Editorial — 17 May 2013

Even UDP loyalists have to admit that there is a moral crisis in the Dean Barrow government. For the second time in weeks, the Prime Minister seems unable to speak publicly to a scandal in his administration because the problem is too close to his Deputy Prime Minister, and the Deputy Prime Minister is, of course, too close to him. Noh Mul has come too soon after rosewood. The Prime Minister’s moral authority has been subverted. He can’t do anything to address the situation because the Deputy Prime Minister is untouchable, politically speaking.

We saw a similar thing happen in August of 2004 when the then Prime Minister, Said Musa, less than a year after his PUP was re-elected to a second term of office, decided that he could not listen to seven of his Cabinet Ministers. Finance Minister Ralph Fonseca was untouchable. The second Musa administration lost its moral authority less than a year after being re-elected: the second Barrow administration has lost its moral authority a little more than a year after being re-elected.

After the second Musa administration lost its moral authority, it remained in office for more than three and a half years. The likelihood is now great that this Barrow administration, even though it has lost its moral authority, will remain in office for a similar period.

When an administration loses its moral authority, it has a difficult time governing, and crisis follows crisis. We have a flawed political system in Belize. The evidence has mounted to support the argument there should be some changes made.

The first change has nothing to do with the system’s flaws. It has to do with how all four Belizean Prime Ministers have disrespected, abused the system. The number of Cabinet Ministers is supposed to be smaller than the number of the ruling party’s backbenchers. From Price to Barrow, Belize’s Prime Ministers structure it so that there are more Cabinet Ministers than backbenchers. This means that nothing can be done about legislation once it comes out of Cabinet. This is not how the parliamentary system is designed to operate.

What the Belizean version of the parliamentary system does is increase the power of the Prime Minister to the point where he can be megalomaniac in behavior. And this means that, when the Prime Minister is compromised by a Cabinet Minister, as Musa was compromised by Fonseca and Barrow is compromised by Vega, the Prime Minister cannot shirk ultimate responsibility for the fate of the Minister by whom he is compromised. The Prime Minister is all-powerful: the compromising Minister knows it, and will hold the Prime Minister’s feet to the burning coal.

Because our first-past-the-post system produces these inordinately strong governments, we Belizeans are unable to change a government which runs into moral authority problems. We had to suffer with Musa from 2004 until 2008, and we will have to suffer with Barrow from now until 2017.

There is an answer to this problem, and it lies in the political system of proportional representation. Proportional representation, however, has never gained any kind of traction in Belize, and it does not appear that it will do so anytime soon.

Larger and more powerful democracies, however, have taken other measures to address the danger of excessive executive power. The United States provides for four-year presidential terms, instead of the five-year ones Belize has. In Mexico, what they do is forbid any kind of re-election: a president has one six-year term, and then he must ride off into the sunset. Belize not only allows for re-election, but has five-year terms instead of four. Our Prime Ministers are too powerful, and they become even more so once they are re-elected.

If there will not be proportional representation, then there should not be third parties, as plural entities. The non-PUDP parties absolutely have to come together in a national convention and elect a national executive for ONE third party. All third party rhetoric is irrelevant until there is one third party, national and democratic.

At this newspaper, we would prefer proportional representation. That allows for change of governments anytime they frig up things. If there will be a continuation of first-past-the-post, then there has to be one, national, third party.

In conclusion, we would say that a serious burden of proof lies on the shoulders of our younger generations. They are much more educated than previous generations. But, it has been 44 years since a Belizean generation attacked the political status quo in a serious and fairly sustained way. Since then, it has been all PUDP. It is time for some kind of change here. Our political system has proven itself to be flawed, manifestly flawed.

Power to the people.

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