The takeover of BEL is a done deal, as it was the same day Prime Minister Dean Barrow made his announcement in the House of Representatives. Like he did with BTL, the Prime Minister has pounded his chest and sounded the bugle call of nationalism and patriotism to bolster the popularity of his move. And like with BTL, the Prime Minister has managed to answer questions about compensation in the vaguest of terms. Now that bodes ill for the previous owners of BEL, since the previous owners of BTL have still not seen a cent of compensation in the almost two years since the takeover.
But while the PM has made what is considered a populist move, with rabid UDP supporters carrying him on their shoulders and the rest of the electorate caught between feelings of uncertainly, uneasiness and tentative support, the business sector of Belize has weighed in with a vengeance.
Yesterday the Chamber of Commerce made its position clear in a scathing release, stating that “The Government of Belize has both the power and the duty to create an enabling environment where domestic and foreign investors feel welcomed and are encouraged to create jobs, introduce new technologies and improve the economy and thus the quality of life for all Belizeans. However, when that power is not used prudently, it can severely undermine investor confidence and destroy the economy.”
And it continues to state that “The Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry does not believe that it was necessary for the Government of Belize to forcibly expropriate Belize Electricity Limited…the path that the GOB chose will instead only saddle the nation with additional hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and millions in legal fees and litigation costs.”
The release ends by stating that “The Chamber is very concerned that expropriation as a means of settling disputes with the GOB is becoming a practice, and this will directly undermine and deter both local and foreign investments at a time when they are most needed to create jobs, earn much needed foreign exchange and pay our ever growing national debt.”
That was the Chamber, and today the Belize Business Bureau issued a release which, though worded a little more diplomatically, was sending the same strong message. The release opens by stating that “The productive sector looks on the second nationalization of a large private company with grave concern for three reason….(1) the increase in public debt that stands at 85.8% of GDP will move national finances and available credit from unsustainable to unstable causing a further squeeze on capital for the productive sector. (2) Private sector inability to access necessary working capital is a direct result of the huge consumption of capital by the public sector, putting a freeze on private sector investment and (3) A lack of honest and constructive communication between the public sector and the full private sector further hurts problem solving needed for the public good.”
The release from the BBB offers words of caution to GOB, stating that “A more logical and sustainable economic plan is needed where both the private and public sectors share equal responsibility in meeting the challenges with frank and honest discussions. Trust has been broken and must be restored. Our appeal is for social dialogue rather than emotive reactions to problem solving.”
While these words of condemnation, warning and appeal for dialogue from the private sector would be cause for concern with any right thinking government, the Prime Minister has demonstrated that he has little use for input which goes against what he has decreed.