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Talks with 11 PUP standard bearers challenging status quo

BELIZE CITY, Sun. Aug. 16, 2015–Today, as the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) headed to Big Falls, Toledo District, for its Power to the People consultation rally with 21 standard bearers, 11 standard bearers who have not yet returned to the fold are now locked in negotiation with a sub-committee of two, appointed by party leader Francis Fonseca, to hear their proposals for reforming and strengthening the democracy within the PUP.

       The sub-committee, made up of Kareem Musa, standard bearer for Caribbean Shores, and Hon. Julius Espat, area representative for the Cayo South, met with two members of the group of 11:  Dr. Francis Smith, standard bearer for Pickstock constituency, and Paul Thompson, standard bearer for the Albert constituency.

       Dr. Smith took time out today on Sunday to brief reporters about the objectives of the group, who are insisting on changing the way the PUP goes about its business.

    Dr. Smith stressed that the group is not fighting to take over the leadership of the party, but is only pushing for “quality assurance to make the party better.”

       “A strong opposition is crucial to democracy. People are of the view that this particular UDP government of Mr. Barrow is doing as he pleases,” Dr. Smith said in his early comments.

       “And we believe it will continue, because people believe that the PUP are not a viable alternative,” Dr. Smith said.

       Dr. Smith stressed that the group is not aimed at undermining the leadership of the PUP, but is going through a process that is normal.

   “It’s a process of quality assurance by which one ensures that the end product meets the high expectation of our voter population, which is increasingly more sophisticated,” he remarked.

    “We are a group, I would say, a movement within the PUP. I believe that we are free thinkers. We need to encourage free thinkers. What we are marketing, the three pillars of national development, we call it,” he said.

       Dr. Smith said that the PUP has a constitution which calls for a national convention every two years in November, and the only way they can gain that legitimacy is to go to the people.

       “PUP supporters have these concerns and the undecided voters have these concerns. People need to be assured that since they voted us out in 2008 with charges of corruption, that Mr. Ralph Fonseca and Hon. Said Musa will not be in the saddle again. The only way we can sort this out is if we put this to the people,” Dr. Smith explained, adding, “We see ourselves as a reform group.”

   Dr. Smith said the group wants to encourage the population to have zero tolerance for corruption. “What the people in the streets are saying is, we don’t want back the same thing that we voted out in 2008…and we have to show that this PUP is a new party that accepts diversity of thought,” he said.

       “There must be diversity of thought and there must be respect for free speech, because that is what we are selling to our population,” Dr. Smith continued.

       Dr. Smith said that he isn’t pushing John Briceño or Cordel Hyde to be the leader of the PUP. “We are not here to tear down the leader of the party”, he emphasized.

       He cited the period when Mark Espat became interim leader of the PUP and the money issue came up; he said we have to abandon big donors and take it to the people with or without money. That is the challenge.

       “If we are selling economic reform, education reform and the people are not buying this, we have to start to engage people…we are practicing free thinking and good governance,” stated Dr. Smith.

       On explaining why the group is taking its case to the media at this time, Dr. Smith said, “because if we do not tell our own story, the media will do it for us.”

       He went on to reiterate that their efforts should not be seen as an attack on Francis Fonseca personally. In fact, he said, “We believe that Hon. Francis Fonseca is a good man; he is a noble man. We do not believe that he is a Ralph Fonseca, but what we are trying to establish is that the leadership, as it exists, meet the high expectation of our voters. We want to come to terms with that and I can assure you it is being considered.”

    Dr. Smith said that their ideas were entertained, and he commented, “We find that is a very good first step. The two groups are scheduled to meet again in the near future to continue the dialogue that began on Friday.”

       Kareem Musa, one of the two representatives for the other standard bearers, told Amandala, “Dissension in any political party is very healthy, so long as it is coming from a genuine place. We all operate under the premise that we all share a common goal in moving our country forward. The truth is, our party has a lot of talented, qualified individuals and we would never sacrifice that for ‘yes men’ and ‘yes women’ as is currently embodied by the UDP. That is precisely the reason we are where we are as a nation. Incompetence and chaos is the daily special on Barrow’s menu each and every day. It is getting stale,” he said.

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