A cloud of uncertainty looms over the future of Senate Select Committee hearings following an August 3rd letter from Prime Minister Dean Barrow to the Clerk of the National Assembly Eddie Webster that no more funding would be provided to the Committee hearings beyond November.
Webster had written the PM on July 20th and again on July 21st, requesting funds to pay for the Committee’s outstanding bills as of July 31st and to cover the cost of the sitting from September to November. While the cost of the Senate hearings has never been made public, the PM’s response letter revealed the cost being $146,000 from November 2016 to July this year, and $124,202 proposed for the next three months.
The cost running the Senate Select Committee’s work has become a contentious issue because if you ask UDP Chairman Alberto August the expenses are at least three times more and should therefore be halted. The UDP has been suffering political embarrassments from the revelations of wrongdoing coming out of the hearings.
So what is the real cost and has it become a costly exercise for Belizeans? Yesterday, we sought an opinion from Business Senator Mark Lizarraga.
Senator Mark Lizarraga – Member of Special Senate Select Committee
“I think it’s a matter of prioritizing, I think at the end of the day I make a hundred and thirty dollars I come here, that’s for my fuel and my time, they feed us a plate of food other than that we pay the press whatever that cost to broadcast, I fail to see how the numbers that are been claimed can be justified I mean our expenses are really minimal so I don’t know where those numbers are coming from but I suspect that the clerk should be able and should be a matter of public knowledge I believe that they should be able to provide you with the numbers that we’ve actually spent. We asked for a financial report after that outrageous number came out and we said how can we spend that when our budget was only about two hundred thousand or something like that and so we had gotten a correction there and at that time we had not even busted our two hundred thousand I believe so I know for this year we’ve requested some other sums we had some legal fees, we had some fees for the broadcasting but even so the broadcasting is about fifteen hundred dollars a session I mean you know so it’s not outrageous and the Belizean people will have to decide if this is more important I mean we seem to find thirty million dollars when we want to build a basketball court and a stadium we seem to find tens of millions of dollars to spend of a stadium that’s not completed and hasn’t been completed for years and you can’t find a few hundred thousand dollars to finish the work to make sure that we have less incidents of human trafficking, that we have less incidents of money laundering, that we have less incidence of persons coming and abusing of our nationality process and disenfranchising Belizeans from activities which they can do.”
For clarification, the media expenses referred to by Senator Lizarraga go towards the live coverage provided by two media houses on radio and television. We would expect that the cost of security has doubled or tripled following the bullyish tactics of the UDP Chairman and his thugs against members of the Senate and the media during Senate hearings in May and June.