The real yardstick by which future generations of Belizeans will judge our contemporary political leaders is not by what they have thought or by what they have said, but by what they have built. Economists refer to the “infrastructure” of a nation, and this includes roads, bridges, ports, public buildings, water and sewerage systems, and so on. We are not economists at this newspaper, but we thought of opening up a conversation to which more knowledgeable readers may care to contribute.
Belize has had four Maximum Leaders in our lifetime, and these are Rt. Hon. George Price, Rt. Hon. Manuel Esquivel, Rt. Hon. Said Musa, and Hon. Dean Barrow. Mr. Price had the longest run as Maximum Leader, from 1961 to 1984, whereas Mr. Esquivel spent a total of ten years as Prime Minister, likewise Mr. Musa, whereas Mr. Barrow is working on his seventh year in office. Mr. Price was also Maximum Leader from 1989 to 1993, but the evidence suggests that he may have been a figurehead during that term of office.
In the matter of infrastructure, Mr. Price may be credited with having built the Tower Hill sugar factory, the new capital Belmopan, the Belcan and BelChina bridges, the Western and Northern Highways, the Belize City water and sewerage system, the Belize City Deep Water Port, and the Belize City Civic Center.
Mr. Esquivel built the Philip Goldson International Airport, the University College of Belize campus, the Central Bank building, and the original Ramada Hotel. Mr. Musa may be credited with building the Hummingbird and Southern Highways, the Orange Walk Town bypass, the Belize Tourism Village, and the Marine Parade. Mr. Barrow is nearing completion of the Chetumal Street bridge. He has financed major work on Belize City streets and parks.
The area where our data base at this newspaper is badly lacking is that of school buildings nationwide and rural electrification and water projects. As a matter of fact, we invite contributions from readers who may be able to fill in the gaps where Belize’s rural infrastructural projects are concerned. You will have noted that our list of projects is more focused on “mega” projects, hence it may be criticized as Belize City-biased.
The subject of infrastructure entered our thinking because of the fact that the Chetumal Street bridge is nearing completion. This is a bridge that should have been built at least fifteen years ago, while a serious upgrade to the road between Belize City and the Philip Goldson International Airport should have been in the works at the same time. Remember now, tourism was exploding fifteen years ago, and clearly access to the international airport, as the hub of much of our tourism-related travel activity, should have been the focus of attention.
During our recent thinking on the subject of infrastructure, we realized that Mr. Price had done three major projects in Belize City in the decade after he completed Belmopan in 1970. These were the water and sewerage project, the Deep Water Port, and the Civic Center. There was a perception, especially in the old capital, that Mr. Price was abandoning Belize City after he decided on Belmopan, but these three projects suggest otherwise.
On the matter of infrastructure, perhaps speaking tangentially, we note that arguments have been brought forward by prominent Belizeans such as Dr. Ted Aranda to the effect that infrastructural investment in Belizean port facilities should have been directed towards Commerce Bight and Big Creek in the south of the country, primarily because there is deeper water nearer to shore in Commerce Bight and Big Creek than in the case of Belize City. Two things to mention where the subject is concerned are, firstly, that Belize City has 10 of the 31 seats in the House of Representatives, and secondly, that the better port landscape lies in the half of Belize territory being claimed by Guatemala. In other words, the discussion is not a straightforward one with respect to the relative merits of the sites: the discussion is probably influenced by political and foreign policy considerations.
The various real estate and housing projects undertaken by Javier Berbey Garcia, a relative or associate of the Omar Torrijos family who came to Belize from Panama in the middle 1970s, include Bella Vista, Buttonwood Bay (formerly Belama Phase One), Belama Phases Two and Three, and Vista del Mar. These infrastructural works may be credited to Price administrations.
We have not included Mahogany Heights in Mr. Musa’s list of infrastructural credits, because of all the controversy surrounding the land itself. You may give a Musa administration credit for Los Lagos.
Our intention in this editorial was not to play any political games. Our intention, to repeat, is to begin a conversation. The infrastructural decisions which an administration makes say something about the nature and priorities of that administration. What is left after all the singing and dancing and flag waving, is infrastructure. It is indeed by their fruits that ye shall know them.