Opinion — 22 August 2014 — by Audrey Matura-Shepherd
Right to the Point: The root of our crime…

Our streets are a-wash in blood and the recent slaying of a sports icon, Ernest “Jawmaine” Meighan, just after that of several other Belizean youths is a cruel reminder that no one is immune and none is sacred …

We grew up hearing how education would help to get us out of poverty and that sports was an alternative to crime… but it’s not adding up! Those promised end-results have me questioning so much more and have left me with more evidence to the contrary than being proof positive that sports and education are a way out.

Education equals no poverty

Now I am not saying that there aren’t those of us who came from poverty and who got a solid education and a profession/career which allowed us to live above the poverty line… sure we exist. However, there seem to be more who got an education and used it to rip off our people. I expect more from educated people… and I expect their contribution to mankind would be even greater, because “to whom much is given, much is expected.” However, recent events on the news have shown that educated people are as criminal as those not educated.

Take, for example, all the scandals we have heard from the Ministry of Health and the KHMH… think about all the names and the posts they held or hold and you will note that these are persons who are educated, qualified professionally and thus got hired to do a job. However, being educated did not stop them from acting any less criminally than the man on the street who robs and thieves.

The true difference is that the man on the street who robs and/or thieves, once detected, will be pulled in by police and charged even with little or no evidence. On the other hand, Nelsy Somerville, Melinda Guerra, Alexy Rosado, Kayla Hoare, Harry Sabal, and the list goes on… it seems… against whom the Auditor General has done some forensic auditing and at minimum has a prima facie case [on the face of it] will never be dragged off to the police station. Ironically, Hoare and Sabal got suspended promptly, while Somerville ad Guerra seem to enjoy some form of preferential treatment or protection from somewhere as they have yet to be suspended and dealt with promptly, despite the mounting evidence against them.

In Guerra’s case it is interesting to see how it will play out, as we now know the CEO Peter Allen, who seems to be able to talk his way around and out of every situation so far, is part of the problem.

Now, their actions can be as criminal as the fellow on the street who robs a man of his cell phone or runs off with the purse of a woman. As a matter of fact he is robbing one individual, but when public officers illegally take from the public purse, it’s an entire nation they rob and many generations will pay the price. However, these actsare referred to as “misappropriation”…. How polite and just a “hifalutin” way to say it is steal, rob or thief!

Paying the price

The situation is that when educated people, at any level, act criminally, it is called a white collar crime, but when not the most academically qualified, economically poor and racially marginalized person does it, it is an outright crime with no softening tone or color.

I have often considered how too often we say education will get you out of poverty, yet our politicians with little or no education are still getting out of poverty. Yes, they do not need an education to get out of poverty.

My conclusion, therefore, is that it is not education that gets you out of poverty in and of itself: it is control of resources that gives you the power to get out of poverty. Thus one needs to be in a position of control over certain resources, and to therefore control it in their favor, even though they are in said position to control the resources in favor of all. They therefore use their position or office to control the resources in their interest and enrichment. However in so doing the losers in this equation are us, the masses, who pay the ultimate price when said resources are not available to move the development of a nation forward.

Looking at it practically, Nelsy Somerville and Melinda Guerra had decision-making power and control over the money. For example, per the auditor’s report as reported by Channel 7: “Somerville purportedly cashed 49 checks valued at 118 thousand dollars which were made out to cash, deposited 10 checks valued at 15 thousand dollars and made out in her name directly to her Credit Union account, made 71 checks payable to other persons in the amount of $145,000 thousand dollars – the proceeds of which the FIU says ended up in her account, bought twenty thousand dollars’ worth of items with 21 checks, and deposited five cheques valued at $11,000 thousand dollars into the account of a colleague, Dr. Francis Morey. The Auditor General notes that Dr. Morey admitted that he received the cheques as deposits to his personal bank account.” This is over $300,000.00 that could have gone into so many desperately needed social projects, from school grants to youth camps or medical expenses of people always soliciting donations for medical reasons.

Likewise, politicians control resources which they can use and manipulate for their own benefit to the exclusion of others. Take the case of Minister Edmund Castro who got the Belize Airport Authority to issue cheques from that entity for his personal use, and contrary to the protocols and proper sanctions of the Ministry of Finance headed by no other than the Prime Minister himself!

Then there is Elvin Penner, who held high office as head of the Immigration Department, thus he was able to take the alluded “Citizen Kim” to the office to see that his passport was processed in one day … Hmmm…. Ask how many Belizeans wait for days and weeks to get one passport, despite being born and bred here… yet a complete stranger wishing Belizean nationality and passport for purely illegal purposes waltzes in and gets the red carpet and chaperoned by no other than the Minister of State himself! Does he really want us to think that this was only a favor???? With no price tag??? Or strings attached??? But this was only possible because he controls the resources.

How it connects

Now, it is important to see how these educated people and not so educated people become enriched, not because of their educational qualification, but because of their being the gatekeepers of our resources, over which they are given control. This privilege, however, has been abused over the years. First it would have seemed that the abuse was by the political leaders… but from independence to now it has trickled down the ranks, and even public officers at varying tiers of the service have learnt to emulate the politicians. It has become a part of the culture of corruption in our country, but there is a price to be paid.

What we are dealing with today in relation to the monies being drained out of our public coffers has only intensified and become more obvious, but all indications are that this draining started over three decades ago, when after our independence our native people took control of the public purse and slowly and one by one those holding the strings of the purse have given in to temptation and have robbed the purse’s contents from us.

In so robbing our nation of its collective financial resources, which should be applied to the greater good of all, we have robbed each generation of a chance for equal and equitable access to our resources for their self-realization through government-sponsored programs, projects or policies.

Basic decisions to institute proper sporting programs, after school programs, feeding programs or education scholarships can no longer be done because our coffers do not have sufficient monies to see these through. But when these are not done, it’s our families, especially our juveniles, who are impacted immediately and then over time we reap the results of that, when those same juveniles who are denied said access to resources, turn to a lifestyle of vagrancy, vice and crime. Then we wonder, how could this be?

Well, I say, this can be now because we are reaping the seeds of corruption that started some 3 decades ago, when our first local leaders took over from the British and decided that it was their time to cream and get rich… and every government, regardless of which party, has done the same and each time on a larger scale, bold face and “without apology.” It is as of right now for our politicians to enrich themselves while in office and sadly, the same now poor and marginalized from whom they have robbed help to vote them back in power… so the cycle has yet to be broken!

From seeds to roots

The seeds were planted so long ago and now we are reaping the fruits of our leaders’ labor… they planted and watered corruption, lack of transparency and good governance, and the fruit of that is crime, poverty and lack of progress and development. It took three decades to create and it will take another three decades to undo, if we start now, I say! But I don’t see any politician seeing this equation being in their favor…. Because to be accountable and transparent means that said politician will have just enough to get by. With most of them not being professionally educated or equipped to earn and keep an extravagant lifestyle once out of political office, it becomes imperative that they or their party remain in power so as to continue milking the proverbial cow. The root to our crime problem is not the violence itself: it is the seeds of corruption we planted three decades ago now in full bloom and no one wants to cut down the tree and pluck out its roots…. Somehow everyone’s little roots connect to this tree now!

Figure it out, Belize! God bless Belize!

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