Features — 21 March 2014 — by Audrey Matura-Shepherd

There is an internal breaking down in the United Democratic Party and it is as if the party is now practicing cannibalism…. Yes, they’re eating up each other from inside, and the blood spewed from the jaws in each other’s throat is now spilling into the public domain. We the people not close enough to the inner circle are now seeing how vicious the inner workings are and whose jaws are on whose necks. Clearly they are going for the jugular.

Bleeding jugular

Laura Esquivel-Frampton must have a jugular that is bleeding so badly because when her management team, clearly with the support of the BTB Board, the Minister of Tourism and his CEO, went after her, it was to see her dead. I do not know if what they claim is true or not, exaggerated or fictional…, but I do know that the letter they sent dated March 5, 2014, was not diplomatic, and was intended to go for the kill. It is as if they had to put in writing the marring of her name and reputation…. No mercy!

But what I find amazing is that the management team in the first sentence makes it known that they have been holding meetings with “…you [Minister of Tourism], past and present chairmen of the Board, Board of Directors and the CEO of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture…,” and it is after these meetings that they were now forwarding their “vote of no-confidence”. So my question is, could not the young Esquivel have been removed without all the bloodshed? Was the Minister et al supporting a mutiny? So were these meetings being held with these operatives behind the Director’s back or were these meetings with the accompanying complaints held with Esquivel-Frampton, and if so couldn’t the issues have been resolved?

I answer my own question with a “No!,” because as I read over the letter I see it was meant to malign, offend and destroy her. Someone hated her enough to even leak the letter for all of us to read. But let us read the disparaging remarks, which I hope they can prove or else she should get herself an attorney and sue her management team for defamation. I saw pure malice, especially since the BTB a little after sent off a press release saying: ”During her tenure, she conducted herself with integrity, genuine concern for the industry and fiscal accountability.” Yeah… so what is the truth?

I guess as we celebrate Women’s Month we see how viciously our professional women get removed, by other women at that!

Politics and tourism

I worry about the statement “she has failed to display requisite leadership, levels of honesty, transparency and integrity in the current budget process…,” and Channel Seven mentioned a “multi-million dollar deficit”. I don’t worry because I think she took it; I worry because it is easier to use her as a scapegoat than to go back into the records and see how much she or her team or her board could have been ordered, if at all, to syphon into the political campaigns of elected officials through creative means … or projects which would provide political mileage.

Remember what Seleni Matus, former BTB director who resigned after “the shifting of goalposts,” said September 27, 2011 after her untimely departure: “…but I think that the uncertainty that lies ahead is understanding if it’s really results or politics that we are pursuing [at the BTB and tourism industry]. And so, I think that is critical in establishing as well, moving forward. So it could be, maybe, a more balanced approach – I’m not sure. We’re coming into election year, so we have to be real about what the next 12 to 15 months will present.” Boy, her words were indeed prophetic. She saw the writing on the wall.

I got the impression that Matus felt that there was going to be more political interference and she even mentioned the elections upcoming in March 2012, which was six months away and which would impact decisions because it was important for monies to be flowing in the right direction, thus causing an influence during elections. As Matus stated, “there was a proposal to shift a significant portion of the architecture of the BTB into the Ministry of Tourism”. It is that shift that Esquivel had to work with, so it would be rather interesting to hear her side of the story as to the alleged deficit, especially after Matus had boasted of having a $2M surplus and having rollbacks to ensure fiscal management.

But we were warned that there would be more political interference, but in a diplomatic way, when Matus stated: “Under the new scenario in which there definitely is a higher level of interest for the board to be more involved in the day to day of the organization and in which we have the Ministry looking to perhaps expand its scope, possibly at the expense of the Belize Tourism Board, then that creates a perfect storm in which there is very little progress that can be sustained and much effort is spent in the politics of the scenario… And in those cases, where clearly there is much more effort spent on rhetoric and politics, then there is much less space for delivering results.” Aha! Matus has been proven right and fully exonerated… but she was smart to see ahead and leave.

Well, we are now seeing the results, and while Laura Esquivel-Frampton is the scapegoat, the Minister himself and his advisors and management team seem to have a lot to answer for, since they have clearly had more influence in the BTB than usual.

Tell us, Laura. You see, unlike what happened with the Penner scandal, the Ministerial directorate will lean hard on you to be pushed out. Though many benefitted, they will not bail you out.

Potential political ramifications

The BTB letter states, “We want to express to you, Minister, that we are fully conscious of the potential political ramifications that this official grievance may pose and we are fully prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder…” So funny how that is worded, because really if things got that bad it would seem that Cabinet needs to be getting rid of the Minister and his team since from all indications he failed to deal with a problem that manifested over a year ago. Imagine the three most recent meetings were mentioned to verify that it had been officially discussed and these were in July and October 2013 and February 2014, yet the Minister failed miserably to take a decisive action. The management team, too eager to please, became the axe-man. So if these are the recent meetings, then how far back are the older meetings at which this was discussed? Why did nothing happen then? Was it not taken to Cabinet?

The Minister seems to have been so impotent at addressing the situation, and it seems that the management team, who were the tail, were able to wag the proverbial dog! Hmmm… this is not right! I maintain that millions of dollars flow through BTB. There is a special project going on, yet it CANNOT be that the Minister or his government-appointed board at BTB knew nothing about the “current financial management concerns… which have not only limited the ability of the various departments of the BTB to fulfill their mandates…” but now resulted in this monumental embarrassment to the Government. Under whose watch? The Minister’s? The buck stops with him, not Esquivel-Frampton!

The political ramifications turned into a political tsunami, when the two-time Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Manuel Esquivel and his wife Kathy, in protest resigned from all and every post in this UDP administration. Well, well, well… that is the strongest vote of no-confidence against the Dean Barrow administration. Sir Manuel has been in government, knows the games played… and knows his daughter could not have made the decisions about where and how monies are spent and in which area, on her own! No way; the Minister at minimum is behind those decisions, even if only for political expediency. He also knows that Prime Minister Barrow who took over from him and vouched to micro-manage to be able to keep track of rogue Ministers would not have been oblivious of the monies from BTB passing in specific directions…. No way! After all, BTB spending is not “chump change’; it is big money, consistent money and money designed to be spent. I cannot see this one slipping from under his watchful eyes, just as I cannot see him not knowing Penner and Castro and other Ministers were pressuring officers at the Immigration Department to facilitate official documents.

So I do not fault the Esquivel’s for standing shoulder to shoulder with their daughter. After all, no one at BTB nor in Cabinet is standing with her.

It’s getting cannibalistic

The vote of no-confidence in the Barrow administration has become so obvious, even in the recent constituency elections for standard bearers. I think Delroy Cuthkelvin exposed the extent of internal manipulation so that the party gets their handpicked candidate with a blessing from the Party Leader, while the secretariat closes ranks and holds back no expense in tactics to get rid of the rest. Delroy, who had been a master at the propaganda spin, got a taste of his own and learnt that politics makes strange bedfellows. He helped to buy out two other candidates and narrow the slate, believing he had a chance, but not knowing he didn’t stand a chance and was simply being used to help the party’s favorite, Melvin Hulse, to get rid of the competition.

So funny when I think that it is the same old stale “flipping” person running again. I can’t help but think we recycle garbage. I equate Melvin running for office again to the same taste I had when I heard the likes of Luke Espat running for the PUP. And I can name a few in both parties that should never be on a slate. Really, it is time for us to support a third party! Really, none of these two parties can convince me they really stand for change when they put up candidates like Hulse and Espat. More on that and them and their party another time!

But the cannibals went after Delroy and all the other candidates and they could not survive the onslaught. But this cannibalism has been happening since these elections for standard-bearers began. In Dangriga it was so bad that my “die-hard” UDP friend, Barbara Norales, whom I know will never be a PUP, was denied the right to vote at the convention because she was known to be a Turo Roches sympathizer rather than a supporter of Pawpa Mena. But she was sounding the warning and Delroy should have taken heed. Now I know that these lines of divisions being drawn are simply to distinguish between who is the cannibal, intoxicated by the power by association with the top Leader and who are the designated prey — food for the cannibals. Well, those clearly associated with the PUP opposition automatically are flesh for the cannibals.

It is expected that we will see the more rapid deterioration of the party within, because each is grabbing what they can for themselves and amass reserve resources to cope with the changes that will come just before and after elections. No one is worried about the development of the country… Oh no, it’s all about amassing enough wealth and resources to survive “dry season” when the party is out of power! Ask the PUP!

Loss of confidence

I know that something is wrong with how we are governed. Godwin Hulse used to say that and advocate that and said he would never be part of government as long as the system remained. Well, the system did not change and he is now in government, apologizing and explaining away the unexplainable. If he who was viewed by us out here as wanting right, goes in there and does not do right by us, what confidence can we have in those governing us, even after this self-proclaimed “righteous man” joined them? We the people will have to wait until the next general elections in 2017, if not before, to cast our vote of no-confidence and remove this government, but it cannot be that the PUP is the government-in-waiting when we see what is happening at their conventions and how the candidates are nothing better than what the UDP has right now. They too must purge themselves or else this nation will remain in this same vicious cycle of politics that keeps us poor and corrupt at all levels. My people arise!

God bless Belize!

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