Editorial — 01 October 2013

The recent crises of corruption tainting the government, most notably the latest passport scandal, point to the stark reality that as a people we have not yet found a solution to this problem that citizens have voted overwhelmingly in past elections to try and correct.

Both past PUP and UDP governments have been given huge mandates to fix this corruption problem, but the top item on everyone’s mind today is still corruption in our government.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow and his landslide UDP government had a golden opportunity in February of 2008 to make a fundamental change in how we do things – a paradigm shift, if you will, in the national political culture, and a change for the better, no doubt.

The support for the new government was so strong at the time, and the opportunity so real that early in the term of the new administration, it was possible for any potential political impediments that would result from individual hurt feelings caused by the process of curbing corruption to be comfortably absorbed and compensated over the long term – when the benefits began to become obvious.

The opportunity was there for the new P.M. to lead the charge and set the tone in Belize for a new political/national culture of meritocracy. Instead, regrettably, the P.M. took the well- trodden, smooth path, of party political expediency – cronyism. And so, here we are again in 2013, with government corruption as much in the news as in 2008.

The Opposition PUP made significant gains at the polls in the early elections of 2012. The tide was obviously turning, but they were caught off guard, and the UDP retained a slim margin to remain in government. They (the PUP) are not flexing their political muscle much, no big spending on demonstrations this early in the new cycle. But it does appear that the PUP believe they will regain power at the next general elections in 2018. Their turn.

But what has Belize gained?

Today, September of 2013, the symptoms of decay in our national/political culture are all around us. Sure, we have a big drug problem. Yes, violent crime is way out of hand. Unemployment is high. Somehow, rules get breached, and mangrove islands get filled without D.O.E. compliance; murderers continue to walk free; children remain frequent victims of sexual crimes; some rogue policemen are still in uniform; armed robberies remain a problem, although BDF soldiers with big guns patrol our city streets; our unprotected forest gets raped daily by foreign intruders; and from land “giveaways” to “hard working” relatives, to the illegal rosewood business to another passport scandal; it’s an endless list of failures.

And it spells a nation in crisis, a crisis of indiscipline and breakdown of order in our departments of government, security and our very community life. More and more, people are inclined to “stay home and watch T.V”.

Cronyism is at the very heart, the root of the problem. Any organization, business or government that subscribes to a culture of cronyism is destined for failure. And failure is not always immediately measured by results at the polls. Getting elected at the cost of your own people’s progress and their very lives, is a betrayal of all that is supposed to be noble and good about serving the people.

P.M. Dean Barrow publicly endorsed the prevailing political/national culture of cronyism early in the previous UDP administration, when he gave the “thumbs up” to his Education Minister’s action in arbitrarily terminating the service of Mrs. Hirian Good, wife of retired and ailing BDF Captain Charles Good, for purely party political reasons. The P.M. later justified his action by referring to the accepted political wisdom of his Caribbean counterparts. It’s the same everywhere, the spoils system. So, it’s our turn now. “Our people” (our UDP followers) must now get “their turn” for jobs and handouts. Where has this culture brought us?

Meritocracy is the essence of progress. Value for money is the most fundamental law of business. There are human rights, and there is protection for workers’ rights under our labor laws; but how can any manager, of any department, organization or team, effectively achieve maximum productivity if he is told whom he must hire, and whom he can and cannot fire, and whom he must fire?

The Christian religion declares that, “it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” Firing or dismissing an employee, after due process, is not the end of the world. But it is an essential tool, to be utilized judiciously in “whipping” any “team” of workers into shape. The “sacrifice” of one delinquent individual becomes a meaningful lesson and inspiration, not only to those who remain employed, but to the fired individual himself.

The painful experience serves to clarify in the individual’s mind the accepted boundaries of approved conduct – a lesson that might not have been previously learned in life, due to poor childhood supervision, or repeated protection due to political cronyism. The buck must stop somewhere if this culture of cronyism is to end, and the best place is with the Prime Minister of Belize.

The option is his to declare the new national culture/ policy of meritocracy as our best and surest path to national economic independence, through accountability, motivation and high national productivity.

And the P.M. must “practice weh e preach”. He must empower his Ministers, and hold them accountable; meaning, he must insist that his Ministers empower their C.E.O.’s, Permanent Secretaries and Heads of Department, and hold them accountable. And right down the chain of command, the rule has to be the same – empowerment and accountability, with senior level intervention being the exception, not the rule. And cronyism must not even enter the discussion. Meritocracy, performance must be the yardstick for all.

Politicians, are you all ready for Part 2 of the Belizean “peaceful, constructive revolution” – the end of political cronyism, and the start of a new national/political culture of meritocracy/excellence as our best path to the pursuit and achievement of “freedom, justice and equality”, and better productivity, health and happiness for all who call Belize home?

The recent pronouncements by P.M. Barrow almost seem as if he is contemplating, since again it is still early in his administration, to make that bold move towards meritocracy; but that might be wishful thinking.

Some questions that come to mind are: Are our present cadre of politicians, both UDP and PUP, too steeped in their old ways? Is the un-elected “Sir Godwin” enough to swing the tide inside the UDP? Do we need a new set of visionaries to jumpstart this national/political/cultural Belizean revolution towards the new era of meritocracy/excellence and nationhood? Is there a new group out there that fits the bill?

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