In theory, a democratic government guarantees the free and equal representation to all its citizens in determining the rules and manner in which they are governed. In practice this ideal is never achieved. Often thought of as a model of democracy, the United States limited the vote, for much of its history, to white, property-owning males. Election to public office in that country requires huge campaign budgets and the corporations and special interest groups that provide those funds are represented to a far greater degree than the individual voter.
Belizeans can be proud that they have a form of government in which each individual can have his say through his vote and through a remarkably accessible media. But power and greed seem to be part of human nature and to keep the power from being concentrated in the hands of a few, a system of checks and balances must be kept actively in place.
In the United States, the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judiciary branches of government supposedly operate independently and therefore serve to curb each other’s abuse of authority. The separation between these branches of government in Belize is blurred and, over time, the check-and-balance system has become largely dysfunctional. Successive administrations have ignored rules meant to discourage self-enrichment during office, have underfunded regulatory agencies, and have dragged their feet in signing international agreements that would restrict their actions. And they have been unwilling to support the formation of an independent Senate.
In a small country, economic survival becomes the dominating political agenda with no latitude for an ideological difference between the main political parties. We vote for one party or the other out of tradition, the possibility of personal gain, or for the personalities of the leadership. But it has become clear over the last five administrations that it is the system, not the party colors, that needs an overhaul. Despite their rhetoric while in Opposition, our two major parties have shown themselves to be either unwilling or incapable of making the necessary changes.
In a democracy, the citizen, with his vote, holds the authority but he also must accept the responsibility for protecting and nurturing this form of government. We as individuals or in small apolitical groups must see that the committees, regulatory bodies, and departments such as the Audit Department, that can serve as whistle blowers when they detect wrong doing, are activated, funded and protected from government interference. In addition we must be careful that in our own interest we do not interfere with the checks and balances already inherent in our governmental system (for example, demanding that the Prime Minister overturn a decision made by the Chief Justice).
Even if elections are held every five years, a governmental system that allows the leadership to hold absolute power is a dictatorship, not a democracy. This is what we must guard against.
(Signed) H. A. Pierce