Two different articles by Adele Ramos, the Assistant Editor of Amandala, in the Tuesday, June 20, 2017 issue of this newspaper which do not appear to be related to each other, certainly are related in the broader scheme of things Belizean. In a page one article, Ms. Ramos writes: “The IMF continues to press the Government of Belize to increase consumer taxes, particularly by upping the rate of the General Sales Tax (GST) from 12.5% to 15%.” In a page two article, Ms. Ramos writes: “Cyril Fuller, the stevedore who last week wrote the Christian Workers Union (CWU) demanding that the president, Dale Trujeque, and the negotiating team which has been in talks with Port of Belize Limited as a part of a drawn-out collective bargaining process, step away from the negotiating table, claims that he has been threatened via an intimidating text message from a member of the negotiating team.”
On Wednesday morning, June 21, the chairman of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP), Alberto August, and the host of the UDP’s WAVE radio/TV talk show, Joe Bradley, essentially broke the news that the Barrow government would be introducing a supplementary budget in a meeting of the House of Representatives scheduled for next week Friday. When we contacted area representatives of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) on Wednesday afternoon, they knew of next week’s House meeting but had not been informed about the supplementary budget, which will be brought to the House less than three months after the 2017/2018 budget took effect on April 1, 2017.
Let’s return to the two articles we mentioned in the first paragraph. They are related because, when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) begins to put pressure on a nation-state, the people who stand to feel the most pain are the workers. At a time like this, it should be that our workers stand together instead of fighting amongst themselves.
It is of special interest that the CWU should be attacked internally because it is the CWU General Secretary, Floyd Neal, who was elected President of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) earlier this year. The NTUCB is the impressive umbrella organization for all the trade unions of Belize, and the NTUCB’s power to shake ruling parties was well demonstrated in 2005. When a member organization of the NTUCB, the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU), felt compelled to confront the Barrow government in a strike last October, however, the parent NTUCB, under the presidency of Melvin Mora, was notably missing in action. And when Mora was barred from re-election by constitutional technicalities earlier this year, the scuttlebutt was that the Barrow administration wanted Jackie Willoughby to become the new NTUCB leader. Floyd Neal is not looked upon with favor by the UDP government, hence the coincidence of his union being divided is probably no coincidence at all.
The Barrow government is in a financial crisis which they have done a remarkable job of pretending is not a crisis at all. Public debt is massive and the economy is staggering. Crushing taxes have kept the public sector afloat and swimming at the expense of the private sector. In the streets of the nation’s largest population center, Belize City, all the indicators are bad, and those indicators have been bad and steadily growing worse for months.
With it now being obvious to all and sundry that Diogenes would be hard pressed to find an honest man in the Barrow Cabinet, Belize’s Gucci/Armani government will find it very difficult to sell more austerity to the Belizean populace. The law of diminishing returns is inexorably wearing on the UDP’s tried-and-true political formula of dramatic lamenting of the 1998–2008 excesses of Musa/Fonseca. The people of Belize, after nine years and three Barrow governments, want to know “what have you done for me lately,” and the answer to that has been rising domestic fuel prices since December of 2015, this in a world market where oil prices have crashed.
The smart money in the UDP is aware of how the political winds are beginning to blow, hence an early mobilization of the ruling party’s Belize City slate for next March’s national municipal elections. Even without the overdue re-registration, there is a feeling in the long fumbling PUP that the tide is beginning to turn and that the UDP will be vulnerable in 2018.
In conclusion, we need to look at the ongoing Senate Select Committee inquiry into the irregularities and scandals in the Immigration Ministry. The Barrow government fought mightily to prevent such an inquiry, because they knew it would result in political hemorrhaging for the UDP. The chances are the UDP would have succeeded in covering up the filth. The UDP’s vicious attack dogs went so far as to smear the impeccable character of Auditor General Dorothy Bradley. It was not the PUP which secured the inquiry: it was the teachers of Belize who had to go on strike to force an inquiry to be held.
Now the Barrow government is desperate for the Immigration inquiry to be shut down as early as possible. Belize, we have a problem. With the IMF now breathing down Belize’s neck, this is not a time when the workers of Belize should be quarreling amongst themselves. Unions of Belize, someone wants to divide you, because they want to cause you more pain. Stand strong.