Hon. Dean Oliver Barrow
No installment in any of the annual increments by which we most reckon the passage of time, is ever completely without trials and tribulations. That is why as human beings, as societies, as nations, we always welcome the New Year with expectation and excitement. It is a chance to recover from adversity in the preceding twelve months, to do better and be better. The ageless ritual of ringing out the old and ringing in the new, is thus emblematic of the eternal capacity for hope and renewal. And this, in turn, is part of God's legacy to the Race; to all thinking, sentient creatures that believe in Him. But while last year was, like all others, not without difficulties, they were small ones. Indeed, given the global situation; given the continuing fiscal, debt and joblessness problems of the
US; and given the absolute crisis in which Europe continued to be engulfed, economically our country did well. And a look at the numbers will serve to confirm what, in all the circumstances, is a performance for which we must give thanks.
The Statistical Institute of Belize reports that for the first nine months of the year, our economy grew by 2.7% as compared to 1.8% for the same period in 2010. Last quarter growth is traditionally most robust, so that we are well on track to exceed the overall 3% GDP increase for 2011 that I had predicted on Independence Day. This is a significant jump and will be almost one full percentage point above the 2.4% growth recorded for the previous year. When we look at the particular sectors that are most responsible for this picture of economic advance, the panorama is even more encouraging. Up to September it was the Wholesale and Retail Trade Sector that was one of the leaders, showing a 7.7% increase. And the Corozal Free Zone alone was responsible for a business rebound of 23% in improved year-on-year sales. Over the three quarters Hotels and Restaurants grew by 2.1% as a consequence of a 3.3% increase in overnight tourists; and Transport and Communications went up by 2.5%. Construction was also 7.4% better. But it was Fishing that led all comers with a 14.5% hike.
And while overall sugar production fell, ratios, quality and prices improved so that we are now poised for an outstanding new season. Finally, Inflation remained low at just over 2%. It is on the basis of all this that I can say that we were blessed in 2011. We easily outpaced 2010, and the story is even more remarkable if we go back to 2009. Then, we all remember, was when there was actual contraction; when the fallout from the world recession threatened to swamp us completely.
The economic success of 2011 meant that increases in export earnings, including in particular from crude oil, enabled Government to consummate a great leap forward in cementing its social agenda. Job-creating infrastructure projects were implemented; educational and economic second chance opportunities were expanded; and the wind was fully in the sails of our signature home improvement, food pantry and cash transfer programs.
Our democracy was also in fine flower. We maintained our commitment to accessibility, transparency and accountability; and we continued our forward march to true nationalism by way of the Constitutional enshrinement of public ownership of our essential utilities.
Perhaps most noteworthy of all, we succeeded-certainly since September when we forged the Belize City gang truce-in decelerating the incidence of senseless murders in this country. The significant reduction in the homicide rate for the last four months of 2011 as compared to 2010, is great progress. And it comes at just the right point, when too many were beginning to feel that there could be no rescue from the abyss.
But the real purpose of this Message is to look ahead; to assure one and all that the inherent promise and opportunity of the New Year will not be forgone. Efforts will be strengthened, commitments will be broadened, successes will be deepened.
In 2012, as one example, the infrastructure drive-and the jobs it brings-will scale new heights. The
Jalacte Road in the South, the Blue Creek one in the North, the Macal River Crossing in the West, the comprehensive drainage and street works, will all be hitting full stride. The new Marion Jones stadium will be coming out of the ground, the new Belize City will be rising from the rubble. The contract for the design and build component of the Solid Waste Management Project, has also been signed; and it will see 14 million dollars spent between January and July in Caye Caulker, San Pedro, San Ignacio and Belize City. And their delayed rehabilitation and beautification drive for the District Towns will now start by April, the World Bank assures us. Civic Center
A countrywide money contribution for working mothers will join the apprenticeship, food subsidy and BOOST programs. And the drop-in centers in distressed
neighbourhoods will help with community development, social recovery and violence prevention. Belize City
Millions of dollars will continue to fund Government's home improvement and home repairs across the nation; and every single registered surveyor in this country has now been contracted to work on the subdivision of the 4,709 acres identified by the Ministry of Lands for the allocation of building lots to first time landowners.
Our outreach to the poor and the middle class continues. They, and indeed all Belizeans, will be helped by the lower electricity rates that I promised in September, and which are now a certainty. BEL, owned at last by Government and people, has already accepted, by way of its submissions to the Public Utilities Commission, that rates must come down. And the PUC may well reduce even more what has been proposed by BEL. The final decision will be on January 31, and the new, lower rates should under the current law take effect a few months thereafter. But we are a Government in a hurry to do good things. And the ease to the consumer, the ease in the cost of living, the ease to business and industry and agriculture, can't wait. Thus Government will amend the law to implement from the very next day, February 1, 2012, this historic decrease in what Belizeans pay for electricity.
But there is more that we offer by way of festal cheer. Unlike 2012, our vision of uplift and opportunity and egalitarianism is not newborn. But the underlining of fresh beginnings that always takes place on January 1, provides a proper opportunity for us to reassert our creed: that this Government's flame of social justice will never dim; that it will burn even brighter in the next twelve months. And our preoccupation with those at the margins, with those of fixed incomes, low incomes and no incomes, has caused us to hit on yet another idea for New Year relief and assistance. Accordingly, I announce today that Government will purchase all mortgages of 50 thousand dollars and under, owned by the Belize Social Security Board. These number 780 and have a total aggregate value of 17 million dollars. Government will thereafter write off these mortgages, forgiving the householders all of their loan obligations, and putting that money at their disposal to spend on the economy and generate more activity.
The notion of helping not just individuals but businesses in this way, brings me to the last point I wish to make. In all that we do, Government cannot forget the private sector. There is need for an equal partnership, and we made the right start late in 2011. This must be consolidated in the year ahead. Government is therefore, among other things, appointing a Business Development Facilitator in the Office of the Prime Minister to help oversee the new relationship.
I close by referring once again to the rebirth of optimism that is the special
celebrations. All across the globe, this is an occasion for the rekindling of inspiration. It is the annual re-start of the quest for human progress, of the alchemist mission to turn even brass into gold. In the case of province of New Year , our resolution is to re-dedicate and re-consecrate the crusade by which we build a shining, fair and just country. One that will be the envy of, and model for, the region and the world. Belize
Happy New Year everyone, and God bless