The World Bank recently released numbers indicating that about $400 billion has been pilfered from Nigeria’s treasury since independence. One needs to stop for a moment to wrap one’s mind around that incredible figure. This amount – $400 billion – is approximately the gross domestic products of Norway and of Sweden. In other words, Nigeria’s corrupt ruling class stole the equivalent of the entire economy of a European country in four decades! This theft of national funds is one of the factors essentially making it impossible for Nigeria to succeed. Nigerians alone are not responsible. We all know that this corrupt cabal of Nigerians in power has friends abroad who not only help it move the billions abroad and help them hide the money, but also shield the perpetrators from prosecution.
– pgs. 249, 250, THERE WAS A COUNTRY, Chinua Achebe, Penguin Press, New York, 2012
Belize is a small country where it sometimes seems that the majority of the citizens must be either hungry or greedy. That combination of hunger and greed has contributed to a culture of corruption which has well nigh overwhelmed us since we achieved political independence 32 years ago.
Greedy individuals become candidates for political office by throwing bones to the hungry masses, and when the greedy are elected to office, then they reimburse those members of the oligarchy who sponsored them and their bones in the first place, they establish foreign bank accounts for their new “under-the-table” revenues, and enough is left over for a higher level of bone throwing to go on, especially to those whom the politician considers important for his/her projected re-election campaign.
The gentleman Godwin Hulse knew that his skills were such that he should be in a position of public authority and responsibility, but he was much averse to being involved in the mud-slinging and character assassination which have been characteristics of political campaigning in Belize. In the course of the Senate inquiry into the Social Security Board scandal some years ago, Godwin Hulse established a reputation for ability and integrity for all of Belize to see.
Thus it was that, on being re-elected to the highest office in the land in 2012, UDP Prime Minister Dean Barrow appointed Hulse to his Cabinet, naming him substantive Minister of Immigration. This meant that Godwin Hulse, who had not been elected by the Belizean people, had substantive authority over the UDP’s Cayo Northeast area representative, Elvin Penner, who was named Minister of State in the aforementioned Immigration Ministry.
There is an old song which says something like, “… one has my name, the other has my heart …” Well, it now appears that Godwin had the name, but Penner was “doing the work,” as we say in the streets of Belize. Godwin had the backing of the Prime Minister, but Penner enjoyed bunker solidarity with his other elected Cabinet colleagues in the culture of corruption.
There was a time in Belize, even after British colonialism was being phased out, when such a culture of corruption did not exist here. This was in the decade of the 1960s, when the PUP was led by Hon. George Price and everyone in Cabinet knew they had to keep their noses clean. For different reasons, including the delay in independence, the growth of the trade in marijuana cultivation and export, and the near defeat of the PUP in 1974, PUP Cabinet Ministers began to play games in the middle 1970s. Following independence in 1981, the games just became more sophisticated and more lucrative.
The long-desired change of government in 1984 only established that UDP politicians and their cronies could be just as greedy as PUP ones. Fu you, fu me … Everyone political was down in the mud together. So it was that, when the PUP returned to office in 1989, it was as if a free-for-all began to take place. Communism had fallen in Russia, the Berlin Wall had been torn down, and neoliberalism ruled.
Prime Minister Barrow and the UDP came to power in 2008 on an anti-corruption platform after neoliberal excesses during the two PUP administrations from 1998 to 2008. A multimillionaire attorney, Mr. Barrow is not himself a thief. He is, however, a pragmatic politician, and the Penner matter is establishing, once and perhaps for all, that Mr. Barrow will not compromise his political power and indict his political partners in the idealistic quest for administrative integrity. In Belizean parliamentary politics, how much of a difference is there between the upholder and the thief?
Now, where does this leave Godwin? It leaves him between a rock and a hard place. He can’t make changes for the better without being in a position of Cabinet authority, but the reality is, he can’t openly challenge those of his Cabinet colleagues who got theirs the hard way, in the hurly-burly of elected politics, that hurly-burly which so intimidated Mr. Hulse.
Whereas Lisel Alamilla seemed to cave in to UDP realpolitik without putting up that much of a fight, we can see that Godwin Hulse is resisting evil. But, the Belizean people are not happy with Godwin Hulse, and they are not happy with Dean Barrow. The Belizean people are angry at Elvin Penner, and the Belizean people are angry at the UDP Cabinet. The Belizean people are also angry at the Belize Police Department. All in all, there is enough anger here to go around, and then some.
In our Tuesday editorial, we indicated that the only solution to Belize’s culture of corruption is proportional representation. The present system of five-year terms etched in stone, coupled with absolute prime ministerial power, is not working for us. In Belize, we need greater people power and less government power. It will be more expensive under proportional representation, because there will be more national elections. But, the only remedy available when you are experiencing a culture of corruption as stubborn as Belize’s, is to acquire the power to remove the government, any government, when things get out of hand. The Penner matter is one such. It is out of hand.
This newspaper never pushed a demand for proportional representation in the old days as vigorously as we should have. Back then, we felt that the Belizean people would have interpreted such a demand as self-interest, because it was clear that Partridge Street enjoyed at least 5 percent support from the Belizean electorate, and that we would have been one of the smaller parties with the ability to change governments under proportional representation. Today, however, Partridge is not in the political party business, and we personally have nothing to gain from proportional representation.
The Belizean people, nevertheless, have a ton to gain from proportional representation. That ton would be the power to change the government, any government, whenever that government becomes as crooked and corrupt as the present one appears to have become.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.