Sunday, March 15, 2009



By Ray Auxillou

The new budget was pretty good. In fact, as a government watcher and harsh budget critic, this budget in my opinion, is the best organized budget in the short history of Belize since Independence. Things may go wrong in the coming fiscal year to upset this budget, but with what we know right now under current world conditions, it is self evident that budget planners and organizers in Belize and the political leadership of the Finance Minister, has probably done the best job they could do under the current fiscal circumstances. The budget presented shows their serious intent to organize the finances of Belize in a proper manner. Kudos to Mr. Barrow and his Cabinet for a job well done. If this was a report card, I would grade the budget effort at 96%.
The best reports of the budget were presented in the Amandala newspaper by reporter Adele Ramos and in the Reporter newspaper by an unknown writer. The party newspaper, THE GUARDIAN of the CABINET did not have more than a touch of the important points in the budget. All these articles can be found online on the internet. What I found excellent was the use of REAL numbers. Personally I have an affinity for math and numbers, and usually do not need written notes. As a young student I learned to use a circular slide rule, in which one cut out the decimal points and put math problems in whole numbers. This little trick allows you to get valued approximations with just a simple mental exercise. This budget agrees with the approximations of the whole numbers I carry in my head. We will not argue about a few thousands here or there, so long as the hundred millions of the overall budget agree with the numbers in my head.
I had one critique, which was from something the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance said, in that he said that this budget was a CONSERVATIVE BUDGET. I wouldn’t agree with him there, but the numbers are on the edge of such an idea. For conservative status my own opinion would have cut the different numbers by a further 10%. This is a minor disagreement of what otherwise was an excellent first attempt to bring fiscal order out of fiscal chaos left over by the previous PUP regime. There was an additional correction in this budget and I hope it is true. We had been doing numbers based on the overall DEBT to GDP ratio being 95% as being quoted in the newspaper media articles earlier from before the Xmas holidays. This number turned out to be wrong. Dean Barrow announced in this budget the DEBT to GDP ratio is actually 71.3% down just a shade, from the previous year’s number. This if true, indicates the UDP are on the right path. I just hope the number is true and not padded some way with imaginative bookkeeping as used to be done by the PUP. The variable here would be the calculation on value of GDP.
While the figures present a rosy year for the Belize economy coming up, there are worries about the year following. The primary cause of the worry is the escalating interest hikes on external foreign debt. Generally speaking in whole numbers, our external foreign debt is a shade under $2 billion Belize currency. The BOND issue during the past PUP administration had escalating interest payments starting next year and the budget presentation covered these numbers in explanation. Barrow says that next year the interest on the external BONDS will jump from the current cost of $46 million currently being paid, to $66 million starting next year. This does not include draw down of debt. Within the remaining term of this UDP government, the interest again will escalate and jump to approximately slightly over a $100 million a year. We have some options and ideas in mind, but technically speaking, dealing with these external BONDS are probably the biggest single factor to creating a wealthy country under the UDP. Somehow, ways and means have to be found to reduce the BOND debt. We do that; the country will be in great shape, irregardless of outside world events under UDP stewardship. Nothing seemed to be in the budget for amounts to go to our SAVINGS, in FOREIGN RESERVES and one would expect under current circumstances that is a luxury we cannot afford this year. We can only cross our fingers and pray we do not get hit by any natural disasters for this year. We are in hurricane alley, so the percentages, or gambling odds are against us. If we escape a natural disaster this season, it will be purely LADY LUCK.
If there was any success this past current austerity year of the UDP government, it was the success in holding down costs, driven by short term, elected area representatives clamoring for money for a variety of home division projects for re-election purposes. PM Barrow and his Cabinet were successful apparently from these budget numbers. The only real loss was $5 million created by exuberant “do it now” area representative EDMUND CASTRO in his early term, Crooked Tree Lagoon failed causeway. Castro meant well and he was forgiven, but quite correctly subsequently, reined in financially.
The UDP are on the right track. Interestingly as an aside, PM Barrow and as Finance Minister he had announced last year that there were experts being consulted to create a more stable budget system of calculations. We have been impatient, because for this past year we have had no published monthly government numbers for the private sector to crunch for investment and business purposes. The wait was probably worth it, as the number crunching is turning out positive for the future of the nation. Barrow announced in this budget that what his Finance Department is doing, is installing a new system of program budgeting, to hold program managers accountable for results. The software part we understand, the accountability part we are hazy about. Probably a misunderstanding of semantics? We can only see how it works out in practice. Undoubtedly there will be more clear explanations offered as time passes.
Skipping the necessary exaggerated political hoorah and bombast accompanying any budget presentation, the numbers and methodology are good. KUDOS to the Prime Minister and his team. Not that he cares what I think, but we try to be fair in our opinions, irregardless of whoever is in office. They did a good job. Now lets get back to monthly statistical reporting in the media please. We the private sector have businesses to run.

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