On the 35th Anniversary of the Independence of Belize, I contribute the following article to initiate a conversation with the people of Belize on bringing about the future we desire for the next generation.
This is a follow up to “QUO VADIS, Belize? Where are we going, Belize?,” which you were kind enough to publish in your esteemed newspaper in September, 2014 on the 33rd anniversary of the Independence of Belize.
I will be grateful if you would extend a similar courtesy to this article.
Belize @ 2030
Prosperous, Safe and Secure, with Justice and Opportunity for All.
“When in opposition, they comprehensively stigmatize and demonise those in power. They tell their supporters…that their rivals are venal, corrupt and in the pay or control of the highest bidder, whether foreign or local. They also promise to bring affluence, efficiency, order and transparency to the business of governance when they achieve office and to restore pride and dignity to a demoralized, pauperized and alienated people…When in opposition parties seek to outbid their rivals. Some do it consciously and cynically, while others do it without making clear how difficult it is to effect the policy changes which they espouse”…..Selwyn Ryan, The Winner Takes All, 1999 @ p. 14
If the nation state of Belize is to exist in 2050, and our people are to be prosperous and safe, our territory is to be secure, and there are to be justice and opportunity for all, we have to set national development goals NOW with milestones to accomplish by 2030 if we are to achieve these goals.
The need for national development goals has never been stronger, as @ 35, it is blatantly obvious, that our people have lost confidence and trust in our political parties and our institutions and structures of governance. Daily they lament on the many pitfalls of it, which includes rampant corruption, injustices against the poor, excessive use and abuse of the powers of the prime minister and ministers of government, and a political culture characterized by apartheidism in the distribution of the nation’s wealth, fear, victimization and dependence, to name a few, which have led them to frustration, cynicism and disillusionment, and to a state of being destitute, divided and insecure, and nationally shamed.
Sad to say, our Constitution, the supreme law of the land, and its preamble that speaks of the Supremacy of God, of social justice and opportunity for all, of eliminating social and economic privilege and disparities among the citizens, of the right to operate private business, of sovereignty and territorial integrity, of environmental protection, of the role of individuals and the family in national life, of the dignity of the human being, and of democratic systems and institutions, appears to no longer have relevance, and any vestige of hope for change and a brighter future appears illusory.
Where do we go from here?
On our 33rd year of Independence, I wrote “QUO VADIS, Belize? Where are we going, Belize?”. I opined that the Nation State of Belize may not exist by the year 2050, if we continued on the trajectory that we were on then, and still are, as we are not designing the future for the next generation, and consequently, are not critically analyzing the challenges that continue to confront us, whether historically rooted, contemporary or emerging, many of which are so serious, as to make us extinct by 2050. Neither are we managing our wealth, inclusive of our people and natural resources, to respond to the needs and aspirations of this and the next generation.
I pointed to three key parallel occurrences converging to support my hypothesis. These were poverty and its abhorrent consequences, the unfettered encroachment of Guatemalans into our territory, both legally and illegally, and our insatiable borrowing appetite, globalization and foreign influences.
I forwarded that if we are to avoid this trajectory, visionary leadership is needed that sets out targets and the desired results that we are to work toward, that is anchored in the defined principles, beliefs and ideologies of the Belizean people, that inspires and motivates us to join in the journey, that dialogues with us along the way, that is willing to accept criticisms, and that reports to us on the progress we make towards them.
A Starting Point
In 2016, the people of Belize are enlightened and increasingly cognizant of the fact, that there is a correlation between governance and the quality of their life, the maintenance of social and political stability, and the preservation of national identity, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The starting point, therefore, is to build consensus on national development goals and milestones to meet the needs, dreams and aspirations of the Belizean people, and thereafter, to design a governance system to achieve these goals and milestones, which sets the context and lays the ground for all decisions on sector (education, economy, housing, land distribution and use etc.) policies, programmes and action plans, and how our wealth is to be allocated.
Our reality is that our governance system is not in harmony with the preamble of our constitution, and thus can never fully respond to the needs, dreams and aspirations of the Belizean people. Tinkering with a system that is fundamentally flawed, being designed for a colonial construct of exploitation of natural resources for external gain and oppression to keep the masses in order, poor and dependent, and not designed for a progressive, prosperous and modern nation state asserting itself in a global environment compounded by leadership which lacks vision, personal integrity and skills set for steering a nation, will never fulfill the promise of the peaceful, constructive Belizean revolution, the vision of which was to bring a better life to all Belizeans, Independence being one goal-one milestone.
This demands transformational thinking, approaches and action, an entire nation on board, and a blueprint for achieving it. It also demands all Belizeans embarking on a New Progressive Change and Reform Revolution anchored by the principles of Democratic Nationalism, which goes beyond the historical and traditional construct of good governance and political reform.
Principles of Democratic Nationalism combine and apply the principles of Good Governance, Democracy, Nationalism and Social Justice and Equity to achieve desired outcomes, that is, the needs, dreams and aspirations of the Belizean people expressed in national development goals and milestones and Horizon 2030, and to also address the pitfalls of our society as previously listed, as well as the emerging challenges of globalization, climate change and new diseases, to name a few.
Consequently, principles of Good Governance such as Accountability that mandates officials to answer to the people on the disposal of their powers and duties, to act on criticisms or requirements made of them and accept responsibility for failure, incompetence or deceit; Efficiency and Effectiveness to give value for money; Participation for citizens to have adequate and equal opportunity to place questions on the agenda during decision-making; Transparency to share information to allow stakeholders to gather information that may be critical to uncovering abuses and defending interests; and Rule of Law for equal protection (of human as well as property and other economic rights) and punishment under the law, cannot stand alone.
Good Governance must therefore be combined with principles of Democracy, Nationalism and Social Justice and Equity as is demanded by the preamble of the Constitution of Belize. This requires principles that provide for the separation of powers of the legislative, executive and judiciary branches of government, and checks and balances, strong political parties, organized around political ideologies, a vision of how society should be arranged and the rules to achieve this vision, rather than around personalities and the quest for power; free and fair elections; strong civil society participation (since democracy is the process which links the individual citizen to governmental processes, and civil society are collective expressions of citizenship), as well as[i] nation-building and placing country above self and human rights, including the right to cultural and spiritual beliefs and traditions and the protection and compassion for the vulnerable and the poor and their right to a just share and equal application of the rule of law.
The only time in the history of Belize when national development goals were set was on the journey to Independence steered by the Rt. Hon. George Price, when milestones, such as the achievement of adult suffrage and self government were set to measure progress toward a national goal — Independence, and land and education reform were undertaken and the social security established to bring equity in land ownership and access to education and a safety net for the poor as a means to a better life. This is a best practice.
It must be stated that the political reform process undertaken in 2000 was far reaching in that it strengthened the role of civil society in governance and launched a cultural renaissance to name a few, but never meaningfully addressed the pitfalls it was mandated to do, despite implementing approximately 50% of the recommendations fully, primarily because it was never tied into specific goals and milestones, and was never inclusive of a new construct of principles. Neither was there a prescription for its implementation and for monitoring progress.
We no longer have the luxury of business as usual and the cycle of oppositional politics, which when political parties are in opposition, make promises for change and reform, and when in government, more often revert to that which they criticized while in opposition. We must use our wealth to bring about Prosperity, Safety and Security, with Justice and Opportunity for All Belizeans. That was the promise of Independence and the Peaceful, Constructive Belizean Revolution.
The Journey Forward:
Firstly, this revolution should build on the achievements and successes of the Peaceful Constructive Belizean Revolution 1950-2015 and lessons learned; on what has worked, and can work, and fully embrace a new form of governance designed specifically to respond to, adapt and pro-act to our unique development challenges, and ultimately, to bring about the future we desire, one of Prosperity, Safety and Security, with Justice and Opportunity for All.
Secondly, it ought to have four overarching goals, namely:
1) To preserve the territory and sovereignty of the nation state of Belize and the Belizean identity
2) To restore trust and confidence is in our democratic institutions and processes
3) To eradicate poverty and bring about social progress
4) To forge national unity
Thirdly, it ought to have achieved 10 milestones by 2030:
1) The minimum wage is $400.00 per week
2) The debt is reduced from 100% + of GDP to less than 50% of GDP
3) 50% + Belizeans have a tertiary level education
4) 75% + Belizeans are tri-lingual (English, Spanish or French-Ethnic) and technologically savvy
5) 75% + Belizeans are knowledgeable of our Constitution and the Guatemala unfounded claim
6) Women hold a minimum of 33% of seats in the National Assembly
7) 33% + of territory is protected & managed sustainably and 50% powered by clean energy
8) Belizeans are living longer @ 85 years
9) Belize is in possession of a summer Olympic medal[ii]
10) Adequate border settlements, posts and patrols are strategically established and engaged 24/7/365.
Finally, it ought to be led by civil society, and the people of Belize should sign on to it and demand that all political parties sign on to it.
We can then begin the debate on the strategy of sector policy, programmes and actions (the prescription) and actions to get there. Only so can we fulfill the promise of the Peaceful, Constructive Belizean Revolution.
I am hopeful that the preceding will open a window to national dialogue and call to action.
[i] UNDEF identifies the core elements of democracy to include these in addition to those of good governance:
[ii] Belize is in possession of Olympic medals from the Special Olympics 2015.