Editorial — 10 January 2018
A skunk in the room

It was the Kenyan anti-corruption crusader Professor PLO Lumumba who said that you can’t buy a mule and expect it to drive like a Mercedes Benz, or elect hyenas and expect them to take care of the goats, or something to that effect, in criticizing the experiences of people who elect less than honest persons and expect them to suddenly be paragons of virtue once in government.

By now it’s a foregone conclusion that the ruling administration has lost its moral authority where corruption is concerned, but lest we forget, there was actually a time when this UDP government was considered a breath of fresh air – a welcome change from the treacherous and rotten 1998-2008 PUP administration.

But something has gone terribly wrong; it may be that the train went off the tracks in the earliest days of the present administration and we were just too consumed with disdain for the PUP that we could not see, or were not willing to see. Either way, we are where we are. And the stories of juicy corruption inside this administration seem to know no end; no department seems fool-proof, no unit immune to that which has consumed almost every government post-Independence.

The recent revelations about the goings on at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) are only the latest in a long string of perfidious and morally reprehensible stories coming from Belmopan, stories that these days are backed by audit reports, and Smart stream payment records, and other verifiable documents. As is expected, the honchos at PUC, in keeping with the wont of government operatives when caught with their proverbial pants down, are threatening legal action and the like. Whatever, whatever!

It’s the same Professor Lumumba who said you can’t hug corruption and not expect it to contaminate you. There is a skunk in the room and it is called corruption and unless you remove that skunk, the stench won’t go away, at least not anytime soon.

It is clear by now that you can have all the anti-corruption laws and anti-corruption bodies in the land, but if the man at the top is not serious about fighting corruption then nothing good will come of those laws; they will be toothless creatures. As the Prime Minister before, this present Prime Minister has opted to keep the proverbial skunk in the room.

It is why for a long time there was only a lonely secretary manning the Integrity Commission in a room buried inside the National Assembly building, and why for an equally long time the Integrity Commission could not be constituted because the government supposedly could not find an accountant or a banker who was willing to subject himself to the rigorous banking demands of being designated a Politically Exposed Person (PEP).

Yet the man who refused the Integrity Commission appointment for the aforementioned reason was willing to be named an honourable senator; and when the Chamber of Commerce recommended an accountant for appointment, the Prime Minister could suddenly and immediately find his own friendly accountant, because the Chamber’s choice was not a safe one, politically speaking, that is.

More brazenly or nakedly is the matter of the unbridled abuse of thousands upon thousands of public lands for the UDP’s first friends and families, and the wanton selling of our nationality and visitors visas that was allowed to go almost unchecked for years, even as it was becoming increasingly evident for all to see that something was amiss. Not to mention the questionable infrastructure contracts that are coming under increasing public scrutiny.

The ruling UDP has argued in the past, successfully too, that they stand on higher moral ground than their predecessors. That PUP corruption is a sin, but that UDP corruption is excusable, is tenable, is less nefarious than PUP corruption – that they are the husband that will only punch you in the eye, while your erstwhile husband used to break your bones and beat you in the head.

Of late, they have argued that Prime Minister Barrow is different from his predecessor because he removed his disgraced then Deputy Prime Minister from the helm of the coveted Lands Ministry, even though that was a full two years and one month after PM Barrow confessed to a roomful of Belizean Americans in Los Angeles that he knew the Lands Department was a hotbed of corruption.

And if you think the stories of corruption will end anytime soon, think again. There are sure to be more to come, as public officers become increasingly revulsed by the audacity and vile nature of some government ministers and their cronies, and release more and more evidence of skullduggery. There is the scuttlebutt about of several more pending reports from the Auditor General that may not be as voluminous as the combined 700-plus-page ones on the Immigration scandal, but may be just as damning, if not more so.

All this is supposed to represent a boon for the People’s United Party at the municipal polls in less than two months, but the Caribbean Court of Justice ruling that the government must pay Michael Ashcroft and his Belize Bank $90 million for former PM Musa’s unilateral sovereign guarantee of the loan of the Universal Health Services principals could not have come at a most inopportune time for the Opposition. Just when the evidence was mounting that the UDP had become what they always condemned, a stark reminder of a most diabolical instance of PUP abuse arises.   The result is a confused electorate, and a disillusioned one. It’s a moment of truth for the People’s United Party. It’s a challenge, but also an opportunity, an opportunity to finally and dramatically show themselves as breaking from the old mold, that they are no longer imprisoned to the chains of the past, to the neoliberal model and agents that got them into so much trouble, and that has led to defeat after defeat in the last 15 years.

Last Friday’s House of Representatives meeting proved anticlimactic because the parliamentary debate on the $90 million motion was deferred until sometime next month. It has given Her Loyal Opposition some more time, time to figure out who they are, and where they are going. It is written!

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Deshawn Swasey

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