million for housing relief and construction and $4.5 million for emergency cleanup and repairs to road infrastructure.
The Bill proceeded to the Senate on Wednesday, but not without some debate by its members. Senator Beverly Williams, in particular, expressed strong opposition to a bill she classified as “reckless” and to the GOB’s current spending:
“It seems to me, Madam President, that the Government of Belize has changed its approach to budgeting. Or was it just a dressed-up budget of one-point four billion dollars for a nice IMF report? In April of 2022, all the nice things that you say, all the indicators that are pretty that the IMF love to hear – debt reduction, primary surplus, etc., etc. But, Madam President, there was almost two million dollars that were not considered in that IMF report. Let us see what the other report will bring. Madam President, a budget is a forecast of revenue and expenditure generally for a one-year period. A supplemental budget is one for urgent or unforeseen matters. And something unforeseen did happen. Hurricane Lisa. I am certain it’s not only me that is surprised. The Belizean people, I’m sure, were expecting a supplemental for hurricane relief. Sixty-six point five million dollars, and a mere sixteen percent of the funds has to do remotely with Hurricane Lisa,” she said.
Senator Williams went on to point out that the four million dollars allocated to healthcare was not included in the first set of papers submitted for review. Additionally, the Senator went on to question the additional need for the $1.5 million allocated for the purchases of new vehicles, $300,000 allocated for foreign travel and $500,000 allocated to government rental costs.
PUP Senator Collet Montejo was the first to rise in the bill’s defense, and noted that the purchase of government vehicles is done to allow public officers to successfully do their jobs. Further, he defended the Briceño administration by pointing to its historic accomplishment in reducing Belize’s national debt.
“This supplementary demonstrates the fiscal prudence of this Plan Belize Honorable John Briceño-led government. And every single international body will tell you – as a matter of fact, only just yesterday, and I must commend Senator Chris Coye and Financial Secretary Joseph Waight; hey were highly commended again by the new U.S. Ambassador for their fiscal prudence and rescuing Belize from the cliff in two short years. Our Prime Minister stood right next to where I am and emphasized that in two years, our debt to GDP went from 133% and now, two years later, 63%. Unprecedented. Unheard of. So when and if we attend the meetings where these things are carefully explained and questions can be asked so that we come to this honorable House informed, it will make for a better debate, Madam President,” he remarked.
Ultimately the supplementary appropriations bill was passed by the Senate following calls from the majority of the members for a better approach to fund allocation. At the introduction of the bill, The Senator for Government Business, Hon. Eamon Courtenay, said that Senator Chris Coye did call a meeting for senators to query the bill, but he noted that the meeting was only attended by two unnamed senators.