Belize today celebrates the 32nd anniversary of independence from Britain with parades, speeches, merrymaking and promises of more development from the ruling United Democratic Party government of Prime Minister Dean Barrow.
Addressing a small gathering at Independence Hill in the City of Belmopan this morning attended by visiting Dominica leader Roosevelt Skerrit and other dignitaries, Mr. Barrow announced a list of forthcoming projects that he said signals, “The creation of a post-Independence golden age”, adding that “Foreign Direct Investment continues to pour into our country”.
Mr. Barrow’s message of good tidings, which he described as “A infrastructure splurge that will lift the economy and give it wings in this second half of the year”, includes:
A package of some $100 million in sporting and infrastructure facilities funded in part with loans from Venezuela. These include two new bridges over the Belize River in Belize City, an Olympic size swimming pool for the public, a new bus station for Belize City, and a new building in Belize City to house the headquarters for the recently launched government national bank.
Three new military outposts for the Belize Defense Force will be built on the Belize-Guatemala adjacency zone to counter immigration and encroachments from neighboring Guatemala with which Belize has a territorial dispute.
Mr. Barrow also announced that the American Sugar Refining Company is expanding the capacity of the former Belize Sugar Industries mill in northern Belize to grind 10 thousand tons of cane per day as early as the next crop year, which starts in two months.
On the tourism front, he stated that the industry is growing at 8% over last year, and the introduction of mass tourism in southern Belize by Norwegian Cruise Line will bring hundreds of new jobs to the area and promote overnight tourism.
Mr. Barrow ended his address on a rather stern note, giving a warning to the churches and other activist groups in Belize that have so far vigorously opposed his administration’s efforts to promote homosexual rights. Speaking in front of the country’s Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin who is due to deliver a landmark ruling very shortly on the constitutionality of Belize’s sodomy laws, Mr. Barrow declared:
“We cannot afford for Government and the Churches to be at odds. Government will therefore fully respect the right of the churches to propagate their understanding of the morality, or immorality, of homosexuality. But what Government cannot do is to shirk its duty to ensure that all citizens, without exception, enjoy the full protection of the law. After all, the Belize Constitution that affirms the supremacy of God also affirms fundamental rights and the dignity of the individual human being.
“That same Constitution further declares that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to non discrimination; to freedom from interference with their privacy; and to freedom from unlawful attacks on their honour and reputation.
“There is, I submit, no logical inconsistency between these different tenets of our Constitution.”
The junior minister with responsibility for immigration and border security Hon. Elvin Penner has been fired with effect from today a statement issued by the office of the prime minister states. Mr. Penner along with the substantive minister of immigration
Godwin Hulse has responsibility for Belize’s Immigration Department. The department has been plagued by repeated reports of irregularities in the issuance of Belize visas and passports to foreign nationals over the past few years.
Staffers and heads of the immigration departments have been fired and rotated during in past years, but this is the first time a minister with this portfolio has been fired. The irregularities covered by the Belize media over the past few years focused on alleged irregularities over immigration documents for nationals of Africa and Asia. The most recent scandal involved an official from Belize’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs who was arrested in Cuba after arriving in that country with several Chinese passports.
The official announcement:
“The Office of the Prime Minister announces that, with immediate effect, the Hon. Elvin Penner is no longer a Minister of State in the current Administration. The Prime Minister formed the view that, with respect to a situation brought to his attention on Tuesday, Hon. Penner, as Minister of State in the Immigration Ministry, did not discharge his responsibilities with either the due judgment and balance, or the scrupulous regard for appearances, which the Prime Minister demands of all his Ministers. As a consequence the Prime Minister late yesterday evening met with Hon. Penner and required him to resign. After discussion Hon. Penner agreed with the position of the Prime Minister. He therefore tendered and had accepted his immediate resignation.
“In a related development, the Office of the Prime Minister also announces that the Immigration Ministry, together with the Ministry of the Public Service, has launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the issue of a Belize passport to a South Korean national. The Immigration Ministry will make a statement in the next day or so as to the results of that investigation.”
An official release from the Belize government today states that Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit will be guest of Honour for Belize’s 32nd Independence Day Celebrations.
The Prime Minister of Dominica arrives in Belize on Wednesday, 18 September 2013, accompanied by Dr. Collin McIntyre, Minister of Trade of Dominica. After arrival, Mr. Skerrit will make a courtesy call on Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow.
During his stay, Prime Minister Skerrit will be a guest at all official ceremonies commemorating Belize’s 32 years of Independence. He will also visit two of Belize’s many natural tourist attractions. Mr. Skerrit’s visit will conclude on Sunday, September 22nd, 2013, when he returns to Dominica.
In a lengthy and carefully worded press release issued today, the government of Belize has rejected calls for the reform of the the Public Accounts Committee in the House Of Representatives. The PAC is currently controlled by the ruling United Democratic Party of Prime Minister Dean Barrow, and has come under increased criticism for not properly accounting for the expenditure of public monies. The opposition Peoples United Party has tabled a motion for a bill to reform the PAC, and this has the support of the Belize Chamber of Commerce and the largest labor group in the country, the National trade Union Congress of Belize NTUCB.
In the press release issued by the Prime Minister’s office, government puts out the reasons why it does not believe the Public Accounts Committee needs more oversight:
“Cabinet of Belize has carefully noted the positions taken by the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) and by the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the House of Representatives. Cabinet considered the call of both bodies for the PAC to be converted into a Special Joint Select Committee of the House and Senate, and for that new Select Committee to comprise a membership that would include all three social partner Senators. Cabinet remains convinced, however, that such a proposal is fundamentally inconsistent with the spirit and letter of the Standing Orders of the House. And the radical and serial amendments of the Standing Orders that would be required for the transformation of the current PAC into the creature envisaged by the BCCI and NTUCB, would render the proceedings of the new Committee both expensive and impractical. For all three social partners, the Opposition, and the Government to be on the proposed new body; and for the fundamental Standing Orders principle of Democracy, which requires the Government to be the majority on all Standing Committees, to be maintained, would result in an unwieldy and top heavy Committee and greatly ratchet up the costs associated with Committee hearings. Cabinet cannot, therefore, agree with such a proposal.
“Further, Cabinet considers that the present Public Accounts Committee of the House provides a perfectly workable and efficient formula for conducting the business assigned to the Committee. Cabinet insists that it is only the game playing and grandstanding of the Hon Julius Espat as Chairman, which has frustrated the Committee and prevented it from functioning. But Cabinet points out that the Standing Orders provide for any two members to requisition and convene a meeting of the PAC if the Chairman fails to do so. Accordingly, the Government side of the Committee will insist now that the Chairman calls an urgent meeting of the PAC to agree to a schedule for consideration of all the outstanding Auditor General reports. Such a schedule should see the work divided into two: examination of pre-2008 reports; and examination of post-2008 reports.
“In any given week when the Committee meets, it should do so on two days of that particular week. The first day should be given over to the first set of reports, and the second day to the second set of reports. If the Hon. Espat as Chairman refuses to get things moving in this fashion, the Government will use the provision of the Standing Orders to have its members convene and conduct the meetings so that the work of the Committee can get done. The hearings will, in any case, be held in public.
“Finally, the OPM points out that it was the Constitutional Amendments that were passed by the UDP in 2008 that enshrined into our highest Law the mechanism that obliged the Minister of Finance to lay the Annual Reports of the Auditor General before the House; that provided for the Auditor General to ensure laying in any case where the Minister failed to do so; and that provided for the punishment of the Auditor General for violation of the obligation to produce the Annual Reports. It was all these amendments that prevented the recurrence of the pre-2008 situation where the PUP Government had failed to lay or otherwise ventilate Auditor General Reports for nine years up to 2007. These UDP Constitutional Amendments were only part of a much wider set of reforms promulgated by the UDP to ensure accountability. These included passage of the Financial Transparency Regulations; legislating that the Finance and Stores Orders of the Public Service would have the force of law; amending the Finance and Audit Act to provide for the prosecution and punishment of Ministers and Public Officers that violated the law; and amending the Freedom of Information Act so as to outlaw any provision for secrecy in Government contracts.
“Given these and other legislative advances it is hard to see, the OPM concludes, how the NTUCB-for instance-can claim that the current Administration has not moved far and fast enough in the direction of openness and accountability.”
The Mediterranean Fruit Fly has been detected in southern Belize and quarantine action has been initiated according to an official press release issued today by the Belize government. The release says that the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) is alerting farmers and the general public, especially in southern Belize, that Mediterranean fruit flies have been detected at various points in the Toledo District, Mango Creek, and along the Placencia Peninsula. Southern Belize is the major producer of citrus and banana exports for the country.
As a result of these detections, BAHA has quarantined part of the Stann Creek district and the entire Toledo District with effect from Saturday July 13th, 2013. A 24-hour quarantine checkpoint has been placed on the southern highway at the village of Silk Grass on the Southern Highway. This action is necessary to maintain Belize’s Medfly free status which is essential to maintain our export markets for papayas and citrus.
BAHA is requesting the cooperation of the public to cease illegal importation of fresh fruits and vegetables from infested areas such as Guatemala and Honduras, and also to stop movement of fresh fruits and vegetables from the designated quarantine area. Quarantine violations can lead to immediate confiscation and destruction of produce regardless of quantity.