In this newspaper’s 48 years of existence, we have been privileged, at various points in time and for various periods, to work with all four Prime Ministers of Belize – Right Hon. George Price, Right Hon. Manuel Esquivel, Right Hon. Said Musa, and Right Hon. Dean Barrow. At various points in time and for various periods, we have also felt it incumbent upon us to criticize and challenge all four Maximum Leaders Belize has known.
As we have written in these pages before, many Belizeans felt a great urgency to effect a change of government in 1984, because the People’s United Party (PUP) was the only native government we had ever known and there was a hope, now exposed as naïve, that the United Democratic Party (UDP) would be honest and pure in power.
In 2017, we can now see from this newspaper’s perspective that there are certain patterns of behavior which are common to both the PUP and the UDP when they are in power. The building of the political party machinery required to win the majority of House seats in a general election is an exercise which involves some fundamental approaches and decision-making, and the leaderships of both the major political parties have had to make similar decisions. For example, no political party which hopes to form a government can make it a policy to challenge the might of Belize’s Christian churches.
The new and relatively small Belize Progressive Party (BPP) has made certain vows where its value system and principles are concerned, and one of these vows is to reject corruption. But the seed of corruption lies in the very nature of Belize’s electoral politics. The nature of Belize’s electoral politics is such that a political party requires huge amounts of money in order to be competitive. How can the BPP become competitive politically without large campaign donations?
In Belize the people who have the wherewithal to make large campaign donations are not saints, and they do not have the best interests of the Belizean masses at heart. Lord Michael Ashcroft, for instance, is a tax-dodger: he wants all Belize’s money for himself. The Bowen empire is primarily focused on selling alcoholic and sugary beverages to Belizeans. Then there are the huge merchant houses who concentrate on importing foodstuffs: they absolutely refuse to invest in local food production, manufacturing, or industry. The Chinese, Indians, and Mennonites, for their part, are segregated immigrant enclaves who only want to make money for themselves and to be left alone by us natives. The only money they donate to Belizeans is donated to the two political parties. How about the big drug traffickers? And the big human traffickers? And the real estate speculators?
The point we are making is that the UDP and the PUP can compete against each other at the highest levels because they have the financial resources to run their election day machines, and they have this financial capability because they do not turn their noses up at tainted campaign donations and they do not examine the sources of those donations with a critical eye.
In British Honduras/Belize in the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s, perhaps even the 1980s, when our party politics was relatively innocent and sincere, rank-and-file campaigners for the PUP and the NIP/UDP were amateurs, which is to say, they were not paid in cash. The vast majority were true believers in their party’s philosophy and personalities. In 2017, campaigning is very much a professional exercise: campaigners still love their respective parties, but the game has changed. Politicians have to find cash money to put on the campaigning barrelhead. Promises are no longer enough.
The UDP and the PUP have never had their respective finances audited. In fact, these are not even registered companies or “friendly associations.” The UDP and the PUP are political war machines, and anything goes, especially when it comes to money. In the words of the late Oakland Raiders’ owner, Al Davis, “Just win, baby!”
There are Belizeans working in the election machines of the UDP and the PUP who are in need. There are also Belizeans embedded at higher levels in the major political parties who are greedy. In between the needy and the greedy, it is very, very difficult for the politicians in office, and being in office means that the politicians have access to different kinds of funds, some of which cannot stand the light of transparent examination, it is very, very difficult for such politicians in office to avoid what we in the media business have to condemn as corruption.
Public funds and assets are supposed to benefit the Belizean public at large, not the leaders and followers of whichever of the PUDP is in power. But, it doesn’t work that way. Corruption is a culture in the PUDP. Corruption is a way of life in the PUDP. This is because of the needy and because of the greedy within the ranks. And the needy and the greedy are as Belizean as you and me.
It is for sure that there is also corruption in the private sector of the Belizean economy, that private sector corruption is in cahoots with the public sector corruption, and we natives recognize that there are specific immigrant elements who are actually more experienced and skilled in this kind of corruption than we may be.
For these 48 years, at this newspaper we have watched different kinds of jancunu being danced, and we have seen them come and go in the PUDP, we have seen them rise and fall. We understand the nature of the political game, and we try not to be judgmental. Our role is to bring those matters of corruption which we have uncovered to the attention of the Belizean people.
It is normally not possible to do classic investigative journalism in Belize because we, as a Belizean people, are corrupt. Our government is corrupt, and our public officials, scrupulously honest as a class in the colonial era, have become voraciously corrupt. This is what we are as a Belizean people – corrupt. And because we are so corrupt, investigative journalism is dangerous.
Over these 48 years, you, the Belizean people, have made it possible for us to survive as a newspaper without our being compromised by any of the two major political parties. For the PUDP, corruption is a way of life. That is not the case at this newspaper. We are not for sale. And that is not because we are morally and ethically superior to the PUDP politicians. The fact of the matter is that, in the pursuance of their profession, the politicians have had to sacrifice their principles in order to be successful. You can call it Christian democracy as much and as loudly you want, but we have a systemic problem in Belize’s politics. That problem is corruption.
At this newspaper, we have not had to sacrifice our principles. But, we have had to practice constant vigilance, and we have always had to be reminding you that it is you, the people, who make it possible for us to survive. Politicians in power are dangerous people. Their excuse is that they have to feed the needy and fatten the greedy. You can read our response to PUDP dangers and threats since 1969 in the line below:
Power to the people.