Editorial — 05 November 2016
When the PM overstepped

If Belize were to change to the system of proportional representation, and were Kremandala then, for argument’s sake, to present candidates as a political party, the electoral performances of Evan X Hyde in Collet in 1974 and Rufus X in Belize Rural North in 1989 suggest that Kremandala would gain at least 4 percent of the votes cast.

In a system of proportional representation, were the teachers of Belize to present candidates as a political party, the chances are the teachers would gain as much as that 4 percent, and probably more.

The way our present first-past-the-post political system has worked, it has produced two major political parties – the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) and the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP). These two organizations, which have controlled, monopolized political power and public funds in Belize since 1961 to the present, are “big tent” in philosophy in the sense that they include individuals and groups with major differences in political and economic philosophy under the one party tent, under the one party banner.

On Wednesday morning, we listened to the Hon. Michael Finnegan make claims that, while there have been attempts by businessmen to bribe him over the course of his years in office, and he cited the case of one businessman leaving a sack in his office with more money than he had ever seen before, he is an honest politician who does not engage in corrupt practices.

Hon. Michael Finnegan, the Minister of Housing and area representative for the Mesopotamia constituency in Belize City, has won the Mesop seat in six consecutive general elections, by ever increasing margins. He has described himself as a founding member of the UDP in September of 1973, but, for the record, he was a member of UBAD during the years 1971 and 1972.

Hon. Michael Finnegan sat in the same Cabinet room with Hon. Gaspar Vega from February of 2008, when the UDP was returned to office following two terms of PUP rule (1998-2008), until a few weeks ago. That’s eight years in the same Cabinet room. Did Mr. Finnegan not know what was going on in Hon. Gaspar Vega’s Ministry of Natural Resources? The answer is, of course he knew, and so did the Prime Minister, who has also, like Hon. Finnegan, repeatedly make public claims to pristine personal honesty. What about the omniscient Minister of Foreign Affairs?

Under the separate “big tents” of the UDP and the PUP, you have politicians of different genders, ethnicities, religions, habits, principles, and, probably most important, vastly different political and economic philosophies. You begin with the fact that the nation of Belize is divided into six Districts, and these Districts have different populations, ethnically and religiously speaking, in the first instance, so they elect politicians of different backgrounds as their area representatives and leaders.

The ideal of the major political parties is to project a seamless national unity to the people of Belize. Out of many, one, as it were. That was always a pipe dream of sorts. During the glory years of the PUP in the 1960s, when opposition to the PUP was weak, the only messy case of disunity occurred in 1964 in Corozal South, when the PUP Leader, Hon. George Price, ousted the hero of the cane farmers, Jesus Ken. But, by the early 1970s, Corozal North’s Santiago Ricalde was stepping out of line, he had to be disciplined. Then the rest of that PUP 1970s decade featured Assad Shoman and Said Musa fighting against Louis Sylvestre and Fred Hunter, a power struggle which was finally decided at the PUP’s national party convention of 1983. Also during the 1970s, San Perdomo, the PUP’s Cayo South area rep from 1961 to 1979, left the PUP. He said he had to fight communism, presumably, in his opinion, existing inside the PUP. He joined the UDP.

The UDP, for its part, began as the coalition of three separate parties – the National Independence Party (NIP), the People’s Development Movement (PDM), and the Liberal Party, so this was a party divided from birth. That congenital division doomed the UDP in 1979 when they appeared certain to defeat the PUP for the first time.

Under our present system, wherein the UDP and the PUP routinely share more than 95 percent of the votes cast, the few percentage points of voters small parties attract, are of no account, and smaller parties are ridiculed by the public. But under proportional representation, the PUDP share of the votes cast would sink to perhaps 65 percent, or less, and smaller parties would control the balance of power. Governments could be replaced in the middle of their term, if they misbehaved.

When Prime Minister Barrow separated Hon. Gaspar Vega, then Deputy Prime Minister of Belize, from the Ministry of Natural Resources portfolio following the UDP’s November 2015 general election victory, in a sense Mr. Barrow overstepped his bounds. Hon. Vega had become the major source of ready cash for a majority of UDP Cabinet Ministers. That is why so many of these honorable worthies supported John Saldivar against Patrick Faber in the fighting for the Deputy Prime Minister’s post, after Hon. Vega, very angry about his removal from Natural Resources, spitefully resigned as Deputy UDP Leader and Deputy Prime Minister earlier this year. Saldivar was Gapi’s candidate. It was Gapi who had been the

UDP’s source of money on the ground for many years, and the evidence is now accumulating that those slush funds were derived from corruption at his Ministry of Natural Resources.
The ruling UDP is now more divided and weakened than it has been since coming to power in March of 2008, and the reason is that the UDP had been living a lie. Under the same big tent you had the Pharisees – Barrow, Finnegan, and Hulse, might as well throw in Sedi, and then you had Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. All these were living together in a marriage of political convenience.

Mr. Barrow overstepped his bounds when he attempted to clean house at Natural Resources. Yet, it cannot be said definitively that this is a lame duck government. As long as Said and Ralph lurk within the Independence Hall version of the big tent, enough voters will continue to be wary of a return to the blue to give the red a chance. This is what the results of all the elections held in Belize over the last ten years suggest. The voters have preferred the red big tent to the blue one.

Still, no matter which party Belizeans elect, it has been proven too easy for ruling politicians to practice corruption in government. First-past-the-post governments are too powerful, and the crooks protect each other. Too many of them are implicated and intertwined in the corruption. The joke is that now all the UDP saints have been smeared with the filth. Blame it on “big tent.” Or, call it sleeping with dogs and waking with fleas. Whichever, the teachers stepped to the plate, and the people of Belize, after 35 years, started winning.

Power to the people.

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