Please allow me space in your widely circulated newspaper to address a major root-cause of rampant crime – CORRUPTION!
“Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies. It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life and allows organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish.
This evil phenomenon is found in all countries – big and small, rich and poor – but it is in the developing world that its effects are most destructive. Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a Government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice and discouraging foreign aid and investment. Corruption is a key element in economic underperformance and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development…” (excerpt taken from the foreword of Kofi A. Annan, former United Nations Secretary-General on the presentation of the instrument on the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) on 31st October 2003.)
With the above excerpt from the former UN Secretary-General, I will make an attempt at addressing the perceived reasons for the Prime Minister of Belize being so resolute on not signing the UNCAC.
First of all let me clearly state that I’m not an attorney-at-law, but a teacher, and very intelligent and analytical, I may add. For the benefit of readers, I will define “Public Official” as defined in the Convention: A public official is any person holding legislative, executive, administrative or judicial office, whether appointed or paid, whether permanent or temporary, whether paid or unpaid, irrespective of that person’s seniority.
The PM has given the Belizean people the turnaround and a whole heap of BS for not signing the UNCAC. The perceived reason for him not signing is that it would be political suicide if he did. So, clearly, he has opted for moral suicide, as he had done before by not appealing in its totality the ruling of the Supreme Court on Section 53 of the Criminal Code of the Laws of Belize. His explanation aside for Section 53, let’s move on…
Article 1 clearly states the three purposes of the Convention, and therein lies the focus on FIXING the scourge of corruption. The BS that the exercise will be costly is merely that: BS! There are several signatories to the Convention that became internationally compliant almost a decade after signing. If the millions of dollars that are lost through corrupt actions would be saved, then there would be more money for instituting the Convention and of course we would see more development. We have several laws in place to address the scourge of corruption, but they have no biting power, so they need to be reviewed and revamped to be effective and dissuasive against corruption. Besides going to the House to pass the annual Budget, this administration goes to the House to pass Bills which most times affect them personally.
The PM is merely delaying the signing of the Convention to buy time for corrupt public officials to somehow hide their proceeds of crime. If it was signed today, there would be scampering for cover by those corrupt officials. The problem is that some of those public officials would have some of their properties that were gained through illicit means confiscated. Be reminded that the Convention also covers family members and close associates of corrupt public officials. Let me point out a few areas that are problematic and need urgent attention. Although it may rightly be argued that there exist laws to fight corruption, they are merely “a slap on the wrist”. Here it goes:
(i) Illicit enrichment (significant increase in the assets of a public official that he or she cannot reasonably explain in relation to his or her lawful income)
(ii) Bribery of National Public Officials
(iii) Embezzlement, misappropriation or other diversion of property by a public official
(iv) Trading in Influence (Giving recommendations and gaining from it and giving the receiver of the recommendation an advantage of influence)
(v) Abuse of Functions
(vi) Laundering of Proceeds of Crime
(vii) Bribery in the Private Sector
(viii) Embezzlement of property in the Private Sector
(xi) Obstruction of Justice
(x) Compensation for damage (as we have seen for those politically connected, it is expedited and for the “rest of us”, it is delayed, notwithstanding the fact that under Belize’s Constitution we are all equal under the eye of the Law.)
The BIGGEST fear is that there would have to be an oversight committee or agency (such as the Senate) who could subpoena ANY public or private official upon receipt of reports of public or private officials perceived to be involved in corrupt activities. Certainly there has to be an investigation where there is enough evidence to establish an inkling of corruption.
Ministers are well-paid to carry out their ministerial responsibilities and so are their CEOs and senior administrative and technical staff, but they several times are seen idle or ramping up the telephone and government-provided vehicle bills. These technocrats should be in their offices reviewing and revamping laws instead of being in the audience at almost every sitting of the House. If they did their jobs efficiently and effectively, then there would be more recommendations to their bosses for passing of bills to make our country a better one.
The Private Sector is not exempt from the Convention. Article 12.2(b) states: The Private Sector should promote the development of Standards and Procedures designed to safeguard the integrity of relevant private entities, including Codes of Conduct for correct, honourable and proper performance of the activities of business and all relevant professions and the prevention of conflict of interest, and for the promotion of the use of good contractual relations of businesses with the State.
Before I conclude, please allow me to stray slightly…. Saying that appointing the 13th Senator will stifle government is BS because those of us who are informed, know that the Senate cannot hold back money bills. Indeed the Chief Justice was right in the 2005 ruling that the Contractor General cannot just be removed from office without just cause or due process (because he was a CAREER PUBLIC SERVANT/OFFICER). On the other hand, removing Godwin Hulse can be done by the stroke of a pen, as he was appointed a Senator and Minister by the Governor General on the advice of the PM. We have heard a lot of BS AND ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! What we need is GOOD GOVERNANCE!!!
There are several government agencies and laws in place that can be used to fight corruption. For example, the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) is already there for the collection, analysis and dissemination of information regarding potential money laundering. “Whistle blowers” should be protected under the Convention. Monies siphoned by unscrupulous public officials could have been used for a “Witness Protection Program”. Since Belize is small and corruption exists at all levels, witnesses can be transferred to a State that is signatory to the UNCAC. Costly? Maybe, but so is the countless national, regional and international litigations that we are defending. Defending these litigations is not free, but they could have been prevented if our leaders were indeed making decisions for the betterment of the country and not just a few. Stop and prevent corruption by signing the UNCAC IMMEDIATELY and start implementing legislation in line with the Convention.
(Please withhold my name for fear of victimization as I’m currently employed by a government school. My initials can be published.)