“But even if Venezuela is obliged to suspend her PetroCaribe commitments, it would detract nothing from the nobility of purpose in pursuing a plan to help struggling small states such as Belize to claw their way out of poverty by giving them a fund of development resources which they can use without endangering their own future growth.
“The PetroCaribe Plan is today the most progressive, the most unselfish, the most helpful plan for development of Third World economies that any nation has proposed. Even if this assistance were to end abruptly, it is still the best thing that has happened to our part of the world.”
– from The Reporter editorial of Sunday, March 29, 2015
The thing about electoral politicians in Belize, as indeed all over the planet earth, is that their position on issues is based on whether that position is favorable to their political party or not. In absolute terms, there is no good or bad in party politics: there is only what benefits me and what does not.
The ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) introduced an extraordinary bill into the House of Representatives last week which gave them leave to dispense with the Finance and Audit Act of 2005 when it came to the PetroCaribe loan funds. The circumstances under which Belizeans had demanded and obtained the Finance and Audit Act almost a decade ago should be recalled in detail, but the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) will scream bloody murder if those circumstances of 2005 are recalled in detail. The PUP will argue that 2005 is in the past, and it is what the UDP is doing now with which the people of Belize should be concerned.
Well, you know what the people of Belize are concerned about? We are concerned about our money, our taxpayers’ moneys which the politicians of both parties are so eager to get their hands on. According to the politicians and their pious platitudes, all they really want to do is serve. The facts are that they want to control our tax moneys, what we call “public finances,” and that is what political power is all about at the end of the day.
There are politicians who want to control public finances so that they can siphon off gobs of same for themselves and their cronies, and there are politicians for whom it is more an ego thing: these want to control public finances so that they can have power over the Belizean people. When you win electoral power, you gain control over the public finances, and then you enjoy personal power, which is to say, you can do just about anything you want to anybody you don’t like.
By April 11 of 2004, when Amandala wrote an editorial entitled “Public finances, private domain,” a truly frightening situation had developed in Belize. The Government of Belize, which was controlled by the PUP, was borrowing and spending money in the area of public finances as if the money belonged to them. Some of the same people who were guilty of participating in, and condoning, the obscene excesses of that era, stood up in the House of Representatives last week to lambast the 2015 UDP administration’s move to neutralize the Finance and Audit Act of 2005, an Act which the leadership of the ruling PUP had resisted with all their might ten years ago. The PUP area representatives were right in doing what they did to expose the UDP last week, but for those Belizeans who were old enough to remember 2005 in all its gory detail, those PUP representatives had no moral authority to do what they did. Belizean politicians do a lot of talking about God, but there is no morality in their politics. Without any moral authority, then, the PUP parliamentarians performed their political duty as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
On their side, the UDP leaders would have us believe that their self-proclaimed righteousness in money matters is such that there is no need for their handling of the PetroCaribe funds to be monitored as closely as the Finance and Audit Act mandates. (All loan deals over $10 million must be submitted to the House of Representatives for approval. This is the Finance and Audit Act law.) We do not agree with the UDP leaders. The problem with the PetroCaribe largesse from Venezuela is that it is skewing Belize’s electoral politics in favor of the incumbent UDP. This is not what the late, great, Comandante Hugo Chavez intended: what he wanted to do was to make some urgently needed development financing available for poor countries in the region like Belize.
The deal is that Belize has been receiving our petroleum supplies from Venezuela, but a large portion of the payments is deferred. The payments do have to be honored, so these PetroCaribe monies amount to a loan from the Bolivarian Republic to Belize, but Belize does not have to pay the bill for some time, and then only at the very low interest rate of 1 per cent. This is a great windfall for Belize and other countries in the region. Venezuela is helping Belize more than the mighty United States of America ever did.
It appears that the UDP, in their haste to receive and process the PetroCaribe funds, did not apply Finance and Audit Act 2005 protocols to the moneys. The Opposition PUP, and rightly so, had their attorneys prepare a lawsuit to indict the Barrow administration’s behavior. That lawsuit is before the courts of Belize. This is the context inside which the UDP government introduced and passed the PetroCaribe bill last week. The PetroCaribe bill is saying that this Government of Belize has the right to handle PetroCaribe funds outside of the jurisdiction of the Finance and Audit Act.
The PUP leaders and spokesmen would like for people like us at this newspaper to be as indignant and self-righteous as they are presently behaving with respect to the PetroCaribe bill. Pardon us for our cynicism: we have seen this kind of jancunu dance before. In 2005, the dancers were dressed in blue, and now in 2015, the dancers are dressed in red.
In pursuance of a basically neoliberal agenda beginning in 1998, PUP administrators began borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars at commercial rates. These moneys created an aura of economic development in Belize and enabled the PUP to win a second term of office in the March 2003 general election. After independence, no party had won a second term until 2003. Belizean taxpayers ended up with the heavy financial burden which has been called the “Superbond.” The PUP politicians had bought our votes.
The same thing is happening today, as the UDP looks for an unprecedented third consecutive term. There is an aura of economic development in parts of Belize because of the PetroCaribe funds. Yes, they are loans at favorable or “concessionary” interest rates, but they are still loans which mortgage the future in order to create a present illusion of growth. If the PetroCaribe funds continue to roll, the PUP will face a decidedly uphill battle in the next general election. The PUP were right to fight the PetroCaribe fill with all their might: such a bill may well spell political doom for the blue.