Features — 20 January 2018 — by Colin Hyde
PM Barrow unmasks himself in the House

It is near beyond uncanny (and very disappointing), how Barrow’s UDP led us to the same place Musa’s PUP did. These two men, who scolded each other from across the aisle, both ran the ship aground.

From the outside the two men are different cats. From the layman’s view, one seemed to consider himself a man’s man, while the other seemed to fashion himself, a ladies man. For the clinical view we’ll have to talk with Ms. Claudia, or a Mason-Browne.

Of course, that’s trivia. That doesn’t change a thing on the ground for Belizeans. But we like to indulge in, what ifs. The person who wears the crown gets the fame, or the blame. But they never act alone. There is always an advisor, or advisors. In both cases, two of the players are the same. There is a Belize PM, and there is Ashcroft. In the case of Musa, the question is what if there was no Fonseca. In the case of Barrow….

Throughout all our dealings with Mr. Michael Ashcroft since 2008 – the BTL, the UHS, everything – Brother Rufus X (I think Michael Lindo too) has maintained that our Prime Minister was in the employ of Ashcroft (Barrow’s law firm has been on contract with Ashcroft for years before 2008), yep, still working for him.

In all things, follow the numbers. The math says that Ashcroft’s businesses “could not have done better” in the years since the UDP came to power in 2008. In all the government’s dealings with Ashcroft, the only Belizeans who profited directly were those who gained employ. Said Belizeans, from what we can see, are/were mostly members of the legal profession. A number of them were closely related to the PM.

So, has the PM been working, been an employee of Ashcroft all these years? Effectively, that’s what the math says. And the math is always right.

It matters naught on the ground, but when we consider the penalties we cannot ignore the heart. We are aware of two types of employees in this world. There are calculated employees, and there are unwitting employees. The suggestion that Ashcroft was deliberately served has some proponents. But the greater likelihood is that the PM was the latter type of employee.

Whenever anyone gets the better of another in a business transaction, the loser is an unwitting employee. This is commonplace in the world of gambling.

In Camalote, whenever the village needs funds for a cause, the Village Council gets a gambling license and plays “Casa”. For a few nights, piti-pat is played in the Community Center. A lot of people will lose, a few individuals will claim to have come out on top, but the certain big winner always is the one playing “Casa”– the village. I do not exaggerate when I say that what is made in three or four nights of piti-pat is more than ten times what is made at an all-day sporting event, and a dance at night.

In all our dealings with Ashcroft, from Everuary, he has been playing “Casa.” And the PM has been playing gambler. That his family didn’t do too badly was explained in the House.

On Friday, January 5, 2018, the PM said in the House of Representatives, to the nation, that he didn’t understand why former PM, Said Musa’s hiring his son, Yasser, to head NICH, wasn’t nepotism, but his hiring his and Lois’s son, Anwar, to head BTL, was.

Gambling aside, our story now becomes one of love for family, and a few select friends. They say that sometimes love makes people blind. There is a huge blind spot here and it was revealed to all of us on January 5.

This blind spot explains why Barrow couldn’t check Mark King who preposterously declared UDP first, Belizeans second, and PUP last. That’s because his world is too close to King’s. His is family first, UDP second, and God help the rest.

Yes, I believe that love of family is why Mr. Barrow couldn’t see the difference between the hiring of Anwar and the hiring of Yasser. If the blindfold was off he would have seen a wide gulf, a chasm, between the hiring of these sons.

I was surprised when PM Musa hired Yasser to head NICH. I believe he was the best trained person for the job, at least one of the best. There was no question about his devotion to the development of art in our country. As most everyone knows, there isn’t much chance of getting rich through producing art in Belize. The market is just too small. Watina has some crossover, but it didn’t make a lot of money. Many of us believe that Paul Nabor’s Naguya Ne is flat out one of the greatest songs ever. We never heard of Mr. Nabor’s making any riches in his time.

No, there wasn’t much chance of true self-enrichment at the NICH. But there was one aspect of the hiring which couldn’t be overlooked. Being head at NICH allowed Yasser an opportunity to claim some artists’ souls for the PUP if he was keen on PUP love. Artists are generally independent of mind, but very few people will completely ignore their food bills. You can’t buy true artists, but you can get a lot closer to them than a stranger would, if you are placed in a position where you get to help them earn their daily bread.

When I heard that PM Barrow had hired his son to head BTL, I was stunned. The timing was particularly troubling. Belize had just taken away BTL from Ashcroft, and the matter of compensation would be fought out in foreign courts. The capitalist world doesn’t just frown on public acquisition of private property: it condemns it. White, black, brown, red, yellow, local or foreign, judges are human beings. This hiring, to my mind, did not serve Belize well in the foreign world.

And then, there is the matter of how the hiring affected the psyche on the local scene. Belize being a small country, sometimes we have difficulty finding people with the capacity for certain jobs. We also have to be careful of partiality. If a political leader will give his/her child a plum job, their only justification can be that their child is head, shoulders, and toes, above the rest.

Political leaders are human, so they will feel for their children, other family, and close friends. Only a heart of stone would not understand that politicians want to help their own. But if you accept leadership, you become mother and father of all. When you accept leadership, be it as coach of a pee wee ball club or Prime Minister of a nation, you are expected to carry out your duties without fear or favor. In the case of the pee wee league, you stay away from favoritism because it will ruin the team; in the case of a political leader, you not only should understand the negative effects of favoritism, you also take an oath to stay away from that.

The Prime Minister and some members of the Cabinet did not stay away from that. There is a story that when great Roman heroes recently returned from battle marched through the streets in front of the adoring throng, a slave was placed beside them who constantly whispered in their ears – “remember thou art mortal.” We have seen, all too often, what happens to people who get swell-headed. First, they use their power to take advantage of people. Then people get tired of the abuse and there’s a bloody revolution.

Of course, this whisper in Rome, “remember thou art mortal”, might also have been to remind certain generals to hold down the ambition, lest the Caesar got vexed and cut off their heads. In old Rome, the Caesar was like a god.

The power of a Prime Minister in a true democracy is more akin to that of a general in the old Roman army than it is to the power of a Caesar. No one needs to remind them that they are mortal. What they need to be reminded of is that they are not above the law, and that they are to manage the assets of the country without fear or favor. Apparently a simple oath taken at a swearing-in ceremony is not sufficient.

Some leaders, very wisely, make sure to have people in their circle who are not sycophantic. Some leaders, very wisely, treasure the criticism coming from the media. Political leaders who would not succumb to the blind spots, such as those caused by their love for family and close political partners, need to feel the heat.

Former PM, Said Musa, said in the House that PM Barrow’s frittering with the BTL cost us $251MILLION in interest payments, and we know that the UHS frittering cost our country another $51MILLION. We never learned all that the BTL cost us during its battles with Intelco, and then Prosser. There was standoff, delay, buy back, accommodation, and who knows what else. Somewhere in all of that mix, you know you will find the ugly head of the dreaded usury, compounded.

I read some reports which suggest that former PM, Said Musa, is all hot air when he said that during his time in office he fought the Ashcroft Alliance. The people who disagree with the former PM have forgotten a lot. Absolutely, Musa wasn’t false when he made that statement. There is no doubt that his government was fighting Ashcroft. The question was, for whom?

Mr. John Avery and Mr. Ambrose Tillett said most every week in The Guardian, it (fighting the Alliance) was so he (Musa) could create “a retirement package for the boys.” I might have missed a part of that story, at the beginning. I later learned (heard) that those two gentlemen were actually quoting Michael Ashcroft.

There is a saying that the more things change, the more they remain the same. The present PM unmasked ends up looking so much like the one Avery and Tillett wrote about. Bah, the route to the rocks might have been a little different, but we still ended up there.

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