In September, 2013, Deputy Party Leader Julius Espat, tried to amend the membership of the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Representatives to increase the number of the PUP members to three. This could possibly give his party a greater influence on this important group and strengthen the oversight of the House over the expenditure of public funds. Transparency would certainly be enhanced.
The Prime Minister moved quickly to secure control of this key committee by his party. He appointed a fourth colleague to the PAC.
Not only the People’s United Party but the whole country at large once again had to confront the reality that transparency and accountability are not high on the list of this Prime Minister’s priorities.
This conviction was re-enforced last week. By a vote of 7-6 the Senate rejected a motion put forward by Civil Society representatives on the Senate and the People’s United Party to launch an investigation into the various scandals emanating from the Ministry of Immigration. Included in the allegations of criminal acts and misconduct is the charge that Cayo North East Representative, a key UDP member, Elvin Penner, had signed some immigration documents – an official act outside of his scope of responsibility.
In the Senate vote a division was called, but hope for a split in the UDP proved to be misplaced when all, one by one, answered the roll call, voting against the motion to investigate.
Civil Society was given the same message handed a few weeks earlier to the Opposition. It was clear and concise: we are more interested in our survival in control of the levers of power than in transparency and accountability. It is as though the Prime Minister was telling the nation: these things are nice to talk about convincingly when one is in opposition, but not when one has achieved power.
Appointing a couple clean-looking faces had given our nation a lift in spirit in 2012, and some become optimistic that good, honest government, free of corruption, cold be the guiding light of this new administration, fulfilling a solemn pledge made in a previous one to lop off the ugly head of corruption wherever it showed itself.
Is it likely that today as a nation we have arrived at that state of hopeless cynicism and we are gasping the last breath of cheerfulness after despairing that as a nation we are incapable of reaching up to the best values of civilization – and especially honesty, integrity and honour?
Are we at that place of darkness and despair and are admitting to ourselves that we must face the fact that it is inevitable that power will corrupt any and everyone?
I must admit that it is true. Angels and saints join neither the PUP nor the UDP. Therefore, we have to work with what we have. One thing is certainly true. We have not tried all the different systems of government.
It was believed by sages of old that the best form of government was a benevolent dictatorship. However, in this day of striving for universal equality the very word “dictatorship” is unacceptable, although upon reflection we must see that our prime minister is in effect an elected dictator who does pretty much what he wants within a limited number of rules.
Even an advanced civilization like the United States of America was for 137 years ruled by a parliamentary dictatorship headed by a president instead of a prime minister. Faced by the fact that the rules of governance had been designed more for efficiency than for transparency and accountability, in 1913 the US House of Representatives, by Amendment 17, amended its constitution to change its Senate from an appointed to an elected one. Through this one signal act the people of America established their conviction that transparency and accountability are crucial for good governance.
If Belize would decide to elect its senate solely responsible for impeachments, it would be a trumpet message to the whole world to be informed that Belizeans want to participate in democratic governance not only on election day, but every day during a term of office. Those holding the reins of office would be conscious that they are but temporary holders of power, not absolute owners.
If we had an elected senate, the current scandal would be now receiving ventilation and public officials would be making answers from disciplinary carpets on the senate floor – from the persons kneeling on them.
All systems are corruptible, even those having elected senators, but perhaps their advanced age of 65 and settled economic status would make them less vulnerable to temptations.
Other rules restricting their campaign financing and the use of media will make our senators transparent. But nothing is guaranteed, unless we as a people are determined to encounter the difficulties and overcome them.
Honour is a virtue that only the best human beings possess; but anyone may aspire to be honourable. Being a manifestation of what is noble, it is the heritage of every single human being.
With the election of Senators in Belize the title “Honourable” may once again recover its ancient luster.