Originally printed in the Sunday, July 24, 2011 issue of the Amandala
A Few Things
The time has come, the Walrus said
To talk of many things
Of shoes and ships and sealing wax
Of cabbages and kings.
Alice in Wonderland
A Pledge of Allegiance
The American influence on the lives of Belizean is pervasive. We copy their dress and their attitudes. We sing their songs and are influenced by their politics and social vicissitudes and their God is our God – materialism in all its forms. Still, there is one thing to which we are impervious, their sense of nationhood. There are pockets of individuals who are patriotic because of their narrow self interests and, those whose conditions of living make them disaffected but, mainstream Americans love their country, think it is the best in the world and, would do what they can to keep it so.
I think one of the reasons for citizens of American’s great devotion to their way of life is that they were taught and required to say at the beginning of each school day, their Pledge of Allegiance. I think that pledge is a powerful unifying force and colors and flavors how American children look at themselves and their society.
As far as I know, no other country has a pledge of allegiance. Perhaps, no other country has the need. There are other ways for countries to develop a strong sense of nationhood, such as fighting a war against an enemy who could destroy them.
We are not yet a nation and, we shall never become one unless, we take the right steps to bring it about. I think a good beginning would be to adapt a Pledge of Allegiance to be said each day by everyone who attends a school in Belize, from elementary to university.
There could be a contest among nationals to determine the best pledge. I suggest a panel of judges to issue the rules governing the contest and to decide a winner. There should be a very attractive prize to the winner. But first, the Government of Belize would have to make the decision.
I think that a decision to have a Pledge of Allegiance would have a transformational effect on our society. In ten years time our five-year-olds would be fifteen, comprising a large segment of our population. They would begin to make a positive impact for change in the status quo.
There is a downside to the prospects. A new generation of Belizeans with a strong sense of nationhood will not tolerate corrupt politicians to govern them. Hopefully, by that time, others might declare like our Prime Minister, that they will root out corruption, wherever it raised its ugly head and complete the job.
What making a Pledge of Allegiance will do, is instill a sense of nationhood and a desire for the nation to be great in all those who make it.
There are diverse elements in our society, who think of themselves in terms of the ethnic group they belong to and, the nations which gave them or their parent’s birth. A Pledge of Allegiance will help to change that.
The elements which I think should be contained in the pledge are in this example:-
I pledge allegiance to Belize, our beloved country
Our Constitution, our laws our institutions and traditions
I promise faithfully to serve, protect and defend them
All the days of my life
I declare that all who the same
Shall be my brethren and,
All who would do them harm
Shall be my enemies.
The Bar Association
The bar association is a body of men and women, learned in the law, admired and respected, successful and powerful. They could be a moving force for enlightenment, empowerment and upliftment in our society. Individual attorneys are moved by the social conditions of the deprived and marginalized and, they do their part to improve things but, it seems from their lack of involvement in the general effort to deal with our social maladies that the Bar Association has no social conscience.
We are becoming, if not yet, the murder capital of the world; daylight crimes of violence have become the norm, children are killing each other and, criminals throw grenades in crowded places. Indiscipline and disorder is everywhere. What is worse is that police “force”, as it is manned and structured seems unable to cope with the situation. Above all this, the administration of justice system has been undermined and subverted to the extent that the prosecution can no longer rely on witnesses to testify on murder trials because they are in fear of their lives. Now that it is established that a murderer can be protected from prosecution by intimidating witnesses, what is to stop the criminal with means, to insulate himself from prosecution for any crime.
The situation has become desperate and government has decided to introduce some measures to control crime, which some are describing as draconian. All this is happening and there is no indication that the Bar Association is concerned. Are the measures proposed by the government draconian but necessary or are there other measures which the Bar Association might proffer which would have the desired result?
We elect a government to take care of our affairs. It is their duty and responsibility to deal decisively and effectively with anything that adversely affects the body politic. Crime, especially violent crime is threatening to destroy our way of life. Crime is a societal problem. We cannot rely on government alone to solve it. We need to make use of all our resources. One of our finest is the Bar Association. Their members have an important part to play in dealing with crime. Let them play it.
Justices of the Peace
The institution of Justices of the Peace is a legacy of the British administration, which ruled us when we were a Crown Colony. Is has served us very well and should be preserved.
The British chose JP’s very carefully and there were only a few of them during their regime. They were eminent persons of the highest integrity and scrupulousity. Since Independence, things have changed. Now the main criteria for appointment as a Justice of the Peace is a good standing in the political party forming the government, so that, over the years, the number of JP’s has grown to over 500. The primary purpose of these appointments was to facilitate the registration of voters, which is a good objective. To make it easy for citizens to exercise the franchise is a laudable objective, undoubtedly but, appointments have been made of persons who do not understand the importance of the office and the seriousness required in the exercise of their authority.
For example, in our system of government, many statements, declarations and transactions are validated by Justices of the Peace by legal documents signed by the party or parties concerned, in the presence of a JP who subscribes to the facts. The validation takes this form: The statement by the JP at the end of the legal document is to this effect, that this or these named persons appeared before me an a particular day and affixed their signatures affirming that the statements in the document are true.
Now consider a legal document to transfer the ownership of land, by sale, from one party to another. A legal document is prepared stating the particulars of the transaction and the parties present themselves for validation by a Justice of the Peace. The JP affirms in the validation statement: these named parties appeared before me on a particular date and signed the document. As far as the JP is concerned, what is the most important item in the document? Obviously it is the identity of the owner. You can’t sell something whish is not yours to sell. So. The JP has to be satisfied. Either he knows the owner personally or the person who claims to be the owner can prove his identity. The JP would be seriously derelict in his duty if he validates the transfer of land without the owner’s knowledge or consent.
There is a complaint by Mr. Israel Marin that his land has been transferred, without his authority, by a document validated by a Justice of the Peace. It is public knowledge and the public is entitled to see an inquiry by the proper authority into the actions of the JP concerned. There is a Justice of the Peace Association. Do they have the authority to conduct such an inquiry? If not, isn’t this a matter, which should be of concern to the Judicial and Legal Commission?
Our Forest Reserves
It is to credit of two of our Ministers of Natural Resources that we have several forest reserves. “Nature has blest us with wealth untold,” say the words of our National Anthem. One of these is our forest reserves. These reserves should be protected for they serve a very useful purpose, as well as, being one of our natural wonders. If you have ever had the privilege to view one of these from the air, you would be moved by their beauty and majesty. You would feel that you were seeing a cathedral of nature.
For a national to destroy the trees in a forest reserve would be a crime but, for aliens to do the same is a violation of our sovereignty. No punishment for this act could be too severe.
Citizens of our neighborhood to the west are making incursions into the Chiquibul forest for the purpose of logging our hardwood trees. And, it appears that our Forest Rangers are too few to deal with the situation. They need help. This reserve is part of our patrimony so, every man, woman and child should come to their assistance.
We should not forget that there are World Organizations that are interested in the protection of forest reserves. If appealed to, they will come to our aid.