On the first day of the 2016/2017 Budget debate which took place last week in Belmopan the Leader of the Opposition Honorable John Briceno expressed great disappointment in the budget. During his presentation Briceno declared that Belize is in recession as he cited figures from Statistical Institute of Belize showing Belize had experienced negative growth for two consecutive quarters in 2015. Briceno’s analogy was backed up by Honorable Francis Fonseca who in his statement mentioned that we are in fact in an economic recession since we are technically facing two-quarters of negative growth. For context here is that portion of Briceno and Fonseca’s presentation.

Screen_Shot_2016-03-30_at_8.12.09_PMHonorable John Briceno – Leader of the People United Party

“We are in a recession, and how is the government planning to get us out of this recession, by spending and putting a 50 million dollar whap on the Belizean people, you know how much of that 50 million dollar each one of us will have to pay, every Belizean man, woman and child will have to pay $143.00 more to government this year, this is the true picture and an economy in recession and our national debt reaching 80% of GDP and a government clueless about how to fix one of the key pillars of our economic growth the agro-productive sector .”

Honorable Francis Fonseca – PUP Area Representative

In terms of a recession what you are talking technically is two-quarters of negative growth. He is absolutely right and that is what we have been dealing with here in Belize. So we are in fact in an economic recession here in this country and the government should say so to the Belizean people if they are asking them to tighten their belts. Mister Speaker, what is particularly troubling as I was saying was that we have growing debt but we have a stagnant economy. No new sources of revenue; you can search the budget book from top to bottom, except of course the tax, the fuel. No increase in the tax base meaning that you are not growing the tax base and collecting tax from more people. No new meaningful investments, no new growth in the economy to drive revenues upward.”

Yesterday as the 12 senators of the upper chamber of Parliament debated the 2016-2017 budget labelled “Stability in a time of Change”, the word recession popped up again as Lead Opposition Senator Eamon Courtenay made his presentation and described the budget as an insipid one.

Senator Eamon Courtenay – Opposition Senator for People’s United Party

“We were presented with an insipid budget, one that offers no hope, no design, no new developmental demarche.  Instead what we have is a budget that is centered on a fifty million dollar tax bukut.  Madame President, the fact is, as has been said by those who spoke before me, that there is nothing in the budget that provides a credible policy response to the United Democratic Party-induced recession that Belize is experiencing.  There is no hope.  There is no plan.  There is no strategy and yes the UDP won the election but they have lost the will.  They have lost the ability to govern.  Indeed what we have is a lame duck prime minister whose minister’s, starting with his deputy, who is already abandoning the ship.”

But for UDP Senator’s Carla Barnett and Stephen Duncan, Briceno, Fonseca and Courtney have it all wrong as they believe the country is not on the verge of collapsing.

Senator Carla Barnett – United Democratic Party

“So please do not call it a recession, there isn’t one by the time the GDP estimates for 2015 are in we should see growth that is above the 1.2% estimates for the first nine months of the year, any economics 101 textbook will tell you  that a recession can be called if there are at least six months of decline in GDP, bear in mind though that those economist where the collection of production data is sophisticated enough that have GDP data produced, prepared, published every month, here in Belize we prepare GDP estimates on a quarterly basis and estimates GDP afterwards, bear in mind that even in those economist where GDP data is published every month six months of consecutive declining GDP in and of itself is not sufficient to determine that a recession is happening, that alone is not the determining factor, a recession is determined by a generalized decline across the important sectors of the economy accompanied by job loses, rising unemployment, declining stock prices, increasing interest rates and a variety of negative indicators, this is not what we are experiencing in Belize in 2015, not by a long short.”

Senator Stephen Duncan – United Democratic Party

“What we are now seeing in the budget, Mr. President is the action of a government that knows when to make the transition, what we are seeing is a government that has said and is recognizing that in fact Petro Caribe funds are not as it used to be in the past so the government is saying we have to curb our behavior our activities and they are doing what is necessary, they are doing what needs to be done to manage the resources they have prudently and properly but what is appears to me Mr. President is that we have a Prime Minister that plans ahead, that recognizes when he has to change directions, when he has to change course and is taking the steps necessary to ensure that none of the things prophet none of the doom and doom prophet actually happened because if we take the steps now to change course and to plan and to spend accordingly we will not get to that stage of starvation.”

The deficit for the 2016/2017 fiscal year is projected at $62.6 million in the 2015/2016 fiscal year, GOB projected a primary deficit of $87.6 million but at the end of the year, the country faced an overall deficit of $180.1 million, 5.1 percent of GDP.

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