Saturday, January 17, 2009



Meeting of tourist operators, out WEST, mid January, indicates that EVERYBODY in Cayo West is experiencing a slowdown in tourism numbers. I thought it was only me, but apparently the district hotels and lodges are all in the same boat. We are getting a trickle of visitors into the Western Belize Recreational Area, but not much.

Those tourist visitors that are booking and showing up are doing so, with only a day or two notice. The longer term pre-bookers are not showing up at all. Fellow listserve members on the Belize Culture listserve debating group, of things Belizean that just visited, criticized me for not having enough signs on the back streets to Falconview Backpackers Adventure Hostel, to find the place. Will fix that over the next month at their insistence. Been kinda lazy in that regard. I figure any taxi will find the place, though mostly they steal our bus arriving guests, for their cousins and uncles rental places, if our guests make the mistake of going into San Ignacio market center instead of getting off the bus in Santa Elena Town, Exit 66 1/2.

TWIN TOWN BOARD STAFF ( San Ignacio ) are being alleged to have run a victimization campaign this past holiday season. Apparently, the TOWN BOARD people ( not sure who? ) were soliciting money for holiday drinking parties, (the business rumor mill is saying ) and San Ignacio business proprietors that refused to contribute the requested amount, ( $50 cash – no receipts ) were hit with traffic tickets for not wearing seat belts within the town of San Ignacio as revengeful punishment, if they refused, the next day. I drive myself into San Ignacio Town a couple of times a day for shopping and business and haven’t experienced it myself, but businesses located within the town, over on that side of the Macal River, are complaining they are being victimized for not contributing, when asked for specific donation amounts. ( extortion? ) Driving inside the twin towns usually occurs around 5 to 8 mph. You can’t go any faster, or get out of first gear. So stopping and starting and shopping is normal, without a seat belt, within the Twin Towns. The allegations being made on the gossip mill; are that the traffic wardens are being used, to ticket un-cooperative business people, who have been extorted for large cash contributions. Victims feel this is true, because they allege that; when they refused to contribute to a town board staff holiday drinking party. Their vehicles and drivers are being ticketed in revenge the next day, the ten ordinary drivers in line, both before them and after them, without seatbelts, were not molested are the allegations.

Whatever the truth, it is a dangerous precedent for either a political party, or the bureaucrats, to use the institutions of government for extortion, or political victimization. Many a small business was run out of business in the 18 SELF GOVERNING YEARS of George Price, because they were perceived to be vocal opposition political party supporters, using the institutions of government. Belize is getting to be a much bigger place and ordinary citizens are not as pacific as they were once, when the population was much smaller. Vengeance for perceived criminal injustice can result in more than just voting the politicians out of office as our population grows. We don’t need to go that route of corruption and violence.

Garbage pickup for us in the Hillview suburb of Santa Elena side of the twin towns, saw us go six weeks without garbage pickup. Upon complaining online, we got prompt town board service the next morning and in fact this week, we have had two garbage pickups in one week. Sort of FEAST and FAMINE. No complaints anyway from Hillview.

January 15th , 2009 has come and gone without a State of the Nation speech on the state of the Belize National Economy. Business people are unable to plan their year looking forward, for lack of economic data. The man who holds the position of the Minister of Finance, ( Dean Barrow ) also is the Prime Minister and the political party LEADER, or head of the UDP party. Some people suggest he is weak in the finance department, others say he is wearing too many hats. Whatever the truth, the public private sector cannot accurately make future business plans for 2009, without the economic data. This is supposed to be available end of every month anyway with new computer systems.

Current rumors are; the UDP Cabinet are worried about the mounting loans and debts? They are also spending too much. Guesswork for 2009 in the absence of accurate economic figures ( I hate guessing the economic numbers ) announced by this UDP government, is that the government revenues for 2009, will shrink to about $730 million Bz currency and of that $265 million is earmarked to pay INTEREST payments on old foreign loans carried forward. This interest amount is expected to jump 50% either this year, or next year, by escalating BOND requirements, and double the year after that again? Which would make existing inherited loan interest payments come to $400 million Bz, this year, leaving only $330 million for government, which is costing, a guessed at $560 million since the expansion of many projects and departments. ( e.g.: such as Building plans and permitting system, being hired for now ). Couple this with a further $150 million Bz, foreign loans made during 2008 by the UDP and will eventually have to ADD to our national foreign debt burden, making the longer term fiscal policy view, dismal in outlook for the remaining UDP term. The shame is; that our Belize government actually takes in enough annual revenues to make our nation self sustainable economically. The private sector do not know which way to turn without good prompt fiscal data, and are disappointed that the pre-election UDP rhetoric on “accountability, and transparency” are not being adhered to as promised. This was supposed to be a REFORM government of UDP.

On the other hand, as a UDP Cabinet excuse, we read in the Guardian political party newspaper this weekend, that the World Bank is contributing a $350,000 usa GRANT to further GOB institutional capacity in delivery and review of good quality financial information for the government. Primarily in the realm of procurement and government contracts. This Guardian article seems to indicate the Minister of Finance, Dean Barrow is not happy with the economic accounting system in Belmopan our capital. Since the previous Musa/PUP government used to keep us, in the private sector informed, in an almost instantaneous manner ( one week delay ) of government costs, via the newspapers, this new Prime Minister who wears that hat, also the hat of party leader and the top hat of Minister of Finance, does not seem to be able to MULTI-TASK , and seems to be inordinantly involved with government lawsuits ( his forte as a lawyer ), apparently ignoring economics all this past year, giving NOTHING in information to the private sector, our economic fiscal data of the nation and government. End of this 2008 calendar year, we want some numbers, even if they are a few percentage points off, so we can plan for the coming years business expectations in the private sector. Business trends for business forecasting are derived from the numbers. We need the trends more than anything for projections. Under the top hat of Minister of Finance, Dean Barrow is NOT doing his job, up to the quality level of the previous PUP fiscal reporting administration done by previous Minister of Finance, Said Musa.

The USA unemployment figures at 7.2% in December are expected to exceed 10% and maybe up to 14% by the next winter months a year away, during 2009 and how this overall, will effect our big TOURISM money earner in Belize , is meeting with a certain amount of fear. The USA recession is seemingly going into DEPRESSION, which will effect the whole world, including Belize . Our Belize government would be remiss if they do not plan for WORST CASE SCENARIOS. It is time to be self sufficient and lean out government costs.

Many Western Belize Business people are considering moving some of their savings out of Belize Banks and converting to Quetzals, a floating currency. The rising National Debt and fear of devaluation are driving forces here in Belize . Indeed the gossip mill has so much doom and gloom, we also are planning a trip to Guatemala maybe in March, to look over the situation with investing in that neighbor country. ( good excuse for a vacation anyway ) Diversification is king of economic security. The local gossip and speculation has us worried also. We are planning a trip to the Department of Alta Verapaz, noted for it’s scenic beauty. The area we are interested in over there, is 4,350 feet altitude, but has six months of rain a year. There are three Mayan old fuedal kingdoms still functioning in the area. It is getting a lot of internal Guatemalan tourism and growing. On the internet we see hotel prices there quoted at $70 usa per night. WOW! The Guatemalan government has been opening up all of Eastern Guatemala with new roads and improvements, and business potential on the EASTERN half in Guatemala is looking good for Belizeans, afraid of DEVALUATION in Belize . The new building permit system in Belize , is expected to double the cost of construction investment, here in Belize . Ourselves as a family, were one time interested in expanding into Caricom, particularly the British Virgin Islands, and Dominica , but without any internal CARICOM transportation systems from Belize , that idea seems to be a waste of time. Honduras has us afraid because of MS-13 extortion networks of criminals and Mexico seems to be collapsing with a civil war of sorts, between the Federal government and big criminal drug gangs. The USA has become even more fearful as an investment place, with financial collapse of their own projected, reported locally here by our economist Bill Lindo, for around April/May in the USA , by the Amandala newspaper. Where to go in the 34 American countries, for safety, security, safe business and safety of SAVINGS is the question? Belize is sort of safe in the sense of good police responses to criminality, but not from devaluation and predatory taxation and fines, which the rumor mill is forecasting from this UDP government. Will there be a flow of Belizean investors into Guatemala ? 2010 will probably tell us more, as events unfold.

Located in the Del Rio Plaza, downtown, all of the second floor has been converted and very well too, with a receptionists area, big street side verandah and big rooms with bathroom, tv, hot water, air conditioning and so forth. Rivals the San Ignacio Hotel up the hill and is charging $55 usa tax included. Good price and worth it. Serves a Continental breakfast and the Hindu restaurant is next door where we eat lunch every day after using the internet cafe downstairs.


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