‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the Unites States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of military justice, so help me God’ is the oath of enlisted personnel for the United States military. The oath is pretty much standard for all armies in the world, and basically while some wording will differ a little, the core of it remains the same. The military of any nation has a Herculean responsibility to the nation they serve, and the Belize Defence Force is no different. The combined armed forces of a nation, unlike other government ministries or departments, is almost like the Fourth Estate, except that it has a constitutional mandate to defend the nation from enemies both from the exterior and within. However, with that said, it must not be confused that the military has a blank cheque, since it has civilian oversight and, in most democracies, also leadership. But the military in itself must be aware when civilian oversight threatens to erode the role of the military and also to weaken its number one mandate, which is the defense of the nation.
The practice of the politicians to issue letters of recommendations for everything under the sun has finally reached the stage where the population has to demand that it stops. Every Belizean is aware that a letter of recommendation from a politician is a powerful tool. It opens doors, gets you land, jobs and in the case of immigration, citizenship. It is like a key to access areas that would otherwise be inaccessible, while for others it provides them with opportunities that they would not have. It is a key for those who want an unfair competitive edge and is somewhat encouraged by the population. Let’s be completely honest — no politician in his right mind will give a letter of recommendation to someone who is not their supporter. Therefore, the people that are getting recommendations are those that may not be quite fit for the jobs, but are party supporters nevertheless. At 36-years-old, the practice makes for horrible nation-building. The problem is even more compounded when this extends to the armed forces. Making a letter of recommendation a requisite for any individual to join the nation’s military and/or police force, which is like a birthright, is one of the most dangerous things that the military high command could have accepted. This weakens the force because politicians will naturally recommend party loyalists. In 2017 Belize party loyalty trumps everything, and the implications of this are far reaching. The negative effects of one’s military forces being dominated by soldiers and officers who are loyal to one party compromise any modern democracy. The military of any nation must remain impartial and follow the lead of its civilian leadership when it’s in the interest of the nation it is constitutionally mandated to defend and when in accordance with the codes, tradition and culture of the military. The military must never marginalize any citizens of the country it has an oath to defend.
The situation with the group of young men and women who were camped outside the military headquarters of the BDF can be attributed to one thing. The politicians are starting to handpick those whom they choose to enter the military. I can guarantee that none of those persons camped outside had a free card, in other words a minister’s recommendation; otherwise they would not be outside those gates weathering the elements to get in their own country’s military. The practice has eroded the citizen’s confidence in the system and they are convinced that they are not being given a fair chance or equal opportunity. The military must realize that it is one of the most important building blocks of our society and take this responsibility seriously.
However, the military has to also look at itself. On the one hand they are preaching fairness and equality when in their own ranks you have officers past the 45 years retirement age who are still desperately holding on with the hope of making high ranks or even commandant. While there is no rule or law that says that an officer must retire at 45 years of age, the military has both a strong history and, most importantly, traditions. Any officer who is willing to break its own military tradition for his own gain in the form a promotion is not fit for leadership because it demonstrates a great degree of individual selfishness.
It’s all about the people!!!!
Neri O. Briceño