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Hon. Edmond Castro, Area Rep. for the Belize Rural North (BRN), is pleased to inform that the Community Center in Lucky Strike Village (Old Northern Highway) is being refurbished, its roof being replaced, bathrooms built, and proper doors and windows installed.

This is being done with funds from our Government of Belize, ensuring that the building meets Hurricane Shelter standard. This has been a top priority of Lucky Strike Chairman Andrew Chacon and his village council.

Similar works are being done on the St Paul’s Bank Community Center (Belize River Valley) by also upgrading it to Hurricane Shelter standard.

The Minister of Health. Hon. Pablo Marin along with the Ambassador of El Salvador to Belize, Hon. Luis Carabantes Palacios met today with recipients of medical scholarships offered through El Salvador to Belizean doctors to pursue specialty areas in Medicine. Minister Marin was happy to meet with the doctors and express gratitude on behalf of the Government of Belize for their interest and support to pursue specialty areas needed in Belize. From the seven recipients, three will take up General Surgery, two in Psychiatry, One in Pediatrics and one in Internal Medicine. This opportunity was also made possible through cooperation from the Minister of Health of El Salvador, Violeta Menjivar.

The Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs Hon. Elodio Aragon Jr., yesterday January 30th, 2017, conducted a tour of the National Forensic Services (NFS) Headquarters in Ladyville.
Honorable Aragon met with management and staff, acquainting himself with the services offered by the institution, and through their discussions identified capabilities as well as shortcomings of the NFS. The Minister was given a presentation which provided an overview of the current status of the NFS. The presentation also addressed topics such as drug and alcohol testing, and ballistic testing using the Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS), a modern automated firearms identification system.
Minister Aragon committed to do all in is power to address the concerns and needs of the NFS to allow for the proper delivery of services.
Additionally, the Minister revealed his plans to unveil a Crime Strategy, which incorporates the NFS, specifically relating to its Ballistics Unit; and his commitment to strengthening legislation, which will see the work being done by the experts at the NFS to yield tangible results in the fight against crime.

When the House of Representatives convened on Friday, January 27, 2017, the Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow finally revealed the reason for the emergency meeting of the Parliament. PM Barrow introduced an authoritative Bill, aimed at protecting the country’s foreign reserves in face of ‘Predators’.

The PM suggested that the Bill was of sovereign urgency, after revealing that attorneys for the Ashcroft Group of companies are attempting to obtain an enforcement order to collect over one hundred million dollars; monies that the Government of Belize has said it will not pay.

The PM also revealed that anyone who attempts to attach the assets of the country’s Central Bank to any judgment, would in so doing be held criminally liable. Violators would, according to the PM, be liable to an arrest and prosecution. Violator(s) could face a fine of $250,000 and/or imprisonment of up to two years.

While the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. John Briceno eventually voted in favour of the Bill, he pointed out concerns that the Opposition was served with a copy of the Bill less than 24 hours prior to it being brought to the house. PM Barrow responded by apologizing and suggesting that it was tantamount to not give the Ashcroft group a ‘heads-up’, as it could have afforded them the opportunity to seek a freezing order on the country foreign reserves – a move that would not only defeat the purpose of the Bill but one which would also cripple the country’s economic activity.

The Bill went through all three readings today and received 29 votes in favour and zero against. Hon. Gaspar Vega and Hon. Francis Fonseca were both absent in today’s session.

On Friday, January 13, 2017, Mrs. Laura Tucker-Longsworth,  was sworn in as the new Speaker of The House of Representatives.

Longsworth is a highly esteemed career nurse, popular for her accomplishments as President of the Belize Cancer Society. She holds the distinction of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, recognized for her service as a career nurse.

Mrs. Longsworth succeeds Hon. Michael Peyrefitte who is now the current Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs.

My Fellow Belizeans,

The year 2016 saw more than the usual share of challenges.

Cyclical and disease-induced downturns in agriculture, the damage from Hurricane Earl, and the harmful effects of de-risking by international correspondent banks, combined to trigger a mild economic recession.

As well, there was the final settlement for the nationalization of BTL. The Arbitration Award was large, though much smaller than the previous owners of the company had demanded. And fully, sixty percent of it was a consequence of the previous Administration’s odious Accommodation Agreement. Still the overall size of the payout resulted in stretching the limits of the public debt. To make up, however, there has been BTL’s breakout performance service wise and revenue wise since nationalization; and there is also its superior future growth trajectory. Together these factors wholly vindicate a Belizean ownership that is now ‘feeling the rush’. In fact, these make the Award a price well worth paying for an asset that is now a source of great pride and profit.

Socially, there was the prolonged BNTU strike which kept our children out of their classrooms for eleven days. It additionally had the consequence of draining away confidence from the relationship between Government and a key social partner.

Thus, 2016 in many ways tested our resolve.

But 2016 also brought measurable advances. Government’s national infrastructure renewal proceeded without pause, and saw completion of a number of multimillion dollar sporting and community projects in San Pedro, Dangriga and Punta Gorda. There were also large continuing investments in sugar roads, the PGIA to Belize City portion of the Philip Goldson Highway, the Mountain Pine Ridge Road, the Hummingbird, and the 17 million dollar expansion to the Sir Barry Bowen Municipal Airport.

Several notable private sector developments also took place in 2016. These include the opening of the $100 million Harvest Caye facility, with initial wrinkles having now been sorted out so as to guarantee a stake for Independence, Placencia, Monkey River and villages in Toledo. Those private sector developments also include: the $22 million additions to the PGIA, the multimillion dollar renovations to shrimp farms in Southern Belize, the new Santander sugar processing factory, some 800 new hotel rooms and direct airline service between Canada and Belize.

But what perhaps should bring us greatest 2016 pleasure is a recent independent assessment by UNICEF of the quality of life in Belize. Their survey showed that 96% of Belizean households had access to better drinking water, 92% to electricity supply and 87% to improved sanitation services. Hence, more than 9 in 10 of citizens polled expressed a high level of life satisfaction; and fully three quarters of our young population aged 15 to 24 felt that their lives had improved over the past year.

So, ultimately, 2016 was in fact a year which illustrated the truism that things are never other than a mix: good with bad, progress with problems, advances with setbacks. But whenever the balance goes more to the minus side, I assure you that we will be Churchillian in our optimism that we can make opportunities out of difficulties. Thus it is that we march into 2017 certain that the next 12 months will produce a full national recovery.

First, the Central Bank of Belize expects an economy-wide expansion of 3.5%, driven by dramatic growth in tourism and services and a robust recovery in farmed shrimp, corn and bananas.

Second, our public servants, teachers, soldiers, nurses and police officers will receive a 3% salary increase with interest. This is the final Collective Bargaining Agreement remuneration installment and, together with increments, will total an unprecedented 23% global raise over four years.

Third, Government expects to improve the state of public finances and public debt by amending the currently unaffordable terms of our inherited Super Bond. The overhaul will also involve the implementation, after broad consultations, of a Budget for fiscal year 2017-2018 that cuts spending and boosts revenue. There is fat to be trimmed and there is money to be collected. But this will be done without weakening our pro-poor programs and without sacrificing investments in education, health and security. Accordingly, there will be no diminution in either Food Pantry or BOOST, and in fact the 2017 start to Southside Poverty Alleviation Phase 3 will bring additional relief to targeted communities. Likewise, two polyclinics and three health centers for Corozal and Cayo will all be completed in the coming year. And the IDB-funded Education Quality Improvement Project will see the building of dozens of new classrooms in the rural areas.

Contributing to the economic rebound forecast by the Central Bank, will be the massive five year, 400 million dollar capital investment program of the public utilities BTL, BEL and BWSL. Another big driver is the menu of Central Government and Private Sector projects either in the planning or early implementation stages. These include, but are not limited to: the Caracol Road; the link road and bridge joining the Philip Goldson and George Price Highways; the new Haulover Bridge and the multi-lane expansion of the carriage way between the PGIA and Belize City; the bulk cargo and cruise port in Belize City; the Coastal Road; the Belmopan to Benque rehabilitation; and the new Macal River bridge that is a feat of local engineering.

In the all-important tourism sector there are the new airline routes to come from Fort Lauderdale and Denver, plus the already-commenced Tropic Air flights to Merida, Cancun, Chetumal and parts of Central America. A direct Mexico City to Belize connection via a Mexican carrier is also being worked on for 2017. To host this passenger increase, there is a frenzy of hotel  construction in North Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker and Placencia. Blackadore Caye has also broken ground, and Caye Chapel’s owners expect their 200 million US dollar partnership with a five star brand to be announced by February.

All this infrastructure and tourism activity plus the agricultural export resurgence will, we are sure, see a return to the historic employment highs Government achieved in 2015.

Underpinning our entire economic, fiscal and monetary framework is the strength of the Belize dollar. It is still more than amply backed by the requisite level of reserves, and is immovably anchored to the traditional and current peg.

There is also social reform to accompany economic reform. The Integrity Commission has been appointed, the UN Anti-Corruption Convention signed, and the commencement date fixed for the 13th Senator Law. The Occupation and Safety Health Bill will shortly go to Parliament, as will amendments to the Social Security Act providing expanded benefits to all workers in the country. We have as well sorted out the interpretation of a section of the Law so as to ensure proper coverage of stevedores who don’t work continuously.

I want to close by saying just a bit about National Security. We have provided both the BDF and the Coast Guard with much additional material, including helicopters, seagoing craft and weaponry. The police are also far better resourced and we have grown their numbers exponentially. Increased funding for our men and women in uniform will continue under CABEI’s Belize Integral Security Program, reaching 10 million dollars next year and 38 million in 2018. We are determined, therefore, to resist external dangers and defeat internal threats. There is no room for lawlessness in our society. And so the bringing of economic and social progress to our people has to be accompanied by relentlessly confronting the culture of gangs, violence and murder.

In all respects, then, 2017 must be a turnaround stanza as we seek to fulfill the promise of our annual greeting: Happy New Year and God bless Belize.

Your Excellency, the Governor-General, Sir Colville Young, and Lady
Young My Lord Chief Justice, Kenneth Benjamin and Mrs Benjamin, and other Justices of
the Supreme Court Hon Leader of the Opposition, John Briceño, and Mrs Briceño
Hon Ministers of Government and Members of the National Assembly
Your Worship the Mayor of Belmopan, Mr Khalid Belisle
My Lords the Bishops of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches of Belize
Bishop of the Methodist Belize/Honduras District
President of the Evangelical Association of Churches Other members of the Clergy Excellencies
of the Diplomatic Corps Members of the Consular Corps Special guests,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, Fellow Belizeans
This year’s September Celebrations came at a time of great division in our country.
Notwithstanding that it was not even12 months since the people spoke in
the last general elections, at which the results were decisive, the tug
of war between the Ruling and Opposition parties has become more contentious. The Labour movement
has also been beset by a degree of factionalism. And even within our Church
community fundamental philosophical and doctrinal differences have beaten
back the spirit of Ecumenism and highlighted some seemingly irreconcilable points of view.
The principal source of the conflict here is what has been de
scribed elsewhere as the culture wars: starkly contrasting positions on how to treat with the
recasting of the categories of sexual and gender identity, and the claims that human rights include
LGBT rights. Not surprisingly, the Chief Justice’s Section 53 ruling detonated a
societal pitched battle in which traditional values and religious mores are in a fierce
offensive against liberalism, secularism and the arguments for evolved Constitutional
protections.
Things, then, have gone way beyond the natural ferment, the
expected clang and clamor of a young, developing Democracy.
And the economic backdrop to it all is, at this time, a complicating factor since we
are experiencing a recession caused by the vagaries of the
commodities cycle: agricultural sector disease, the drying up of our petroleum resources, and the crash in
global prices. It is, of course, a recession made worse by Hurricane Earl. But it is also
a recession from which, I must say at once, we will absolutely
recover. In this overall context which I have just sketched, the theme
of this year’s celebrations is timely both as reminder and exhortation. Sovereign and Strong:
Together as One. Starting first with sovereignty, its preservation remains our fore most preoccupation.
And in seeking to safeguard it, we know to deal with internal as well as
external risks. That is why we have never allowed social or political differences to weaken
ultimate allegiance to our Belizean state. And that is why support for party,
organization, group or clan, is always subordinate to loyalty to
our Belizean nation. And so we beat back any possibility of erosion or crackup from within.
But it is also true that our sovereignty is variously tested from
without. And in this sense not the least of our trials is the constant element of
peril which attends the unfounded Guatemalan claim. There is in fact a built-in precariousness to territorial
integrity when our country is bordered by a much larger neighbor with revanchist
aspirations; a neighbor whose size and power, even if not expressly dep
loyed militarily against us, by their very fact are continuing, intrinsic threats to our reality.
In the circumstances, our diplomatic and physical survival and progress, the
phenomenal job of work done by our Foreign Service Officers, our
BDF and our Coastguard, are matters of solace and pride. Our security forces in particular are
small in number but outsize in determination and ability; and Government will
continue to resource them in that same fashion which has already
seen us provide helicopters and super modern cutters.
So we have, since Independence, remained successfully sovereign, sovereign in both
of the two fundamental regards. And especially from the external point of view we
have prevailed against powerful odds in a manner and to a degree which is tribute to
that Baymen’s blood coursing through our Belizean veins.
And we are also strong. Strong and resilient and anchored by certain enduring
fundamentals with which the bounty of this land, the native brightness of our people
and the richness of our culture have blessed us.Take the question of the economy.
Even though there hasbeen a slackening of the
GDP numbers, there is still an abundance of good things happening. In particular
public works, that driver of jobs and growth, continues to remake our country. The
Belize Infrastructure Limited is still proceeding with the construction of sports and
community facilities in the District Towns. And in the Old Capital the
Belize City Center is beginning to commune with the heavens, the frame of its roof already
dominating the skyline. The Chetumal Street Bridge and the new Lake
I Boulevard function as a critical transportation by-pass, much appreciated by commuters. And
the adjoining Resource Center Building starting to take shape, signals the
implementation commencement of the Master Plan for the 45 acres owned by
Government, designated now as a Special Development Area. It is a mixed use
project that will house the National Bus Terminal and a GOB office complex, but as
well private sector recreational, entertainment and retail spaces.
The larger, countrywide infrastructure canvas also displays
a medley of good things.Those of you coming to Belmopan this morning from Belize City or from the San
Ignacio, would have been impressed by the new Guanacaste Roundabout at the
junction of the Hummingbird and the George Price Highway; and you should see it at
night when it is splendidly lit up, gorgeously displaying its first
world quality andserving as emblem and beacon for our non-stop transformation.
Then, approval has already been secured for the paving and aligning
of the CoastalRoad together with new bridges. This comes out of a 40 million dollar UK grant, the
balance of which will go for improvements in the North to the PhilipGoldson
Highway between Orange Walk and Corozal.In the West the IDB is funding the
rehabilitation of the entire George Price Highway from the Belmopan junction
to Benque Viejo. And OPEC/OFID will do a new Baking Pot Bridge and access
roads as well as the Caracol Road. Also, the new Macal River Bypass and Bridge will be completed by March of
2017.
In Toledo we will finish the last portion to Jalacte of the Southern Highway. And in
Stann Creek the complete re-do of the Hummingbird which is underway will,
together with the Coastal, enhance the viability of the planned Commerce Bight Port.
In the Belize District the work has already started on the portion of highway between
the PSWG Airport and the City’s outskirts; and funding has now been secured for the
new link road to span the Belize River starting from behind Gentrac and coming out
at Mile 8 on the George Price Highway. OPEC/OFID, who will provide the money,
has also agreed, as a result of Hurricane Earl, an additional
few million dollars, on top of the tranches that had already been slated for later in the
year, to help with new home construction and landfill for Southside Belize. And talking
about the Hurricane gives me a chance to say how well NEMO handled the coordination of the social
recovery effort. Their operational model has been commended by the international
team from ECLAC, which was in Belize to do the damage assessment that will
underpin the loan quantum to be funded by the IDB and CDB to assist our national
rebuilding program. In that same vein the Caribbean Development Bank has already
given an initial grant to undertake the replacement of the Calla Creek Bridge and
the low-lying Bridge connecting Santa Elena with San Ignacio.
On the productive sector side of things, the shrimp rebound from the virus that decimated
our stocks is in full flow and we will begin to export again at the start of
2017. Citrus prices are robust and ticking up, and the only challenge now is financing
for increased production. The banana industry was indeed badly hit by the hurricane,
but those hardy farmers in the South are doing all they can to accelerate the recovery.
The expectation is that we will therefore regain total pre-hurricane capacity by next March.
Grain for export was also terribly affected but there is enough for local feed and food with a little left over to sell abroad.
On the other side of the ledger, some compensation is being
experienced by the startof Santander sugar production with deliveries to Spain having already occurred. The
next harvest will be bigger and better with greater export earnings.Belize’s poultry
will also commence going to CARICOM by November and this too, with its
value added in terms of use of local inputs for quality chicken, is part of the equation that
will help return us to full economic wellbeing.
Tourism remains, of course, the brightest star in our constellateion with success
following success and overnight arrival records constantly being shattered. NCL is
on track for its Harvest Caye November start, and the exploratory probe into the
feasibility of the new Belize City Port Loyola Cruise Terminal
has yielded initialresults that are encouraging.
Our dollar continues strong and securely underpinned, though our corres pondent
banking woes are still a problem. Three out of the four local comm
ercial banks now
enjoy full correspondent relationships with US or UK banks. But t
he fourth is still searching and until it succeeds its inability to route external flows for
its customers does create a foreign exchange choke point. But our Central Bank is working to solve
that problem.My confidence today, then, is for a full return, by the start of the next fiscal year, to
GDP growth and financial system normalcy. But that confidence is marred by one
thing: fear of that other hurricane called the SuperBond. So I will say just this. If it is
the last thing I do before I leave office, I will solve once and for
all that problem.And it will not take anything like the four plus years I have left on my Constitutional
mandate.I hope, Ladies and Gentlemen, that I have succeeded in showing that our sovereignty
and strength are intact, resilient, perdurable.But that ‘together as one’, that latter part of the formulation
urged by this year’stheme, is more problematic. It requires us to summon up all our energy, all ourgoodwill,
all our patriotism to make it happen. Let us therefore be
inspired by all things available, such as our Hurricane Earl experience, the scores of stories coming
out of that fateful night and early morning. For these were stories of courage and
extraordinary solidarity. These were stories that told of the heroism not just of the
Police and the BDF, but of ordinary folk braving the raging wind
and surging sea to rescue from collapsing houses occupants utterly and helplessly at the mercy of the
elements. They were stories of the drawing forth of every vestige of national
empathy, in some instances captured in real time such as when
Love FM’s Doctor Villanueva froze in on-air shock and fear, face turned ashen for the woman trapped
by rising water whose desperate call to the station was cut off in the middle of her
SOS. It is that spirit of ultimate oneness which must now help with the binding up of our
wounds, the pressing ahead of the reform agenda, the partnership with our Public
Officers and Labour and Business and the Churches.
And never let us forget what it is that we are fighting for. Let us always be conscious
of the essence of our Belize: its breathtaking physical beauty; its seas of blue and
green and iridescent Aqua; its Caye sands of purest white; its majestic mountains
with their lushly forested slopes; its rural retreats with their golden air and special
light; its arboreal richness with the profusion of tropical fruit whose special bouquet
and flavour is acknowledged to be the best in the Caribbean; its
Mayan temples,visits to which can produce an out of body experience, a palpable sense of being cast
back in time to the ceremony and rituals and work and achievement
of that ancient civilization of which we are proud inheritors.
So, this is no time to cut and run, no time for discouragement. No time for what
Nobel Laureate Saul Bellow called ‘the cant and rant of pipsqueaks’. Let us rather
channel National Hero George Price. For we are still, and ever
must be, nation builders all. We must fix whatever has gone wrong and continue the forward march.
We must bring healing on the basis of compassion and understanding
and the infinitely sheltering capacity of Divine love. We must unceasingly strive to
shine and polish this Central American Jewel set, to magnificent advantage, in
the Caribbean basin. We must build and expand this country of progress and reform
and social justice where, as was said on that  first Independence Day, every man, woman and

child has a stake, a real stake, in the life and work of the new Belize.
Happy Independence and may God bless our native land.

Margarita Island, Venezuela. September 18th, 2016. Belize called on Member States to hold to the 2030 Development Agenda agreed at the United Nations in 2015. Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Sustainable Development Hon. Gaspar Vega then reminded countries that “the value that we extract from this forum is proportional only to the vision that we are willing to bring to this fine table as leaders and thinkers” when there were calls for the revitalization of the Movement.

Minster Vega stressed the theme of “Peace, Sovereignty and Solidarity for Development” in relation to respecting Venezuela’s sovereignty as they face complex external and internal political challenges.

Minster Vega added that the purpose of PetroCaribe was as a mechanism for economic self-determination and noted that Comandante Chávez’s vision has been raised high by President Maduro. Minister Vega further stressed that despite intense political and economic pressure on Venezuela about the agreement, that it has become one of the most useful vehicles for development for Belize and for the Caribbean and should be supported because it is “regionalist, internationalist, pro-people and pro-poor.”

After his statement, Minister Vega met with President Nicolás Maduro Moros as an expression of solidarity and support on matters of mutual benefit Venezuela and Belize.

The officials representing the Government of Belize, led by the Hon. Mr. Gaspar Vega, were the Hon. Mr. Erwin Contreras, H.E. Ms. Lou-Anne Burns, H.E. Mr. Patrick Andrews.

ENDS

For more information about the Non-Aligned Movement, please see the links below:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irPJS10xnqo&sns=em
http://www.telesurtv.net/…/NAM-Summit-Ends-with-Vow-to-Stre…
http://www.mre.gob.ve/
http://www.telesurtv.net/…/11-puntos-de-la-Declaracion-de-M…

Belize’s statement at the 17th NAM Summit in Venezuela: http://bit.ly/2cHcygh

Belmopan. September 19th, 2016. The Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow and the General Manager for the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Central America, Mexico, Panama and Dominican Republic Country Department, Ms. Gina Montiel, today signed an IDB loan agreement to finance investments to improve the transport, recovery and final disposal of solid waste in towns and villages in Belize’s northern and southern corridors as well as in Belmopan.

Through the five-year program, which is valued at US$10 million, major tourist destinations in Belize will be provided access to a sanitary landfill. The project will cover the expansion of the Mile 24 Regional Sanitary Landfill, including the construction of a new cell for final disposal; the closure of six (6) existing dumpsites which will be replaced with transfer stations; and the strengthening of the Solid Waste Management Authority (SWaMA) as the lead agency in the waste management sector.

The Government of Belize will provide US$200,000 in local counterpart funding and the executing agency is SWaMA.
Also present for the signing were Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance, Hon. Dr. Carla Barnett and Financial Secretary, Mr. Joseph Waight as well as other representatives from the IDB.

Ends.