Opposition leader blasts national budget presented by government

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BELMOPAN, Belize, Mar 23, CMC – Opposition Leader, John Briceño, has described the 2018 national budget presented by Prime Minister Dean Barrow earlier month as “empty, hollow, devoid of any creativity
“Where in the past there was glitter and references to Greek mythology, this budget was dry, without vim or vigour, and certainly lacking in substance. Simply put, the Barrow budget lacked the usual “Barrow-gance”, as the Honourable Kareem Musa puts it; it has no glitter and no substance,” Briceño, said as legislators debate the fiscal package during a two-day period that ends on Friday.
Prime Minister Barrow presented the BDZ$3.03 billion (One Belize dollar=US$0.49 cents) budget two weeks ago, saying his administration would now seek to improve the efficiency of revenue collection rather than increase tax rates in the future.
Barrow said that the country’s economy currently challenged by low growth and high levels of public debt and that his government intends to confront these challenges with a fiscal strategy that, over the coming five years, tries to contain public spending and promote private sector growth.
He said that after carrying out a comprehensive review of the existing tax framework, his administration will make revenue collection more effective and forceful, improve tax compliance, which could increase tax revenues by two percentage points of gross domestic product (GDP) over the coming two years.
In addition, Barrow said the government would move to make taxes simpler, broader and more equitable as well as “eliminate certain tax privileges and exemptions, with the aim of reducing overall tax rates on the general public.
“A more equitable and efficient tax system is expected to be supportive of economic growth, and over time increase Government revenue,” Barrow said.
But in his contribution to the debate, Briceño said he had hoped that the budget would have reflected “some of the serious problems facing the nation and provide a semblance of hope to Belizeans on the margins, or bring relief to the poor, fails in every aspect.
But he said in the past 10 years since the government has been in office, it has collected “billions in taxes, added more than BDZ$1.3 billion to our national debt, all at a time when Belizeans are suffering more than ever before.
“And now this Budget promises little if any jobs, and growth so low that it is making us poorer and poorer, dia tras dia. Now more than ever, the Belizean people are tired. They are fed up and fatigued by a Prime Minister and an administration that is long on blaming others and short on producing results.”
Briceño told legislators that “the fact is that today, after spending BDZ80 million in three years to provide social transformation, there is no transformation.
“So Madam Speaker, whatever so called priorities the Prime Minister may have outlined in his budget speech, which resulted in his brimming optimism and unremitting confidence about the prospects of his budget, is only being felt in his inner circle, for he cannot reconcile such optimism with the reality of the Belizean masses.
“To paraphrase the Right Honourable Prime Minister, what Belizeans are feeling, is no retreat on crimes, no retreat on taxation, no retreat on poverty, no retreat on neglect…no retreat from the crippling national debt, no retreat on the poor quality of life for average Belizeans.  Rather than optimism, Belizeans will tell you that things “dread” under the red.”
He said Belizeans need to properly educated, have good jobs, and most importantly be spared the “urban terrorism” of gangs and crime generally.
““We need to build a safer and more caring Belize. The crime and violence that has swept our nation is our own kind of urban terrorism; it is destroying our families, tearing apart peaceful communities, and wrecking our future. Too many unnecessary deaths, too much tragedy, too much destruction.
“We have spoken over and over about this, and as recently as two days ago, we laid out some plans on a way forward. And once again, once again, we stand ready to work with the government in a meaningful way to bring about an end to the violence.”
Briceño urged the government to support the efforts of the opposition controlled Belize City Council and its mayor, mayor, Bernard Wagner, in their social programmes “to assist grieving mothers and their families through counselling”.
He promised that the next People’s United Party (PUP) government “will find the resources to support this noble effort”

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