Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen.
Dorian has done a good job of acknowledging our attendees, but I would like to go a bit further by giving special recognition to the members of the Economic Development Committee, often referred to as the EDC. My co-chair, Ms. Kay Menzies, from the Private Sector, Mr. John Woods, Mr. Pat Andrews, Mr. Allen Reimer, Ms. Sue Courtenay, and from the Government, CEO Ms. Audrey Wallace, Mr. Alan Slusher, CEO Jose Alpuche, and CEO Sharman Hyde, and bringing it all together, Mrs. Amparo Masson, our Director of Public/Private Dialogue, who was also very instrumental in the planning of today’s event. And of course a very warm welcome to everyone in attendance today.
Almost one year ago, we started something very special. We met in this very same room under the theme, “Turning the Corner”, from that gathering was born a new partnership between the private sector and government. Over this past year, we have made great strides in building on this partnership. Our EDC team has been meeting almost twice a month, and has been working tirelessly on developing an agenda for change. Often we had differing opinions, but we always agreed on one thing; that we all want best for Belize, and that together we have the power of change.
I don’t know about you, but every time I travel, I get upset to see other countries moving on, while changes in Belize seem less evident. Our first instinct is that Government alone must tackle the problem of development, and as citizens, our responsibility ends when we cast our vote.
Our EDC group has rejected that instinct, and instead has taken on the agenda for change without hesitation. Despite the fact that the wheels of government may seem to move at a slower pace than the Private Sector, what has become obvious is that both sides now have a better understanding and appreciation for each other’s capabilities and limitations, and with that comes better collaboration.
We will hear the word partnership a lot today. A partnership is like a marriage, and in any partnership, there are some elements that are necessary for success. First and foremost there has to be a shared vision, along with a clear agreement on the process to be followed for achieving that vision. With this also comes shared responsibility, and there has to be agreement on certain rules of engagement, mutual respect, and an equitable share in resources.
No marriage is without its problems, and the only element that makes it work is trust. Over the past year, both parties have made great strides in bridging the gap, and in establishing an open communication, which has led to greater mutual trust.
Government, on our part, is highly committed to the partnership. We have recently submitted a request for support through the Inter American Development Bank for establishment of a permanent institution for ongoing public private partnership, that is to say, for formalizing our marriage. It is our firm belief that through this formal partnership, we will be able to tackle and solve the vexing problems that deter our ability to attain the level of competitiveness and productivity we desire.
Today, we will speak of the issues that were raised a year ago, and we will attempt to update you as to what efforts have been taken in those respects. We will also speak of other issues that have arisen since last year, and no-doubt will highlight those issues that seem insurmountable, like the epidemic of crime that seem to overshadow our every days.
While we deliberate today, however, it is important that we maintain the one element that can help us to prevail. That element, Ladies and Gentlemen, is Hope.
It is easy to become distracted by the daily news that highlight the negative, and while we may see a youthful urban population seemingly bent on self destruction, in reality what we have is a population of young, strong and smart individuals, representing a potential workforce that can be the envy of many countries less fortunate. But this only possible if we, the parents and mentors in this marriage I speak of, decide that we will foster the ethic in our youth for competitiveness, achievement and productivity.
Even as we concern ourselves with the daunting task of our commercial debt restructuring, we must not take our eyes off domestic conditions, where international markets for our agricultural and tourism products continue to expand, and where our financial institutions are flush with cash seeking good projects to finance at ever-improving lending rates.
Today we enjoy some of the most reliable utilities in the Region, and over the past year, we have seen reductions in the cost of electricity and telecommunications, and improvements and expansion of the supply of water. This contrasts greatly with our Caribbean neighbors who continue to grapple on a daily basis with daunting issues such as rising energy costs and food security, which in itself represents a significant business opportunity for Belize, considering the resources we have at hand to address these issues.
Using the dialogue that started a year ago, we have been actively addressing the issues that affect the business climate in which we operate. Our Government has no doubt that just as we focus on the cost of living, we must focus on the cost of doing business, which is directly related to the quality and efficiency of Government services to the public.
In this term of office, since the February elections, the focus has shifted. The agenda for Private Sector Development and national competitiveness has taken a leading role in policy development, as evidenced by the constitution of the very ministry that I administer, through the ongoing efforts of the EDC, and through the establishment of the formal office of the Director of Private/Public Dialogue, working out of the Prime Minister’s office. Structural issues such as transportation, utility costs, financial system stability and labour productivity are all recurring themes that are being given keen attention, while the work toward improving government efficiency and eliminating official corruption continues.
Corruption, however, is a two-sided issue. There can only be corrupt public officers if there are those that are willing to pay. With shared responsibility, we can make great strides in addressing that problem, and shortly, at the CEO level, we will be undertaking a new campaign to enlist public assistance in policing against corrupt practices by public officers.
Ladies and Gentlemen, today’s session promises to be a lively one. I encourage you to speak openly, as partners should, but to ever be mindful of constraints under which we must operate. With a continued shared vision, common goals, and confidence in ourselves and in our country, we can undertake the changes that will help us to achieve the prosperity we seek.