Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s decision to promote his younger son, Anwar, to the top of the management of the nationalized telecommunications company is an act of defiance on his part. The original move to appoint Anwar to the BTL board was insolent enough, it being the case that there were more qualified, more experienced candidates for the lucrative board post, but this week’s elevation of the young Barrow to the BTL leadership essentially confirms what we have been trying to emphasize at this newspaper for some years now. That is, that the system of government which we have in Belize, exaggerates the power of the Prime Minister to such an extent as to make a mockery sometimes of participatory democracy.
On election night two years ago, it appeared that the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) was about to blow a general election they had been expected to win easily. The Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) had swept the South and done serious damage in the West earlier that day. In fact, but for sixty or seventy votes, the PUP would have won four of the six seats in the West and would have formed the 2012-2017 Government of Belize. This PUP, however, had changed Leaders twice in the four months before the March 2012 general election, and had ended up with a Leader appointed by an anonymous party cabal instead of elected in a leadership convention. This was the PUP that had the UDP shaking in its boots at 11 p.m. on general election night.
As UDP Leader, Mr. Barrow had lost a general election before, in March of 2003, and his party’s virtual collapse that election night in the 2012 generals did not prostrate him personally, even as another defeat stared him in the face. Since the Queen’s Square seat was established in 1984, he, Mr. Barrow, has never lost there, and he became independently wealthy during the 1990s after leaving the Dean Lindo law firm in 1989 and forming his partnership with Rodwell Williams. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a “made” man.
At the time he took leadership of the UDP in 1998 following Sir Manuel Esquivel’s resignation from the top post, it was as if Mr. Barrow was doing the defeated UDP a favor: there was really no other candidate for leadership. This is important for you to remember: the UDP needs Mr. Barrow; Mr. Barrow does not need the UDP. In fact, Mr. Barrow may not even need Belize, but that’s another story for another time.
The narrowness of his party’s defeat in his first general election as PUP Leader, threw the Hon. Francis Fonseca into weeks of frantic, fruitless paroxysms of energy. No one sat him down and told him: once the Governor General swears in the new Prime Minister, the general election is over. The PUP continued campaigning for months and months after their 17-14 defeat was recorded in Her Majesty’s books, and they have ended up a party in permanent campaign mode, but seemingly without the campaign financing to sustain that mode.
Mr. Barrow’s government, meanwhile, became quite profitably corrupt at the level of individual and conspiratorial Cabinet Ministers, oversaw a tax regime which fattened the public sector treasury while squeezing the private sector, and happily embraced a $168 million windfall from Venezuela’s Petrocaribe funds. As his government withstood scandal after scandal and PUP scream after PUP scream, Mr. Barrow realized that he could do anything and get away with it. It doesn’t matter in Belize how narrow your victory is: once you are sworn in as Prime Minister, they can holler, they can bawl. Let the good times roll.
One of the reasons Mr. Barrow’s promotion of his son is defiant is that Lord Michael Ashcroft has not been compensated for his BTL company. Where Mr. Barrow’s nationalization of the telecommunications company is concerned, the euphoria wore off years ago, and the Belizean people are not sure how much they have benefited. The longstanding and continuing business relationship between Lord Ashcroft’s Belize Bank and Mr. Barrow’s Barrow & Williams law firm, and the recent conversation in London between the British peer and the Belize Prime Minister, have some Belizeans wondering how much this nationalization will end up costing Belizean taxpayers. Lord Ashcroft is a known and vicious predator, and, whatever the size of the eventual settlement, it will be no skin off Mr. Barrow’s multimillionaire back.
How Mr. Barrow behaved this week, is how Prime Ministers behave in Belize. They do whatever they want, and no one can do anything about it. It is the Opposition’s salaried assignment now to kick and scream. They will call on the media to join them in their exercise in futility. This has become the PUP’s habit these last few years – calling on the media. But when this same Opposition returns to power, their new Prime Minister will behave the same way the present UDP Prime Minister is behaving. If you don’t believe us, just you wait and you will see.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.