On September 21, 2017, Belize marked its 36th year of independence. To listen to the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. John Briceño, and the Prime Minister of Belize, Rt. Hon Dean Barrow, it is a tale of 2 countries.
This should not come as a surprise to anyone who is prepared to remove their party- political lenses and analyze the speeches for their content. A review of the past speeches on Independence Day under the 10 years of the Musa administration and the past 9 years under the Barrow administration will validate that it is always an essay in two distinct perspectives of the country. The Leader of Opposition presents the weaknesses and realities of the nation state and the Prime Minister celebrates his government’s achievements. Barrow as Opposition Leader did no differently. It is what is done to provide a balanced view of the state of the nation.
At Belize’s 36th anniversary of its independence, Prime Minister Barrow reported to the nation on his government’s accomplishments of roads and bridges, sport buildings, signing unto and working on UNCAC (although under duress from pressure from the Opposition, unions, Belize Chamber of Commerce), the growth in tourism (although official 2016 statistics from the BTB has national occupancy at a meager 37%) and a commitment to rolling more Petrocaribe funds in spite of increasing fuel prices at record levels and increasing turmoil and instability in Venezuela.
In his Independence Day’s state of the nation address, the Leader of the Opposition reminded Belize of the official poor world economic outlook on Belize, the highest levels of unemployment and poverty recorded, the increasing rate of crime, the lack of investor confidence in Belize, the lack of accountability with the dysfunctional Public Accounts Committee and the Integrity Commission.
On the occasion of our Independence Day, the silence in both speeches on the most recent aggression from Guatemala on the Sarstoon and on the Foreign Affairs Minister Sedi Elrington’s inaccurate and false statements regarding Belize’s borders is disheartening.
The fact is that at age 36, the Barrow government has lost its moral legitimacy to govern. Under the leadership of Dean Barrow, the UDP government finds itself in the same position as its predecessor. The serial corruption and mismanagement under Dean Barrow is much worse, because he and his government were ushered in on the promise to correct it. It is Dean Barrow who famously said that he would wield a double-edged machete to ensure corruption did not rear its ugly head. He would not tolerate it, not even the smell of it.
Being at the helm of government for 3 consecutive terms after those remarks, Prime Minister Barrow has shamelessly disappointed. His remark on corruption now is that “it is what it is”. Such a defeatist attitude was further confirmed when in his Independence Day speech, PM Barrow confidently pronounced he had brought in ministers from the outside (Hulse, Barnett, Retreage, Peyrefitte) as his solution to corruption and that under their watch corruption does not exist. In essence he has admitted that he leads a corrupt, unruly cabinet, which he cannot or will not do anything about. PM Barrow’s hope is not in the persons in his party who have “run” in and won elections but in persons he has had to go seek outside of electoral politics. The UDP government, by the words of its leader, has lost all legitimacy in combating the one thing they were ushered in to eliminate, the one thing that impedes any country from being “catapulted into the first world”.
Leadership requires the discipline to resist the urge to lodge personal attacks on your opponent when the hypocrisy and illegitimacy of your reign have been called out and caught. Leadership requires a sober, balanced approach to analyze the state of the economy, the society and the environment. Leadership demands positive and proactive actions without the sole interest being to secure another political term for your party. Leadership is about country first.
At age 36, this is the state of Belize. The incumbent government party will have to make its case as to why the people of Belize should trust it to do better when it has failed to demonstrate any real commitment to doing so in the past 9 years to fight corruption in its cabinet, its government departments, its town boards and its councils. The Opposition party will have to make its case on how it has changed to regain the credibility it lost, what it will do differently and how it will govern.
People power is a real thing. At age 36, Belizeans need to awake from our slumber and carefully select each person in each division and each municipality. However, corruption, mismanagement of public assets and funds, impunity of ministers and public officials should continue to be rejected, resisted and protested, no matter who is elected, no matter which party wins and no matter how young or old the country is.