Some years before Independence, the Government of Belize chose a name for our country, a national flag, a national anthem and, national symbols, a tree, a bird, a flower and an animal. They also commissioned the composition of a prayer and declared it to be our National Prayer. The prayer was to be said on special occasions and it was decided that it should be read at the beginning of every meeting of the House of Representatives.
Reading of the National Prayer by the Speaker at the beginning of every meeting of the House of Representatives became a tradition, beginning with the first session of the House after self-government in 1964 and continuing up to the last meeting before the general elections of 1984, when the United Democratic Party replaced the People’s United Party as the Government of Belize. End of tradition. No National Prayer from 1984 to 1989. From 1989 to 1993, the tradition was renewed. There was another break from 1993 to 1998, renewed again from 1998 to 2008, broken from 2008 up to the present.
Good traditions contribute to the unity and strength of a nation. Having a national prayer to be said on special ceremonial occasions, when we ask for divine intervention in our affairs and blessings on the deliberations of our leaders, is certainly a tradition worth preserving and, there is no more fitting occasion than a meeting of our Legislature.
For those of you who have never heard the National Prayer because you have never been to a meeting of the House when it was read, it begins thus: “Almighty and Eternal God, Who through Jesus Christ, has revealed Your glory to all nations, please protect and preserve our beloved country”. The rest is as powerful and as beautiful.
Behold now, that our nation faces so many serious challenges and is beset by so many powerful forces which seek our undoing, is the acceptable time to have the tradition of saying our National Prayer once again in the House of Representatives.
Parliamentary democracy or Republic
Which is better for Belize? They are both good systems of government. The British crafted the first over many centuries, starting with Oliver Cromwell’s “Commonwealth.” The Americans devised theirs after their revolution against British rule was successful. Both systems have defects as all man-made structures do but, they are the best form of governments known to man.
Belizeans should have a good idea of our British Parliamentary Democratic system of government, which we have had for the past thirty-one years. If you have been watching American TV’s Fox News and MSNBC, you would have a pretty good idea of the American Republican system. Which is better? Which do you prefer? I prefer the former. Not the one we have, but the one the framers of our Constitution intended it to be, which we had for a very short time. The ideal is to have a non-political civil service with Ministries headed by Permanent Secretaries, who serve the people by accepting and carrying out the orders of a political directorate of government Ministers. The Minister is the Permanent Secretary’s boss, but he is not the Minister’s servant. Replacing Permanent Secretaries with CEO’s appointed by Ministers and serving at their pleasure may be expedient, but was not a good idea, for reasons which I have written of before. It has not worked. It has not served us well.
What is even further from the ideal is the practice of governments to appoint as many members of the House to the Executive as are needed to exercise absolute control of the Legislature. For example. If the ruling party wins by a landslide in a general election, with a majority of 25 to six seats, they would appoint 16 members of the House to the Executive, leaving nine backbenchers, which together with the six Opposition members amount to fifteen, insuring that the Executive has the numbers to pass all government bills without the support of a single vote from the other members of the House. A costly exercise. What is spent on salaries and privileges enjoyed by Ministers could be put to better use elsewhere in the budget.
If as now, the ruling party has a majority of 17 to 14, the government has to appoint 16 members of the House to the Executive to ensure control of the Legislature. So the size of the Executive depends upon the majority of seats of the ruling party, it would seem. What is wrong with that? Wrong question. Shouldn’t the question be: Does this practice serve the best interests of the nation? Or, shouldn’t government ask itself: Taking into consideration all the important factors, including what the country can afford, how much can it spend on Public Administration? Then, fix the number of Ministries and fit all the portfolios into them. Off the top of my head, ten Ministries would be about right.
I preferred a British Parliamentary Democratic system, but since we have strayed so far from the ideal, perhaps I might be persuaded that a Republican system might be better for Belize.
Finally, a man as competent and committed as Senator Godwin Hulse could direct and lead three Ministries. All he would need is three Permanent Secretaries (not CEO’s) to carry out the programs. Before closing, I have to remark that if there was a Permanent Secretary in charge of the Ministry responsible, there would have been no tragedy as Noh Mul.
The right to privacy
The right to privacy is not a human right. What it is, is a privilege accorded to the individual by the State, and honored by tradition and practice by societies in democratic countries.
In real terms, when a man locks the doors to his home he decides who may be admitted to it, by keeping them closed or opening them to allow anyone to enter. The law protects the individual’s privacy by making it a criminal offence for anyone to break into a man’s home. Only an officer of the law may enter your premises, if you deny him, provided he has reasonable grounds to believe that you have an unlicensed firearm, ammunition or prohibited drugs in your possession and, provided he has a search warrant validated by a Justice of the Peace.
Does the privilege of undisturbed occupancy of your home allow you to commit an offence against the law in private? Unthinkable! Absurd! Yes, but how will law enforcement know what has transpired behind closed doors? Only if it is reported. What happens if it is not reported? Nothing happens, because as far as the rest of society is concerned, nothing happened.
It has been suggested by legal counsel for Caleb Orozco, who brought a lawsuit claiming that the law which makes the homosexual act a crime, is unconstitutional, because it denies homosexuals the right to privacy. Caleb was the chief and only witness for the complainant, although there are other homosexuals in our community. Some of them make no secret about their lifestyles, yet neither Caleb nor any of the others have ever been prosecuted for an offence against the law they would like to strike down. Clearly, they already enjoy their “right” to privacy.
An object lesson
An anthropologist proposed a game to the kids in an African tribe. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told the kids whoever got there first won the sweet fruits. When he told them to run, they all locked each other’s hands and ran together, then they sat together enjoying their treats. When he asked them why they ran like that, as one could have had all the fruits to himself, they said, “UBUNTU”. How can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?” (“UBUNTU” in the Xhosa culture means, “I am because we are.”)