As expected, the Government takeover of a second private company since entering office has generated mixed feelings from the electorate, and a significant level of criticism from different entities including the private sector. The Opposition Peoples United Party has also released a position paper in which it openly questions the soundness of the move by the Prime Minister and expresses grave concern over the confrontational manner in which the UDP seems to be dealing with issues. The PUP, in no uncertain terms in its release, states that like the rest of Belizeans, we have no confidence in this UDP administrations ability to manage the affairs of the nation.”

Today we spoke to Leader of the Opposition Hon. John Briceno, who expanded on the release issued by the Party.

johnHon. John Briceno PUP Leader

“The Prime Minister has said that there is a crisis there is a cash flow problem and that the only way he can resolve that problem is by taking over BEL as a responsible government they have to act. Obviously we cannot stand by and let there be blackouts in this country so now that they have done that I think what is even more important in the minds of the Belizean people is that how is it that we are going to benefit that decision that the Prime Minister has done, how is it that he will bring down the cost of electricity, how will he make shares available at affordable prices for Belizeans. With BTL with great fanfare he announced that he was going to sell a large chunk of shares to the Belizean public. Less than 5% percent of the shares were bought by Belizeans yet BEL who he claims is bankrupt company now who will want to buy shares in BEL. He has promised the union that there will be no victimization but when you look at his record I don’t think that we can trust or take the Prime Minister at his word. Thousands of Belizeans have lost their jobs and their land just because they are suspected to be P.U.P supporters. When you look at the BTL issue he promised the same thing but yet you have people like Cornelio Acosta, Anwar Sheraff, Bobby Cadle and even somebody like Paul Perriot who was in the front lines with him fight against the then government and was key to help the UDP win elections even he lost his job. There is no comfort in the Prime Ministers word that there is going to be no victimization. What will this do to create jobs he promised to great 5,000 new jobs and Belizeans have lost jobs. Everyone will tell you that the unemployment rate has increased because we have over 30,000 Belizeans who don’t have a job and to make matters worse we have 5,000 new graduates from high school, sixth form and UB that will need a job and where will they get that job. So acquiring BEL how will that create jobs for Belizeans and how will that create that confidence that is so lacking in the Belizean economy.”

And while for now the argument may be caught up in the realm of emotions, at least until time sheds some cold reality on the takeover, Briceno remembered how things were the last time Government owned BEL.

Hon. John Briceno PUP Leader

“The question that we need to ask is that do we remember how it was when government use to manage BEL there was a lot of blackouts, the service was terrible, there was not rapid expansion in electricity and the list can go on. When you look at BEL right now it is professionally managed company just last week they got an award for the lowest rate of electricity in the Caribbean region and also for the best managed utility company.”

But with that said, there are still a lot of concerns being expressed, not the least of which is the massive increase in national debt this administration is taking on.

Hon. John Briceno PUP Leader

“The only ones that have been making lots of money in this country are the attorneys and a lot of the attorneys that are very closely linked to the Prime Minster they have been raking in millions of dollars we are talking about millions of dollars that could have been used to create jobs for Belizeans, to give them scholarships and lands but instead we are spending all this time in litigation. BEL pointed out that on a normal year they spend less than $200,000 in lawyer fees and in their first two years they have already spent several millions of dollars that could have been spent in the company. The issue of the national dept is serious one because it was this party that was in government that was attacking us about the super bond, about the level of dept. The way what we did is to restructure the dept that we manage to bring it down and over the past few years it has been going down but if you look at two major issues and we are not even talking about land that they have acquired from people that they will have to pay, we’re just looking at BEL and BTL, you’re looking at hundreds of millions of dollars that this government will have to add to his dept , so that 85% will definitely go to over 100% and is going to cripple country’s ability to create jobs, to expand the economy, to expand infrastructure that sure needed and goes hand in hand with tourism and agriculture and to be able to develop this country, so it is certainly something of great concern to myself as a business person and also as the leader of the party, as the leader of the PUP and as the party that we have all confidence that to get into government and we know that have to be able to look after that and start to address it immediately.”

All three releases so far from the Chamber of Commerce, the Belize Business Bureau and the PUP have hit on one very important chord the need for dialogue and careful planning as opposed to aggression and confrontation.

Hon. John Briceno PUP Leader

“Instead of sitting down with the Chamber of Commerce and trying to strengthen that relationship that they had, what does he do? He attacks them and this is the problem that we have a government that is confrontational, a Prime Minister that has been governing this country like a defence lawyer, that for him to win he has to shred you to pieces as oppose to be a Prime Minister, he needs to beat the chief cheerleader outside of Belize by trying to encourage people to come and invest here in Belize, he needs to be the one that puts the plan forward and inspiring the confidence on the Belizean people, to show well guys let’s work together but this is what the government is going to do for you, this is what we are going to do for you to create a better Belize, to create opportunities, to create jobs, to create scholarships, to open more schools and infrastructure, unfortunately that is not happening.”

It remains to be seen how the Prime Minister will deal with the crippling, critical and immediate debt obligations of BEL, including more than $5 million which is due to Belcogen so that entity can meet its own debt obligations.

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