Something Has To Break Here – Lord Ashcroft On Belize

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Speaking on a nationally televised sit-down in Belize on 21 April 2021, Michael Ashcroft was direct in several issues confronting Belize – the tanking economy, wage cuts, tourism, corruption and the mindset of politicians and citizens as they grapple with the future of his adopted country where he has vast investments. “You can see that it is not possible to balance the budget as things stand. Something has to break. Government’s expenditure, the wage bill is a huge component, and that needs to be addressed. We have such things, such as should we enter into an IMF program. It is something that should be considered.” Mr. Ashcroft admitted that Belizeans have a fear of entering an IMF program. But he stated that if Belize puts in its particular red lines in IMF discussions. Such as we are not prepared to devalue our currency “Then a program with the IMF will give technical expertise, it will give access to finance and donor contributions.”

Mr. Ashcroft’s most incisive advice came about on Belize Telemedia, the telco that he once controlled and which was nationalized by the previous U.D.P. administration. He said that one practical way out of Belize’s quagmire of unsustainable debt would be to sell off the utility to international investors, ensuring a quick injection of foreign exchange and competent management. BTL he stated is itself mired in debt and is thinking of dubious investments such as purchasing cable companies from friends and families of the current Johnny Briceño government. “Cable companies are dying industries.” he stated.

On tourism, the Tory Peer said that he sees the COVID19 pandemic to be something that will be around for many years, and that Belize has made reasonable adjustments but he does not see a rebound in tourism to pre-pandemic levels any time soon. His answer to a possible rebound, “No. And I think the danger is the United States has said in the past few days that they have probably another thirty countries that they are going to put on the red list. And our hope and expectation is that Belize does not go on the red list. Because that will start to devastate and slow down substantially the return of tourists to Belize.” But he added that if Belize can continue to have its land borders locked down, and hold steadfast to COVID19 health protocols on air travel, and avoid getting on the U.S. red list, the industry has a good chance of having a reasonable winter season.

Speaking on new diversification of industries, Mr. Ashcroft said that the country needs to look at imports and exports. “Do we really need to import Perrier water from France? Are we looking more closely at expanding call centres and offshore financial services to generate more foreign exchange?” On agriculture he described it as a tough industry where Belize has to compete with countries that have lower labour and energy costs and where farms start of in the thousands of acres.

Speaking on his own Waterloo Investment Project, a proposal to expand the port of Belize to provide onshore bulk berthing port facilities and an Oasis class cruise ship terminal, he appeared dismayed that it has met with resistance from local environmentalists, and dithering from the current government. But he expressed a nonchalant view on the U.S.$200M proposed investment. To put something of this magnitude together takes a lot of work. “It’s not the end of the world for me. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t it doesn’t.”