My exposure to World history and events started at a very early age. Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s my brother worked at the Punta Gorda Post Office and had a subscription to both Times and Newsweek magazine from the United States. He would get his subscription every month and after reading them, he would store them in a box next to his room. I was always intrigued by them because it had colourful pictures — something that we seldom saw during that time, since all the pictures were in black and white and also because the people in them from far away reaches of the earth looked so strange and different from us in little 1970’s PG.
Two distinct cover stories that I can always remember was Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini January 1980, Time Magazine Man of the Year. The reason was because he was a man that in my young mind looked like Santa Clause but wore what to me looked like a dress. The other one was the Newsweek cover story in October 1981 which covered the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat and the headlines read ‘An Act of Infamy’. I found it curious because in my trend of thought, I found it hard to believe that people would kill their own head of state. A thought that was remote in 1970’s Belize when Price was at the height of his reign. As time passed I went from watching the pictures to eventually starting reading first the caption next to the colourful pictures and then entire articles. Some I understood, others barely. One thing I identified throughout the world was that some problems were commonplace regardless of geographic region, country or political ideology. I could remember as if it was yesterday when British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher started divesting state-owned companies, a decision that was initially unpopular with the public but that in the long- term created immense wealth for the nation.
When our own PM started the nationalization process back in June of 2011, I recalled the English experience and could see our problems coming from a mile away. Nothing that Belize at 36 years old since independence is experimenting with now, be it social, economic, political or religious, hasn’t been done or tried before. In other words there is a litmus test out there in some country in history for us to learn from. If it has not worked in mature democracies, which are much older than ours, chances are it won’t work in our young, fragile, democratic Belize.
To tally our country’s nationalization experience, today, we have spent millions upon millions of dollars in litigation, travel and associated expenses in the BTL fiasco and are still in the hole for the company. BTL is bleeding at the seams, revenues are down, services have deteriorated, the company is in need of a massive infusion of cash, while friends and family of the ruling party have benefited big time from the company and the ultimate insult is that we now have a foreigner running a state-owned company. Do we expect it to get any better? Chances are, not anytime soon. Has nationalization really worked for the ordinary man on the street? The answer to that is rather obvious.
Essentially the debts that are being incurred by the nationalization of BTL while it’s being paid by the nation are really BTL’s debts if we really boil it to the bottom. Trust me I would be hard-pressed to find any company in the world today that is making that kind of monies to pay off the monumental nationalization debt that BTL has incurred, and that is even more difficult in a Third World economy like ours. But, every now and again when the nationalization Bukut hits us, like it did with the $87 million USD settlement from the CCJ, I like to remind the Belizean people that history has a strange way of repeating itself. When I wrote the two following articles years ago when nationalization was a feverish pitch, there were many people, and some in very prominent, respected positions who disagreed with me, but am sure the feeling is not the same today in 2017 Belize.
June 23, 2013
SUBJECT: Nationalization again?
In June 2011, I wrote an article regarding the recent stint of nationalization the PM had just recently undertaken. It was promised that this would have been the only and final round of nationalization but here I am again almost two years later to the day essentially doing the same thing. I don’t believe that there is anyone within the cabinet who can accurately tell me what their administration economic plan is because it appears to be a haphazard patchwork of varying economic decisions with taxation and nationalization as a key ingredient in it. No amount of explanation will convince me that this recent case of nationalization was urgent, necessary or so strategic that it jeopardized the national security or the economic interest of the nation. This nationalization was plain and simple a political move aimed at distracting the population from the real economic condition of the country and the recent series of scandals that seem to be plaguing this administration.
The political objective of this nationalization is to try and unite the nation under the perceived banner of patriotism and taking back what is rightfully ours. However a closer look will reveal that this nationalization will in no means lower unemployment, reduce the cost of living, inspire or increase foreign investment or make life better for the masses of Belizeans. What is sure to happen is that the nation will once again get drawn into mounting litigation which will further drain at the limited resources we have in our coffers. But this is not to say that someone will not gain from this; keep a close eye at what transpires in the next few months and you will see the same attorneys and law firms making millions of taxpayers’ dollars while a selected few insiders and political supporters will be rewarded with high-paying jobs even though they may be totally not qualified for the job.
What Belizeans do not realize is that we do not live in a vacuum and we have neither the resources, wealth nor clout in the international community to sit much less stand on our own two feet. While countries like Mexico and Venezuela had the capacity for nationalization, we don’t. We are still dependent on international investment and that is something that we are all failing or don’t want to see. Nationalization of these companies at this time makes no economic sense whatsoever. What will eventually happen is that these companies will be run to the ground and as we are speaking, plans are being made about who will get the choice jobs in these companies regardless if they have the capacity to do it. Like with other nationalized companies, it will end up being a source for jobs and contracts for political supporters and cronies. The country has slowly become a case whereby if you support the administration in power you will likely survive and if you dissent, oppose or just voice your opinion to something contrary to what they are saying then you are labeled.
It’s all about the people!!!
Neri O. Briceño
June 16, 2011
What does Cable & Wireless, British Telecom, Amersham International (Pharmaceutical), Britoil (Petroleum), Rolls Royce, British Gas, Associated British Ports, Enterprise Oil, Jaguar/Land Rover, British Steel, British Rail, Regional Water Companies, Electric Distribution Companies and British Airways all have in common? These were all government-owned companies that were privatized by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during her reign from May 1979 to November 1990. In her memoirs she described the sale of state assets as essential to “eroding the corrosive and corrupt effects of socialism”. I believe that the British PM, although a politician, understood that the state itself must curtail the limits of its involvement in a capitalist democracy. Globally, there are but a very few state-owned/controlled companies that I can think of that are competitive, efficient, well managed and not corrupt. When a company is state-run, it allows the government to extend its control far beyond its desired mandate because it now actively employs individuals. Employment of individuals is a crucial ingredient in the control of citizens since it has control over that person’s financial ability and by extension the means for them to put food on their table.
Democracy and capitalism are inseparable brothers. In its purest form it is virtually impossible for one to exist without the other. Personally, I am a pure capitalist and as such prescribe to a doctrine of democracy. I feel strongly that the proposed nationalization of Belize Electricity Ltd. was planned and orchestrated in order to nationalize the company. I am against any form of nationalization except in cases of war and when there is an extreme threat against the nation and it’s in the country’s best and only interest to nationalize that company. This current pattern of nationalization is unsettling and only the government knows how far it will go. The main reason for my opposition is that it gives the state further control over both state-controlled services and individuals. I believe that the job of any democratic government is not to employ, but rather to create the avenue and atmosphere to increase employment and investment… nationalization does not achieve this. Nationalized companies have proven to be inefficient, bureaucratic like the government that creates them and most often corrupt. The greatest advantage state-controlled companies have is that individuals who work for them rarely speak out against any government policy because they are directly working for the state. Free speech is a vital component of democracy and when the potential fear of free speech is created, it’s undemocratic.
State-controlled companies all too often are not productive because in the majority of cases the right man is not afforded the chance to get promoted or in most cases to lead the company. These are generally given to persons who are party loyalists or insiders. In Belize this will not be different. While there are those who will say that GOB taking over any company is in our best interest because of X Y and Z, in the long term it may be that our own tax monies might be subsidizing these same operations. While the problem might not be now, there is no guarantee that this present administration will be in power forever and only time will tell what another administration will do with companies they control. In the short term it may now seem like the best idea, but in long term we will live to regret it. As Belizeans we need to start looking years ahead and realize that the actions we take now will come back to haunt us later.
It’s all about the people!!!
Neri O. Briceno