The most important power in the hands of a ruling political party is the power of taxation. When a political party wins the majority of the seats in a general election, that political party forms the Government of Belize, and at this point there is supposed to be some kind of difference between the government formed, on the one hand, and the organized political party whose constituency standard bearers were elected to be area representatives, on the other.
The area representatives who form the new Cabinet retain a lively consciousness of the political party to which they are loyal, because almost all area representatives intend to offer themselves as candidates for the next general elections, and they will need their political party for a successful re-election campaign.
Apart from the power of taxation, which we describe in the first paragraph as a ruling political party’s most important power, the ruling political party, or government, also has the power to award contracts and to make other decisions which bring financial benefits to favored individuals and/or companies. So then, government is actually a business, a public business which draws most of its revenues from the people, in the form of direct and indirect taxation, and then uses those revenues to pay its employees and those individuals and/or companies to whom government awards contracts.
Because governments know that they will need their political party for re-election purposes, they usually focus on directing the government jobs they control to members and supporters of their political party. And, when it comes to awarding contracts and making other business decisions, governments favor those whom we refer to as their political “cronies.” Cronies are cronies because, when they receive financial benefits from a government, they understand how to “kick back” some of their benefits to the relevant political party, or even to individual government Ministers.
Family relatives are not usually cronies, because the fact of family relationship between the Minister and the recipient of his favor would make the favoritism too obvious, and therefore shameful. But, some people don’t worry about shame.
In the Belizean democracy, general elections are free and fair, as they say, so our elected governments are recognized all over the region and the world as democratically-elected governments. The political party which loses the election, forms the Opposition, and they have a constitutional role in Belize’s parliamentary democracy. They oppose the ruling party from day to day, and eagerly await their turn to win general elections, form their own government, and collect revenues, award contracts, and make business decisions which benefit those who have financed and supported their party.
The UBAD, a black-conscious cultural organization founded in February 1969 of which I was the president, quickly became too powerful for the ruling PUP to tolerate, so the PUP charged two of UBAD’s leaders with seditious conspiracy in February of 1970. Seditious conspiracy is a political charge, but UBAD was not a political party. The voting age at that time was 21, and a large number of UBAD’s supporters could not vote because they were too young. Following our acquittal in the sedition trial, UBAD made a big mistake, for which I accept complete responsibility, and decided to become a political party. This took place in August of 1970.
In my inexperience, I thought in 1970 that the best way to protect ourselves from future political attacks by the ruling PUP was to go political. I had no understanding of how the public business side of government operated, and, as a result, did not appreciate how powerful ruling parties really were.
After UBAD was dissolved in November of 1974, I tried to avoid direct conflict with ruling parties. This, of course, proved impossible over the years, and so I have gotten myself into various scrapes along the way. On most occasions when this newspaper clashed with governments, whoever was the Opposition party would give some moral support. There were occasions, notably in 1982 and 1983, when prominent Opposition (UDP at the time) people helped raise funds to pay our libel bills.
Belizeans having experienced five changes of government in the last thirty years, we are now able to see the similarities between the two major political parties. Mature Belizeans understand that the focus of the political parties is not on improving the socio-economic condition of our people: it is on gaining the seat majority, by any means necessary, which will enable them to control the hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars which will constitute their annual budgets. In seeking that seat majority, the political parties cut deals with campaign financiers which compromise their ability, once they are elected to government, to award contracts and make business decisions in a transparent and honest way.
Our two political parties are corrupt, but they are very powerful, especially when they form governments, and they have a constitutional role in Belize’s parliamentary democracy. If you or I wish to change something fundamental in Belize’s status quo, then we would have to seek political power. In order to achieve that political power, we would have to become as corrupt as the UDP and the PUP are. That is the dilemma of so-called activists in Belize.
We citizens of Belize can see where corruption causes the governments we have elected to conduct public business in a wasteful and inefficient manner. The classic case took place a couple decades ago when a government fire station and a private commercial bank building were constructed almost side by side. The fire station was substantially more expensive to construct, and frighteningly inferior in quality. Loyalists of the two major political parties dutifully ignore these things. They accept the serious damage to public funds in return for partisan crumbs. This is the system we laud as Belize’s parliamentary democracy. It ain’t working that well, Jack.
Power to the people.