(This column was first published in the Amandala issue of Friday, June 16, 1995)
“It has not failed, but it has not worked” is the best we can say of the Westminster system of government after 30 years of apprenticeship (17 years of self-governing status) and 13 years of “running ourselves”. It obviously “has not failed” because in all its glorious inefficiencies and incompetencies, it keeps lumbering on like a 19th century locomotive. “It has not failed” because those who have paid the price of slander, gossip, rumor-mongering, character assassination, who have survived the insults to their persons and families, broken marriages and families, suffered financial distress, once elected know they will get their chance to pay back; they will get their opportunity to drink at the people’s trough. They will be able to live their wildest fantasies, touring the world, hobnobbing with presidents and queens, posturing before international meetings, rhetoricizing about this and that, knowing all the while that one of the giants need but sneeze, and the country is blown about like a feather in a hurricane. “It has not failed” because these brave few, having sacrificed their consciousness and souls to the paramountcy of the party, rationalize these sacrifices by apologizing for their inability to lead by “all over the world this is happening”, “everywhere there is escalating crime and unemployment”, “increasing teen pregnancy”, “there is a breakdown of the family unit,” “our products are subject to market forces beyond our control”, ad infinitum, all the while enjoying the perks of the successful candidate, legislating with perfect aplomb the statement of Bill Vaughn, “the tax collector must love poor people – he is creating so many of them.”
“But it has not worked”, the flip side of the Westminster system, is also true in such as Belize. For one thing, we have been trained to perpetuate the ideas of the master; we make no initiatives of our own, unless it has been first done by him. He must approve. When we do try an idea relevant to our circumstances, we submit it to him for his consent. We do not even seem to understand the significance of the language of the Constitution, judging from the legislation passed to date. We could well have stayed a colonial people. “It has not worked” because we are yet to formulate development strategies that would liberate us from the economic stranglehold of the industrial North. “It has not worked” because we continue the educational indoctrination laid out for us. But worse, we are going backwards relative to our colonial master, when we legislate the destruction of education, binding our children to living in the world of the 19th century when the 21st century looms before them.
“It has not failed, but it has not worked” summarizes the rock and the hard places between which the Belizean finds himself…
Public investment companies shall be exempted from paying:
1. Income tax
2. Corporation tax
3. Revenue tax
4. Withholding tax
5. Stamp duty
6. Land tax
7. Capital duty
8. Sales tax
9. Value added tax
10. Customs or seaport duty, or any tax or duty of other nature and whether presently existing or whether existed for a period of 30 years … the Minister may … extend the period of exemption granted to that company. Did the people of Belize have a say in this decision? How much money has accrued to the people and government of Belize from this Act? Please note, in spite of much noise, this Act is yet to be repealed. Why not?
THE HARD PLACE…
Belizeans must pay the following taxes …
1. Personal income tax
2. Gross receipts tax
3. Property tax
4. Land tax
5. Trade license tax
6. Departure tax/security tax
7. Lottery tax
8. Taxes on interests
9. Customs tax
10. Withholding tax on gross contract payments.
How much money has accrued to the government and people of Belize from these taxes, and to what use have these been put?
Both the rock and the hard place are the results of the same system of government. To say therefore that the change of administration will be for the better is to hide our heads in the sand. At first, superficialities of good will, easing of this or that tax, promotes the idea that in this administration things will be better. Experience has shown, though, that this is not the reality. The solution is not the party: the solution is a change of the system.
As it now administered, we don’t need a national election to help us elect leaders to help us to a better quality of life. It would be more honest to have the beneficiaries of the rock nominate a board and these of the hard place nominate theirs, and the two boards meet, nominate the Chief Executive Officer and his lieutenants to carry out their agenda.
The people, their wishes and opinions being irrelevant, will know that they are necessary only insofar that they, by the sweat of their brows, will continue to carry the doles, the parts, the Waltons, the Fyffes, the Tates and Lyles, the ICB’s, the holding companies on their backs, all the while knowing that the structural adjustments of the IMF will be the whip ensuring that they keep on doing so.
We need a new system of government. The party, new or old, that commits to reform, the party that commits to a modified republican model of government, or to any other system that allows direct election of the Leader, separation of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, that acknowledges that the people are paramount, is the one that should be voted for. If none such appears, then we can save the money we don’t have, and let the boiler room boys surface and appoint their CEO and his lieutenants, thereby manifesting the truth of the words of Ambrose Pierce – “Politics is the conduct of public affairs for private advantage.”
Another view of politicians has been stated by J.F. Clarke, who opines that “a politician thinks of the next election; a statesman, of the next generation.”
The Westminster model in such as Belize perpetuates the first part of this statement; the modified republican model or derivative thereof allows for the development of the latter.