Features — 02 November 2012 — by Janus

The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things
– Alice in Wonderland –

The Office of the Ombudsman

It has been awhile since that office has been vacant, and there have been murmurings of dissatisfaction over the delay in choosing someone to perform the important functions of that high office. I think the government should take as much time as it needs to find the right person to appoint as Ombudsman. Too much care cannot be taken to find that “right” person because, there are very few citizens who can measure up to the special qualities that the holder of that position should have.

There is no greater gift that a democratic government can give to its citizens than the establishment of the Office of Ombudsman, and choosing someone with a distinguished record of public service and, with the necessary attributes of intellect, integrity, and motivation.

The Office of the Ombudsman was established by the United Democratic Party government in 1994 but, the position, was not filled until 1998, by a People’s United Party government. Belize’s first Ombudsman had a commendable record of performance during his nine-year tenure of office, which his annual reports, which he never failed to deliver to the Clerk of the National Assembly, attest.

It is a fact of life, that there is a tendency for those who exercise power and authority to abuse that power, to the detriment of those they are supposed to serve. In many such cases the individual who is unfairly treated has no means of redress. Where there is no redress, unfair treatment becomes the practice, with disastrous consequences. To discourage such abuses and to create a climate where the citizen can be assured of fair treatment at the hands of public authorities, is the primary reason for the establishment of the Office of the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is there to give protection and assistance to anyone who seeks his intervention when it is needed.

Your Brother’s Keeper

We are not always moved to act when something unpleasant happens, at the hands of a criminal, to another member of the society in which we live. It is of little concern to us if someone is killed who is not a friend or a relative.

If the rate of murder continues to increase, all those who have the means, and have not already done so, will improve their home security with burglar bars, guard dogs, alarm systems and security guards. Then, they will feel safe in their fortresses. Their attitude is, let the government and let other people take care of themselves. If that were the attitude of the majority of the populace, things would not change for the better. This attitude is based on self-centeredness (not selfishness) and, lest you may believe that it is not your failing, you may be surprised to find that it lurks in all of us. This personal experience will explain what I mean.

Sitting across from my wife at the dining table, she remarked that she had just been bitten by an ant and she noticed that the ants don’t bite me. They are very tiny ants and, I have been bitten occasionally, but, they seem to prefer her. My first reaction was to say, “Because you are sweeter, dearest.” Fortunately, I reflected, then decided to be philosophical and said this, “St. Francis of Assisi believed that all living things, including insects, including ants, were God’s creatures and, our feeling towards them should be, ‘Live and let live.’” Then I thought, if the ants were making my life miserable, I would make it a project to find out how they got into the building. I know they can’t materialize and they can’t come through solid concrete walls and a concrete floor so, the building is not airtright. There must be a crevice somewhere and I would find it. There would have to be a trail leading to where they live. What next? What would you disciples of St. Francis do? We should leave some bread crumbs there for the ants to eat.

The purpose of this story is to say that our attitude towards the cause of pain and suffering should be the same when other members of society are victims, as when we or our family are. Do you know why? Because it demonstrates “enlightened self interest,” for sooner or later the widening circle of violent crime will reach you and your family, if nothing is done now to stop it. Also, because it is divinely ordained that you are Your Brother’s Keeper.

The citrus maelstrom

I refer to the battle between CPBL, CGA and the citrus factory’s management as a maelstrom because there seems to be an element of ill will in the mix. Also, a kind of conspiracy. Why was a tradition of many years standing which also has the force of law, violated? And, why was CPBL so ready to accommodate the factory’s management in breaking with tradition and, also violating the law?

The tradition which the law enjoins is for the citrus producers and the factory management to get together two weeks before the factory opens to receive fruit and determine the price of fruit according to an agreed formula. This year the factory’s management announced the opening of the factory and did in fact commence operations and receive fruit for processing without the determination of a price for fruit according to tradition and the law. All this happened within the province and during the watch of the Minister of Natural Resources and Deputy Prime Minister. He has a duty to restore order in the citrus industry and compel compliance with the law. It is a matter of national importance.

The ICJ

Strong voices are being raised against the idea of a “yes” vote in the upcoming referendum on whether or not to go to the ICJ to decide the boundary between Guatemala and Belize. The voices say Guatemala has nothing to lose, and Belize is taking an unnecessary risk. They argue that if we leave things the way they are, eventually Guatemala will have to drop its claim. I think the way things are is very unhealthy, with all these incidents of Guatemalan incursions, which we can’t settle bilaterally but have to be appealing to the OAS for help.

Let’s discuss the risk. Those against going to the ICJ say, when you go to court, there is always a risk that the court may decide in favor of your adversary. This is true, but let’s deal with our particular case. Guatemala made a claim to the territory called Belize which the British denied. The claim was based on a doctrine called “uti possidetis,” which declared that they inherited the territories once owned by Spain. They scaled down their claim, from time to time, to portions of the settlement, which had become British Honduras. Finally, there was an agreement of a boundary between Guatemala and the land administered by Great Britain, known as British Honduras, in the 1859 Treaty.

British Honduras became the self-governing country of Belize in 1964 and the independent sovereign state of Belize on 21st September, 1981. This historical background is necessary for considering the quantum of risk we would take by going to the ICJ.

The International Court of Justice is composed of twelve judges, one from each of twelve nations, chosen by a system which assures a fair distribution, having regard to geography and other factors. They are the finest jurists from the countries they represent.

They will be asked to decide on a boundary between two sovereign states, which have a “differendum” (not a dispute). Guatemala can’t accept the boundary because of its claim and, we say, our boundary has been established and, Guatemala has no claim against the sovereign state of Belize.

Like all courts, the ICJ will decide the “differendum” based on judicial precedent. All the international lawyers of high repute consulted by government, agree that the ICJ has been very consistent in its judgments and, they never alter established borders.

In our case, the border between Belize and Guatemala has not only been established, it is enshrined in the United Nations’ record of membership. Is there a risk that the ICJ could favor Guatemala’s case? The answer is, yes. Minute perhaps, but there it is. Not enough to prevent me from voting in the affirmative, because I believe there is much to gained in getting Guatemala to drop its claim; not the least would be the goodwill of a neighbor with whom our relations have been troubled. The Guatemalans must know what they have to gain. It can’t be Belizean territory.

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