On Sunday, May 22nd, 2016, Galen University graduated ninety-nine students at its 13th Commencement Exercises held at the Muffles College Auditorium in Orange Walk Town.

Graduates received degreesin various fields including Anthropology, Environmental Science, Computer Science, Criminal Justice, Elementary Education, Accounting and Business Administration.

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Hon. Tracy Taegar- Panton, Minister of State in the Ministry of Economic Development, Petroleum, Investment, Trade & Commerce, delivered the keynote address, highlighting the emerging socio-economic needs and challenges in the public and private sectors and how  Belizeans can combine their skills, talents and experiences to shape a new future.  The minister stressed the importance of diversifying our economic base using technology, promoting innovation and entrepreneurship as well as maintaining open dialogue to foster co-ordination and objectivity on matters of national importance.

Galen University is a private Belizean university chartered and licensed by the Government of Belize. Its mission is to provide excellence in undergraduate, graduate and professional education to prepare students to achieve their dreams and goals. The university is committed to providing an exciting and stimulating a learning environment, innovative and supportive teaching, scholarships and active service to the community – with a unique focus on sustainable development throughout its courses, programmes and service

Read full speech below:

KEYNOTE ADDRESS

Delivered by

Hon Tracy Taegar Panton

Minister of State

Ministry of Economic Development, Petroleum, Investment, Trade & Commerce

 

GALEN UNIVERSITY SPRING COMMENCEMENT EXERCISES

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

Muffles College Auditorium, Orange Walk Town

From those to whom much is given much is expected.   In the words of Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

GOOD AFTERNOON

(ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS)

  • Esteemed Colleagues, Members of the House of Representatives
  • His Lordship, Mayor of Orange Walk Town
  • Chairman & Members of the Board of Trustees, Galen University
  • Distinguished Members of the Faculty, Staff & All Members of the University Community
  • Family & Friends
  • Graduated Class of 2016

 

The Belize we Envision are the People we want to Be

 

Introduction

Let me fist extend my sincerest congratulations to the Graduating Class of 2016.   I salute you.  I am sincerely delighted to be here this morning to celebrate with you yet another milestone achievement in your professional development.   I feel particularly privileged to be in the company of this elite group of Belizeans who have persevered and have been able to complete your tertiary education. Undoubtedly you and those who continue to provide their stellar support:   your families, your friends, the faculty and fellow classmates have done what was necessary to ensure that you are equipped to tackle the challenges and embrace the opportunities of a developing nation:  this country that we call home; this country to which we pledge our allegiance; this jewel that is pregnant with possibilities and blessed with wealth untold.

I often reflect on the national campaign that was launched by RESTORE BELIZE a few years ago with the theme:  I AM BELIZE.  It was a consorted effort to ignite a renewed sense of pride and nationalism at a time when the very fabric of our Belizean Society and Belizean way of life was under serious threat.   Our national identity, our sense of what it means to be Belizean, what we are now and what we will become, has a direct correlation to  this notion of self determination and to the dreams,  the hopes and the aspirations we have for ourselves, our families our neighborhoods and community at large.  We cannot and should not separate the two.  I am Belize, We are Belize.   Belize as a nation is the sum total of who we are as individuals and who we are becoming as a people.

I was asked by the University’s Administration to speak on the current and emerging socioeconomic needs in the public and private sectors and how we can use our combined gifts, skills, talents, education and experiences to shape a new future where we can become more productive, more self sufficient, more economically independent.   As a Government and People our right to self actualization is contingent on our value system, on the principles and ideals which we have enshrined in our Constitution and also within the policies, systems and programs that are essential components in the business of nation building.  We must ask ourselves the pertinent questions:  What is our value proposition as a young nation?   What are our competitive and comparative advantages?   Where do we source our food?   Who runs our education system?  Who manages our health care programs?  What value do we place on our air space, ocean space, land mass?  Who owns our banks?   Who owns the land?   When answered objectively, these are the questions that will provide the enabling framework that will lead to the fulfillment of Belize’s promise and untapped potential.

As a developing economy, both our public and private sectors are sometimes faced with what may seem like insurmountable challenges.  This is a particular volatile period.   If we take some time to examine what is before us, we may come to the conclusion that all these elements, if left unattended, can potentially converge into the makings of a perfect storm:

  • Long-term Debt Financing
  • De-risking by International Banks
  • Loss of Corresponding Banking Relationships
  • Low Production of Export Ready Goods & Services
  • Little importance to Quality and Standards
  • Insufficient use of Innovation, Technology and Value Added Approaches in our production processes
  • Threats to Belize’s National Sovereignty
  • Erosion of our traditional values, ideals and our  sense of a  Belizean identity

 

Each year a significant percentage of our national budget is earmarked for debt servicing.   Most of the goods we consume are imported causing a trade imbalance.   For the many socioeconomic issues we are now facing, I wish to offer three fairly straightforward strategies that can be utilized to strengthen our resiliency as a people and nation.

 

  1. Clearly defining our Belizean identity and maintaining our value proposition

 

  1. Diversifying our economic base using innovation, technological advances and by promoting entrepreneurship

 

  1. Maintaining an open dialogue to foster coordination, cooperation, and objectivity on matters of national importance.

 

BELIZE ‘S VALUE PROPOSITION

Belize’s value proposition is grounded in our rich diversity, a stable economy and a long history of being a peaceful and democratic society.    In-spite of our size, we have been able to punch above our weight both in the agriculture; and, most recently, the tourism sectors.  We have a highly educated and trainable work force.  When we look at the opportunities for trade in goods and professional services we are strategically located as the Central American Gateway to the Caribbean with easy access to Mexico and the United States and with unparalleled opportunities to expand into Central and South American markets.  Our people are warm and friendly, largely fluent in both English and Spanish and have been able to enjoy a reasonable quality of life.  We have also been able to maintain our authenticity and continue to promote and integrate the core principles of sustainable development in our country’s growth strategies.  Access to land, to a clean water supply; and to an abundance of natural resources all help to establish Belize’s comparative advantage in a region that has seen increasing interests in both foreign direct and domestic investments in new and emerging industries.

In the early 1900’s my grandfather worked as a slinger in the log wood industry (those were the men whose job it was to pilot the logs down the Belize River to the city to be shipped abroad).  It was hard work, a dangerous job but one that they took great pride in doing well; one that also required a great degree of skill and discipline.   Mahogany harvesting was the mainstay of our national economy at that time.  There was a strong sense of community among families who looked out for each other and supported each other in times of crisis.  To a large degree we have, very sadly, lost that sense of community and have become a “me” centric society:  “what is in it for me” has become the rallying cry.     There is also a growing attitude of entitlement, an expectation of what the state owes me, rather than what I can do for the state.  We now seek white collar jobs and are, for the most part, dismissive of the importance of our land and sea what they can mean to our well-being and the creation of wealth for this country and its entire people.   The land is the bank, my father always maintained, yet few of us recognize the potential of Belize, not only for self-sufficiency and food security, but to become the bread basket of this Region.

Yes given the economies of scale one may argue that there are simply not enough opportunities for us to consume more locally produced goods and services.  We are however strategically positioned to create more export ready products for nearby markets such as the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America.   We must produce more to earn more and to expand our global reach; our market is the 7 billion people in this world economy not the 350,000 people of this nation. It was the great philosopher Khalil Gibran who said:   “progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing towards what will be”.  An attitude that sees no limitations but instead thrives towards excellence and the highest quality standards must be the paradigm shift on which we must expend our best efforts.

 

DIVERSIFYING BELIZE’S ECONOMIC BASE

In my view working hard and thinking smart must go hand in hand.   As increasing needs and demands take hold we need to employ new approaches in diversifying Belize’s economic base.   As a Government we have identified new and emerging sectors on which we intend to focus:   Agro-processing, Renewable Energy, Medical Tourism Services, Aquaculture, Small Business Development as well as Cultural and other Professional Services.   The embracing of new technologies will also serve to level the playing field and provide new job and entrepreneurial opportunities in the IT and Knowledge-Based Sectors.

In creating the enabling infrastructure for innovation and entrepreneurship we need to critically examine the general business climate as it exists now.  Streamlining our processes is an imperative.  Integrating protocols for transparency, accountability and predictability will bolster investor confidence both from foreign and domestic sources.  We must demand more and be prepared to give more.   Let us hedge our bets on Belize’s competitive advantages.  While we fail to see the low-lying fruits there are many who are trying to make their way into Belize to take advantage of the opportunities that do exist.

There is a great need for us to create, to think outside the box.   It would be remiss of me not to speak to you on the importance of creating.   The creative process is what our country needs to survive and develop.  There is nothing that holds us back from using the resources of the human spirit, the human imagination as well as the wealth of the land and the sea to innovate.  We need to do the best we can with what we have been given.  There is no shortage of human capacity or of natural resources to find practical solutions, new products and services that will help us to carve out our competitive niche in the global marketplace.

 

MAINTAINING AN OPEN DIALOGUE

As we work on tapping into Belize’s potential, we must maintain an open dialogue.  The only way we will succeed is if we work together, with a shared vision and common objectives.   We have different roles to play but a singular goal; that is, to ensure a better quality of life for all.  A nation that demonstrates the wherewithal to overcome its challenges, protect its sovereignty and maintain a strong national identity.   A Belize that sets an example for the world of what it means to fully manifest the brotherhood of man.  Neither those of us who are in the public service nor those of you who may venture into the private sector can accomplish such a noble undertaking alone.  Nation building is about celebrating our differences and bringing our best minds, our best ideas, our gifts, talents, vision, skills and experiences to the table.  We cannot be afraid to dream BIG and to chart a new and unexploited course for ourselves.  It will take hard work, so let us roll up our sleeves.  It will take perseverance and a great degree of discipline.  Our priorities will need to be clear.  We have to remain open to new approaches and differences in opinion.  It can be done.  If we put our minds and hearts to it, it WILL be done.

Graduates of the class of 2016 as we work together to  this end, I reiterate that  poverty reduction; crime and violence concerns; access to higher education; strengthening  Belize’s  resiliency to changing climate conditions; reducing Belize’s vulnerability to external shocks; mitigating against corruption; and ensuring greater equity in our economic system is every body’s business.   The path to Belize’s future prosperity rests in our hands.  A Government provides the enabling environment.  The private sector serves as the engine that will spur economic prosperity.   As we adjust the wind in our sails and adapt to new realities we must ensure that we remain relevant.  We must keep track of the distribution of wealth; the health of our natural resources; and, most importantly the well being of our people.

It is not enough for us give the minimum and wait for the rest to fall into place.  I implore all of us to get involved and stay involved.   Too many of our young men have fallen prey to gang related crime and gun related violence.  Too many of our young women are exposed to the scourge of domestic abuse, sexual exploitation, taking on the responsibility of nurturing young families when they are babies themselves.   The Belize we envision, the Belize we hope for lies in the vision, the hope and the promise we have for ourselves.

On this very special occasion I address you the Graduating Class of 2016, those of you who by God’s grace have not fallen into one of these unfortunate circumstances, those of you who have stayed the course through sacrifice, those of you who were able to garner the support of loved ones and even perfect strangers, to overcome the odds to be sitting here today.  I say to you, You are the HOPE, You are the PROMISE, YOU are the CHANGE that Belize needs at THIS time.   We have each been given a special gift, a gift that is as unique as we are as individuals.   It is not a talent, or a skill but a GIFT that will lead you to the fulfillment of Your PURPOSE.  Acknowledge your gift and use it not only for you own personal enrichment but also for the enrichment of others and this nation.

As you leave this institution whether you join me and my colleague the Hon. Patrick Faber in the Public Service, whether you venture into the Private Sector, or whether you become an Entrepreneur it is important to take into account that what you do and how you do it matters.  You and I can make a difference, the difference between the Belize as we are now and a Belize that opens up new possibilities for those coming behind us.  I implore you to pay it forward:  do not forget to look back on those who may not have enjoyed the same opportunities that you have experienced.   Give someone a hand up.   As I embrace my calling as a servant of the people in Government I can tell you first hand that there are many who are on the brink.  In many of these cases a kind word of encouragement or a helping hand will make the difference in their lives and in the the lives of their families.  We ARE our brothers’ keeper.  When we raise one up we raise the level of the entire society.  The Belize we envision is the person we each work at becoming, the two are inextricably linked.

Let me assure you that we have all that we need to become productive and prosperous people, to realize our dreams and the hope and ambitions we hold for our children.   Listen to the Spirit.  Listen to the silence of your heart.  You will hear your God speaking to you there guiding you with His light and His love. You will find all that you need to fulfill the divine purpose for which you were created and for which you were given this human experience.

May God bless you and keep you.  May He be gracious onto to you and shine His light upon you.  May He continue to bless our beloved Belize and grant us all His abiding peace.  CONGRATULATIONS to all of you on a job VERY well done.  You are Belize, BE IT!  This is your moment, OWN IT!!

 

I THANK YOU.

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