Features — 01 October 2013 — by Henry G. Gordon

1) A social gathering, usually of invited guests

2) A body of persons engaged in an activity or traveling together (fishing party; search party)

3) A group of people united in a cause, opinion, etc. especially a political group organized on a national basis

4) A political group organized for gaining political influence and governmental control and for directing government policy

The Laws of Belize make provision for the establishment of companies, banks, trade unions and cooperatives, to name a few. This is required in order for any of these “groups of people” to operate in Belize, and so actively participate in its political, social and economic development. The law also provides for: the licensing of lawyers, accountants and doctors to practice in Belize; and for the licensing of commercial stores, grocery stores, liquor stores, market vendors and street side vendors to do business in Belize. A law now exists for the licensing of teachers and schools.

However, for a political party, “a group of people” organized specifically for gaining political influence and governmental control and for directing government policy, there is no law governing its establishment or registration to do business in Belize. Nevertheless, any such “group of people” calling itself a political party can seek to do the business of making “laws for the peace, order and good government of Belize” under the minimal requirements of the Representation of the People Act.

At present, political parties are not required to say who are their directors, or give the source of their finances; neither is there a requirement for them to report the extent of their financial or other material resources. They do not, like all other “groups of people” doing business in Belize, have to report annually or otherwise, on information required by a law, to the Registrar General or anyone else.

Political parties seek to become the managers of one of the largest businesses in the nation, the Government of Belize. In their quest for power, they aspire to take on the responsibility of borrowing and administering billions of dollars on behalf of the Belizean people, and to govern the nation’s human and natural resources worth additional billions. All this, and more, they desire to do without revealing who are the people with the financial and other resources necessary to keep the party’s political machinery well oiled. Neither do political parties want “the people” to know of potential conflict of interest situations in relation to those unseen faces who make decisions for the party; decisions which impact on the government and the nation over the short, medium and long term.

Political parties participate in elections for one purpose, i.e. to become “the party” that governs (rule and control with authority; be in government). In winning an election, a political party is given a mandate to manage/administrate the affairs of “the people” of the nation for a specified period of time, through the Cabinet as the principal executive instrument of policy, with general direction and control of the Government; and shall be collectively responsible to the National Assembly for any advice given to the Governor-General by or under the general authority of the Cabinet, and for all things done by and under the authority of any Minister in the execution of his office. It is informative to note that the Cabinet is vested with responsibility for its activities to the National Assembly of the Government (The Legislature – The Executive – The Judiciary) of Belize.

It is therefore important for the electorate, and those too young to vote, to understand that national direction should not proceed from the reservoir of knowledge locked up in the collective wisdom of a political party expressed in a manifesto. I say this because the Preamble of the Constitution clearly outlines the collective wisdom of all the people of Belize. Therefore, it would seem advantageous for the national good that a party’s manifesto, whether at the national, urban or rural level, must be consistent with what has been expressed in the Preamble to the Constitution of Belize.

It is therefore also essential that the people be given every opportunity, through as transparent a system as possible, of knowing those who are intimately connected with political parties. Leaders in the political arena should be men of high morals, integrity and honesty who recognize that “men and institutions remain free only when freedom is founded upon respect for moral and spiritual values and: upon the rule of law” (Preamble of the Constitution of Belize”). This is important because a political party, (“that group of people organized for gaining political influence and governmental control and for directing government policy”), seeks the privilege, responsibility and authority to govern the nation. They must therefore be reminded every step of the way that in any stable democracy, Government is of the people, by the people and for the people.

If, under the Laws of Belize, it is mandatory for various other “groups of people” to be registered before such groups are allowed to do business in Belize; then it would seem only right and proper that it must also be made mandatory for political parties to be registered and licensed in order to participate in national and municipal elections and rural elections. The people should have unrestricted access to relevant information about any person or “group of persons” seeking to be elected to office, at any level of government. This should be done for political parties and independent candidates, because of the enormous power that is vested, under the Constitution of Belize, in the members of government, whether at the national, urban or rural levels.

It would seem, at a time when legitimate concerns continue to be expressed about political reform in general, and campaign financing in particular, that the larger issue of the “registration of political parties” needs to be addressed with a national sense of urgency. Of course, those who are involved with questionable financial contributions and other ulterior motives will no doubt find the registration of political parties not in their interest. This is because registration must require, among other things, that each political party submit annually to the appropriate authority a list of the directors of the party; a register of members (not supporters); relevant financial statements, in the form of reputably audited accounts containing a summary of its assets and liabilities. Such audited accounts must disclose the specific nature of those assets and liabilities and how the values of the fixed assets have been arrived at.

This is no more than the laws of Belize now require of business companies, cooperatives and other private sector businesses and organizations operating in Belize. Even the very Government of Belize is audited annually. The registration of political parties would not prohibit the participation of independent candidates in the electoral process, but would place them under greater public scrutiny, especially with respect to their source(s) of financing and other private sector support.

It is essential that we do all within our collective power to protect our political democracy. This is necessary, because there will continue to be a broad spectrum of social, cultural, economic, and other national, regional and international shocks impacting our national vision. That “national vision” is clearly outlined in the Preamble of the Constitution of Belize.

Policies of State, that are necessary to respond to this broad spectrum of possible shocks, require and will continue to require “Decisions of State” by “persons of integrity and high national standing” in order to effectively prohibit the exploitation of man by man, or by the State.

It is instructive to note that, to be a member of the Belize Advisory Council to the Governor-General of Belize in the Executive Branch of the Government of Belize, any such member must be a person of integrity and high national standing, BCS – 54 (1) and (2).

Compare those requirements for membership of the Belize Advisory Council with the basic requirements for election as a member of the House of Representatives, which states: “a person for election shall be qualified to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives if, and shall not be qualified to be so elected unless, he (a) is a citizen of Belize of the age of eighteen years or upwards, and (b) has resided in Belize for a period of at least one year immediately before the date of his nomination for election; subject to the provisions of BCS -58.”

The registration of political parties is a need that must become a reality for the greater good of all Belizeans, those already born and those not yet born.

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