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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

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by Khaila Gentle BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Sept. 29,...

The least of these, my brothers and sisters …

FeaturesThe least of these, my brothers and sisters …

Last week I was so busy dealing with ensuring that the security officers being made redundant by the Belize City Council would be given a fair chance before the law and that there be compassion for them, that I never got around to writing my weekly column. I hope this does not become the norm for me as I love writing and I don’t like disappointing my readers. I did get the many messages asking me what happened…so sorry, but my busy life happened.

That said, the situation I had to deal with brought me face to face with two nasty realities in this country that we are yet to confront and solve. The first is that the poorer, less fortunate material-wise are ALWAYS being taken advantage of. The second is that those in power seem to have become too intoxicated with it: they do not recognize the arrogance and high-handedness in their conduct and decisions.

What you do to the least of my brothers …

I want to say up front that I will call the shots as I see it and that I do it knowing that I may not be making friends or might be losing some in very high places… but like Jeremiah, I am prepared to stand in the public square and tell the leaders that they are wrong and wicked and corrupt. What is even sadder is that leaders don’t seem to realize that leadership is not about self-aggrandizement, but about service to others, many times at the sacrifice of self. In Belize it seems the other way around, as those in leadership, be it elected or appointed, seem to think it’s about service to self at the sacrifice of others.

Part of the problem I believe is that many of our leaders are Godless; they honestly believe they are themselves demi-gods and many tell you outright they either have no faith in Christ or practice religion like the Pharisees. Then there are those who profess faith, but practice almost anything contrary to the principles of that faith. Thus, it comes as no surprise that our leaders do not see God in the least of their brothers.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” MATTHEW 25:40

I can speak of countless instances where I have had to witness this outright taking advantage of our poorer and already downtrodden people, and many of us just stand by and say nothing. Sadly, many times the poor are so programmed to be ill-treated, that they just hopelessly accept it or don’t even realize they can stick together and fight it…. That was just the case with the security officers at Belize CitCo. They were already accustomed to accepting the Mayor and Councilors as the ultimate authority like little gods, that they cannot even conceive a fight and much less support from others to fight for their basic rights! Recently, when Plus TV held its Land Clinic, it was amazing to meet the poor people who came out to seek help to get their land back. Their problems ranged from people’s leases being cancelled with their houses and crops on it, to having their land assigned to a Minister’s relative.

Displacing the farmer

One of the many cases that showed the kind of heart of those making decisions at the Lands Department involved a lease for a farm land given to a man for ten years, after the thirty-year lease lapsed. He was ailing and sought to include his brother and nephew on the lease so they could continue farming the land they had already been farming along with him. These men had been farming that land for some 30 years and yet could not afford to purchase due to the price. (Mind you, a prime lot in Belize City was purchased recently for $800.00 only…. Talk about connections!)

So the original lessor died during the process of having the lease transferred to his brother and nephew. The Lands Department, despite proof of their continued occupation and use of the land for farming, turned around and gave the lease to the village chairman. Now, this is the same village chairman who had given the recommendation for the lease, knowing this family had their crops on it and knowing that the just thing is to allow this family to continue farming. It is not unusual for farm land to be handed down from one generation to the next. After all, farming is all they know to do, and it’s their only source of income. But that said, how could the Lands Commissioner and the Minister not have consideration to the fact that this family is being displaced? How could the chairman in all good conscience, knowing the plight of that family, go apply for said lease? And the Lands Department, knowing it had just issued an additional ten-year lease, how come it did not do what is always done, and transfer to the next of kin, in this case the brother and nephew who are already working the land? Such an injustice to a poor working farmer and his family!

I met the men… they were humble, not highly academically qualified, but knew their sense of justice was right on target in feeling trampled on. Sadly, they will never have the money to hire some big-time lawyer, or the name recognition to have a meeting with the Labor Commissioner, or the political clout to get privileges from the Belize Airport Authority. Yet, it gets worse for them, because without the 30 acres of land to work, after this crop there is no secure source of income. Then an entire extended family is left in far more poverty. This decision is a reflection of the cold heart of the leadership we have.

Sacrificial lambs

Then, the reality hit me, just as the poor in the rural areas suffer, so do the poor in the urban areas – they both face the same plight of injustice. My recent experience seeking to intervene to protect the security officers at the Belize City Council caused me to stop and reflect on the system of Babylon that is so engrained that it dictates the heart of the decision-makers. Let me be very frank about what I saw, learnt and wrestled with.

First of all, Mayor Bradley said he had to become more efficient and save money, yet he was unable to show on the books where this saving was. We have only heard the Security Department was spending some $700,000 and under privatization would be spending half of this. Yet the very same security officers are being forced to go over, to do the very same job at the very same places. Initially they were being asked to accept a pay of $3.50 per hour as opposed to the $4.48 per hour paid by the Council. The Union fought the wage rate and secured their present rate. For a poor man a dollar lost on every hour means the world to him and a difference between starvation and survival. Had the Union not intervened they would be forced to accept these slave wages!

What was also disturbing was to note that these workers are taken advantage of at all stages of the job. For example, their supervisor who has to approve their overtime would only do so and hand it in for the office to pay, if these poor workers agree to pay him a shakedown. Hmmmm … and he gets promoted to the new company Ranger, to continue being their supervisor… Well, I am warning him publicly: the Christian Workers Union now knows your name and will await the first complaint to deal with you on charges of extortion.

You see there is more than meets the eye in this redundancy matter and I know I will be writing much more about it. But this brings me to the Mayor and his sense of responsibility to his brothers. When I met with the Mayor and his top management, they boasted of the double increments they will now be able to afford, with the savings they will get on the backs of the security officers who are made redundant. This is good news for those who stay behind because 26 workers like lambs to the slaughter have been forced to a worse employer, so that the goats that stay behind can be given some financial increases. Well, if it’s on the backs of the least of their brothers, I must advise them to go read Matthew 25 so they learn where their eternity lies. In my book, “anything” built at the expense of the happiness and good of others will never be blessed, and if it’s not blessed, it will come through their hands like water pouring out.

The trend of greed

But there is a pervasive trend of greed in our politicians, leaders, managers, and their close associates. The trend has become so obvious that they now have mastered how to explain it away, justify it or downplay it. I think the best way to sum up what these people in power and position would want to brainwash us with, is to recall the infamous words of the highest office holder in this country, who sets the tone for all the greed and corruption his followers abide by. Spoken on January 22, this is what Prime Minister Barrow passionately said: “I will tell you right off that I find it utterly and completely distasteful and I think the Airports Authority and the Minister are both wrong…but call it what it is man, it is not corruption.” To call it corruption is to make the reality real for the PM. But corruption robs the public treasury and by extension – the people!

The security officers I have met have some dire needs. Some don’t have a decent roof over their heads; some are sick; two had strokes on the job; they go without food when not relieved; they have young children in school; one has ten mouths to feed…. These are the kind of people I personally believe are deserving of financial assistance from BAA. Yet, the dental work of over $2,000.00 for a child of a board member is paid with one check. One of these security officers would have to work 446.4 hours (or 55 days at an 8-hour shift) to earn that money, yet without it being corrupt, only wrong and distasteful, this money is given to a board member. Minister of State Castro got some $9,000.00 for his mother’s funeral, but this is the whole year’s salary for one of these security officers…. Hmmm, yet Castro says he is a poor man. It would be more accurate I opine for him to say he is a greedy man…. What say others?

The injustices

From my vantage point, there is a glaring injustice in what I am seeing coming out from our leaders. The decisions taken to enrich themselves are obvious and I warn them, the have-nots will only be able to look on for a limited time… after a while their animal instinct of years of oppression will kick in. For example, if indeed the Belize City Council will save money by privatizing the Security Department, how come the new company will do the same job, for less, yet while still making a profit? If this is truly possible, then how is it that while Hiram Longsworth was the head of the Security Department he did not effect this efficiency? He should be fired for not doing it then, yet he is rewarded with a “hand-picked” contract…. This does not seem right or just not financially prudent!

Also, Mayor Bradley publicly and privately castigated these workers, and maligned them, from saying some are thieves to generally criminals, yet he did everything to put their backs against the wall so they are forced to go over to Ranger Security, to do the very same job they were doing for more, under better benefits. However, if they were so bad, why would you want the same thieves or criminals to continue to guard CitCo’s property? It defies logic and leads me to believe one of two things… Firstly, the dirty job of really firing them will slowly be done at Ranger, as their own people slowly replace these… but by then the media-attention would have died off. Secondly, I believe that it is not true that they are thieves and criminals, because if this is so, CitCo could have fired them, instead of terminating and in that way no benefits had to be paid out and savings effected.

But I wonder how these security officers truly feel to be going to the very same duty, at the same place, only under worse working conditions, less benefits and less security of job… I am sure they must feel the injustice done to them! Those with over five or more years now have broken services and lose those years, but for those with longer years, they also lose out on ever qualifying for a pension… some don’t even realize what they have been robbed of…. But this is what we do to the least of our brothers and sisters and feel proud and call it efficiency. Interestingly, one man and those he fronts for will be making a profit off the backs of these sacrificial lambs who must humble themselves and tolerate reporting to work each day to protect the same persons who slaughtered them! Darn! Life or rather people can be cold and cruel!

I pray for our leaders… God give them a heart after your own!

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